Last supper at the refuge for our homeless
VOLUNTEERS at Tunbridge Wells's only homeless refuge are preparing to host their last supper.
The Soup Bowl in Crescent Road, which has provided an hour's refuge a day for the town's homeless and hungry for the past 25 years, is to open for the final time tomorrow (Saturday).
A string of reported disturbances, combined with residents' complaints about groups gathering outside to smoke, led Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to serve an eviction notice at the beginning of February.
Initially the 40 volunteers and 20 visitors were ordered to move out by March 31, but were then given a stay of execution until the end of June, after a crunch meeting between Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark, the then borough council leader Bob Atwood, Soup Bowl deputy manager Tess Negri, the Bishop of Rochester and a number of clergymen.
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Finding a new home has proved tough, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, according to Mrs Negri.
While a move to the Three Ways Cafe, in the Silverdale area, fell through, several churches have come forward offering to help, including St James' and St John's churches.
"Things are looking up but it's just for the short term while we find somewhere permanent," she said.
"It's important we find somewhere else. We're not going to just walk away.
"For many of our clients it's the one hour of warmth and friendship they can look forward to in a day."
St James' Church has offered a soup kitchen during Monday lunchtimes between 12.30pm and 2pm, and discussions between Mrs Negri and St John's took place this week with a view to thrashing out an agreement.
However, Mrs Negri, stressed a long-term solution was needed, but said it would take time.
Discussions between the organisers of the town's successful winter shelter, representatives of the Soup Bowl, the borough council and police were due to take place yesterday at the Town Hall with a view to opening up a day centre in Tunbridge Wells town centre.
Mrs Negri, a retired teacher, admits tomorrow will be an emotional day for the loyal band of volunteers.
"It will be strange, I started volunteering there with my mother the first week the Soup Bowl opened.
"But we've outgrown the premises and the borough council has been very good to us over the years. They didn't need to let us have it rent free for almost 25 years."