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Signature Living’s homeless shelter helped 150 rough sleepers.

During December’s ice blast, Lawrence Kenwright, founder of hotel group Signature Living, opened a centre to give Liverpool’s rough sleepers food and shelter. 

At its peak, the centre located at Kingsway House in Hatton Garden, fed, clothed and offered warmth in the bitter cold of night to 150 people. 

Donations from the public and support Kenwright’s own company kept the project active for over four months and supplemented the work being done by local councils and charities in the region who work with the homeless. 

His huge humanitarian effort helped save lives. 

Trailbalzer spoke to Mr Kenwright about the success of the shelter.  

Lawrence, why did you do it? 

The visible rise in the number of homeless people was on my mind for sometime and when the freezing temperatures hit in December, I knew I had to do something about it. 

There was also the contrast of people enjoying themeless in our hotels while people were at risk of death from hypothermia on the streets and that didn’t sit right with me. 

Signature Living had previously supported the Whitechapel Centre with fundraising but I wanted to do more. We had the space and the team ready to take direct action so we did. 

You’re running a multi-million pound business, where did you find the time? 

First of all, I didn’t do it alone. Although I visited the shelter everyday,  there was an incredible team of volunteers. Signature Living staff also donated their time to keep the shelter open. My wife, Katie, played a massive role too. The people of Liverpool were also phenomenal with their donations consisting of food and clothes. 

It was humbling to see so many people come together to help those in desperate need.

What did you learn from the experience?

I learned a lot about people. 

There were so many brilliant, clever, inspiring individuals who’ve got a whole lot to give the world but have found themselves homeless. Simple mistakes in life, a bit of misfortune, had seen some of these people lose everything and they were forced onto the streets. 

I also found that traditional methods of getting rough sleepers off the streets do not necessarily work. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to this issue. 

These people just need a helping hand to get their life back on track again and there are various ways of achieving that.  

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn supported the project but there was some backlash from local politicians?  

Not many other  private sector business that would do what we did and I think he reorganised that. I was blown away by his support – he knows that when we come together as a society we can make big things happen. 

There was some criticism locally but we were never trying to take away from what the Council was doing, we also wanted to help and we did. 

You should be proud of what you did?

Because of our efforts, as well as the work of local charities and the council, not one homeless person died on the streets of Liverpool this winter. In previous years, people were found frozen to death. 

That should never be allowed to happen and I’m pleased we played our part.  It has been a humbling experience. 

The shelter is now closed. Where are all those who used the service now? 

Fifty of those who used the shelter have now found permanent accommodation and we also helped fourteen people find work. 

Brian, or ‘Mr Old Hall Street’ as he became known, was homeless for almost a year before he came to us. We’ve since set him up with a place to call home and also helped him establish up a carpet cleaning business – he’s one person whose life we helped completely turn around. 

Other’s still have some way to go but are hopefully well on their way to a better future. 

What’s next? 

We haven’t given up and we’re in the process of looking at longer term solutions to helping rough sleepers. It is an issue I care passionately about and would like to help dramatically reduce the issue, if not eradicate it all together. I’m also looking forward to sharing my experiences with Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.

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