Bury Homeless Project stages sleepout to combat rough sleeping

Residents of Bury participated in a sleepout organised by the Bury Homeless Project last weekend, hoping to bring attention to homelessness prevention efforts within the region.

More than twenty residents participated in the event, which took place in a retail park in central Bury on Friday 18 November.

Attendees and organisers were excited for the evening ahead, despite talks of winter winds and the threat of rain.

Inspiring the Bury Homeless Project

Bury Homeless Project (BHP) was founded in 2018 by Bury resident, Suzanne Angle, 46. Suzanne initially became motivated to combat homelessness after witnessing the fatal consequences of rough sleeping first-hand.

“I was a corporate bank manager for 24 years, and a gent used to sleep under the building I worked in,” she explains.

“Over time we started talking, and we had a really lovely friendship that went on for quite some time.

“Then, very suddenly, we had a harsh winter, and the gent passed away due to the weather conditions.”

Two men participating in the sleepout organised by Bury Homeless Project sat against a wall
GETTING SETTLED: Bury residents James and Scott prepare for the sleepout

“It really, really upset me,” Suzanne said. “I was battling with some of my own mental health issues at the time, and it just steered my life in a different direction. I knew I needed to help, so I handed in my notice to pursue this project.”

BHP was born from this action, as Suzanne began handing out clothes and hot drinks in central Manchester.

She said: “I befriended ex-homeless clients, who really helped me out. And it just grew from there!”

Suzanne leads the charity alongside Dusty Brightside, 48, a former rough sleeper. Originally from Surrey, Dusty experienced homelessness on the streets of Greater Manchester.

Now, he is in full-time work and has started his own family.

Like Suzanne, he dedicates his free time to BHP efforts:

In conversation with Dusty Brightside, Bury Homeless Project co-lead

Assessing management and impact

Homelessness within Greater Manchester is steadily decreasing.

However, deaths as a result of rough sleeping in the region still occur at a disproportionately high rate in comparison to the rest of the country.

As an organisation known to remedy these statistics, the service provided by BHP is in high demand.

Suzanne and Dusty have worked to ensure the charity’s work is fast, efficient, and universally accessible since its inception.

“We see the positive impact of our work straight away,” Suzanne said. “At one point we were operating five street kitchens a week. At the height of the project we had around 250 volunteers.”

The Bury Homeless Project sleepout
DOZING OFF: Some participants found sleep came easy, whilst others socialised

An investigation found that on a single night in central Manchester, 43 people will be rough sleepers, as will between 1 and 4 people in Bury.

Suzanne claims BHP has supported several of these rough sleepers in returning to independent living: “Between November [2021] and February [2022], we took in 14 permanent residents. All but two went back into mainstream accommodation.

“Now, we offer outreach work. We take professional referrals from social services, probation officers, local schools, and GPs. They identify certain vulnerabilities within a client, and we help them. It can be something as basic as needing a duvet, or bedding. We usually put a shoutout on our social media pages, and the community contributes.

“There’s no other service like this in Bury.”

Working with, and in place of, local authorities

On the night of the sleepout, Mancunian Matters discussed the relationship between BHP and the local authorities within the region.

BHP organisers were vocal about perceived neglect on the part of the local authorities.

“I know there’s a lot of red tape, and an element of secrecy in regard to what funding is available,” Suzanne said. “But it’s frustrating. There’s so much waiting, so much disappointment.

A stock photo of a homeless individual asleep on the street, next to a pile of belongings
Image Credit: HelenHates Peas via Flickr

“It’s disheartening to clients. There are so many rough sleepers who don’t want to work with local authorities, just because half the time they’re told that nothing is available anyway.”

As of September 2022, it takes 18 working days for Bury Council to process a standard housing application, and the wait for a one-bedroom flat is over one year.

To mitigate these statistics, BHP advocates for those who do not receive immediate support from local authorities.

In October, the group raised funds to house a disabled individual for four nights, after their situation was not deemed urgent by the council.

Suzanne claimed there is an absence of highly publicised homelessness prevention schemes in Greater Manchester – namely, ‘A Bed Every Night’ (ABEN), introduced by Andy Burnham, in 2018. 

“The scheme is just non-existent in Bury,” Suzanne points out. “It says it can take 25 people per night, and the funding has been secured until 2025 for Bury Council. But the service just isn’t available here.”

Gesturing to the rough sleepers around her in attendance at the sleepout, Suzanne’s frustration is evident. “We’ve literally got three genuine rough sleepers here with us tonight… why isn’t that service there for them?”

Protest in St Anne’s Square, Manchester – where Suzanne would often hand out hot drinks in evenings [Image Credit: Matt Harrop via Wikimedia Commons]

When approached for comment, Bury Council refuted this notion: “These are completely unfounded and unsubstantiated claims.

“The ABEN provision in Bury is delivered via a commissioned service, and we provide 25 individual supported 24/7 units for our rough sleepers with referrals into the service by the council and the homeless and rough sleeper service.

“The ABEN and funding is governed by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and Bury is delivering ABEN robustly and within the GMCA requirements, expectations and framework.”

Bury Town Hall, where some Bury Council officers are based [Image Credit: David Ingham via Wikimedia Commons]

Greater Manchester Combined Authority was also approached for comment. It said: “We have every confidence in the work of Bury Council colleagues and the providers they work with in delivering the ABEN programme.

“GMCA provides around £200k annually to Bury Council to support their ABEN programme, and 94 people were supported into ABEN accommodation in Bury in 2022.”

Sleepout participants

One individual in attendance at the sleepout was Mark, who is currently in receipt of support from BHP. To Mark, the sleepout is not considered a challenge, but rather a standard evening. 

A stock photo of a a pile of belongings on the street
Image Credit: HelenHates Peas via Flickr

When asked about the state of homelessness within the region, Mark makes clear his dissatisfaction with both local and national governments: “Why don’t we get them to do something? Our MPs are meant to be the guys we go to. But nobody wants to help, except [BHP]. I just want more local support.”

Alongside the organisers of the sleepout are volunteers from community groups. Callum and James Haywood, both 16, joined the sleepout after the event was shared within their youth club.

“I’m not too nervous,” Callum said, assessing the cold evening ahead. “Well, maybe a bit. But rough sleepers do it every night.”

Bury Homeless Project volunteers smile at the camera
ALL SMILES: Sleepout participants were in high spirits

On the objective of the evening, both boys are in agreement: “We came along tonight because we just want to raise awareness.” 

“Realistically, we need more shelters. More food banks.” Callum continues. “But it’s stuff like this, the sleepout, that helps in little ways. We can all help in little ways – just try to spare some change or some food. We all need to do more where we can.”

Other local Bury residents participated in the sleepout, including James Renshaw. James is a long-time supporter of BHP and an advocate for homelessness prevention.

In conversation with James Renshaw, Bury resident and sleepout participant

Community collaborations

Representatives from local charities attended the sleepout, including Cath Roberston, 51. Cath leads a foodbank supported by Chesham Fold Community Centre, which runs in association with BHP.

“I think we do an awful lot!” Cath said. “We run a food pantry, and a baby and clothes bank. And we also provide warm spaces over the winter. We just want to help people.”

Like Suzanne, Cath’s foodbank has felt an impact during a period of increased cost of living.

She said: “Everything just feels out of control at the moment, and it’s only getting worse. The donations just aren’t coming in anymore as they used to, but we’re still so busy. People just can’t afford to help.”

Bury Homeless Project volunteers smile at the camera
A TEAM EFFORT: Suzanne, Cath, and Dusty often work in collaboration

Regardless, Cath remains optimistic about the winter ahead, citing the community spirit within Bury’s charity networks: “All of these organisations, we’ve been helping each other out for years. For example, we get a lot of clothes donations, and we usually pass them forward to the Bury Homeless Project.”

“I just enjoy doing what I do. It’s sad that I have to do it, but I enjoy helping people.”

Local responses

Both Bury MPs – James Daly (Bury North) and Christian Wakeford (Bury South) – were approached for comment.

No response was received from Wakeford, whilst Daly provided the following statement: “Over £2 billion has been pledged over the next three years to 2025 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in England.

“The Government has published a new strategy ‘Ending Rough Sleeping For Good’ to prevent more people from finding themselves without a safe roof over their heads which builds on the encouraging progress which has already been made, with the number of rough sleepers falling in every region of England and levels in 2021 reaching an eight-year low overall.”

“There is more to be done and I will continue to speak out in Parliament about the important issue of tackling homelessness and supporting those who have experienced rough sleeping to rebuild their lives.”

Bury Homeless Project campaigns and donation points can be found here.

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