The idea for the Sunday Centre came about in January 1991 when a group of volunteers met to discuss the possibility of opening a shelter on Sunday afternoons for the homeless of Sheffield City Centre at Carver Street Wesley Methodist Church. They were led by Reverend Inderjit Bhogal, a minister at Carver Street Church who was already involved in the organisation HARC (Homeless and Rootless at Christmas) and Phil Drake, a lay worker at Carver Street Church. As a result of this meeting, the first “Carver Street Wesley Sunday Centre” opened in February 1991. Similar to the Sunday Centre today, the sessions were based on a tea bar offering sandwiches and drinks from 1.30 pm onwards, with a hot meal served at 4.00 pm and sessions ending at 5.30 pm. Even in these first sessions, the centre served approximately 65 meals each week and had an initial team of 30 volunteers, many also involved with HARC. By 1993, this had risen to a group of 70 volunteers, with Phil Drake as Chair.
The project originally received financial support from Carver Street Methodist Church and individual benefactors. In 1993, a clothing store and shower facilities were added to the centre. Phil stepped down as Chair at the end of 1993 and was briefly replaced by regular volunteer Brian Oldale, who held the post for a year before leaving to train as a priest. In 1995, Bill Emmingham took on the position, bringing extensive experience of mass-catering from his time at HARC. Thanks to his efforts, updated menus and a monthly food order were drawn up and new freezers and cooking utensils purchased.
In 1996, it was decided that the centre would not form part of the Church’s activities but would operate as a separate institution. As a result, the name was changed to “The Sunday Centre” and a new constitution written. At this stage, it was also agreed that the clothing store had become too much to manage, so this was moved to the Family Service Unit. The Sunday Centre became a member of The Church Homelessness Forum, who distributed leaflets for us.
From the beginning, the project had always struggled to recruit enough volunteers, although 1997 saw a turning point with the arrival of the first university student to volunteer. However, the project’s fortunes took a turn for the worse in 2000 when it became clear that the building was likely to be sold. In addition, Bill was forced to resign as Chair due to ill health and the volunteer mailing list had shrunk to 46 members. Fortunately, a letter arrived from Student Community Action, inviting The Sunday Centre to send representatives to the University of Sheffield’s volunteer fair. Since then, the project has enjoyed a close association with both Sheffield Universities, enabling many students to volunteer with us. Meanwhile Rob Freeman, who had been involved with The Sunday Centre from its very inception, took up the post of Chair.
In December 2003, the Carver Street premises came up for sale, and it was clear that The Sunday Centre would need a new venue. At this point, Revered Noel Irwin became a minister at Victoria Hall Methodist Church and offered the project a room there. It was decided that the Christmas Dinner on 14th December 2003 would be the last session held at Carver Street; in the end, due to essential work required for the kitchen and food storage areas, it was the 13th June 2004 when The Sunday Centre moved to Victoria Hall.
Events since the move to Victoria Hall:
- 27th November, 2005: The meal was paid for by The Islam Relief Fund.
- 11th June, 2006: The meal was based on a “World Cup” theme which proved very popular with the guests.
- 17th June, 2007: The Centre was visited by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress (Councillor Allan Dunworth and Councillor Kathleen Chadwick, who later sent a letter thanking us for the invitation and praising the work we do.
- 18th November , 2007: The meal was paid for by The Islamic Society of Great Britain
- 12th February, 2009: The centre was visited by Lord Mayor and Consort (Councillor Dr Sylvia Dunkley and Dr John Dunkley) who expressed great interest in our service.
- March 2014: The Centre was filmed by a television crew and featured in the BBC One series “Famous, Rich and Hungry” as part of Sport Relief 2014.
- After 8 years, Rob stood down as Chair in February 2009. The post was taken up by Steve Clark, our present Chair. We would like to thank all of our volunteers and donors who have supported us over the years and hope that we will be able to continue our work for as long as we are needed.
Memories from the early days:
“In 1995 there was a real problem with quite a large number of dogs being brought into the centre. It was agreed that we got some hooks fitted outside the centre. One volunteer said “preferably at the bottom of the moor”
“In 1999 The Environmental Health Officer visited. He wanted to check the hoist among other things. I remembered when on one occasion when the keys to the basement had gone missing. One of our volunteers was locked down there. He came up to the kitchen by being pulled up on the hoist – so we knew how strong it was”.
“A young lady guest once arrived with an iron and a pile of clothing. She set herself up to do her ironing. That didn’t happen again, due to safety etc.”
“I remember little Paul coming in one day (he was a street drinker and often slept in skips). He was sleeping in a skip in our yard and he came in saying “I woke up and I was halfway to Rotherham”. Fortunately he had woken in time or the consequences could have had a different ending”.