The YMCA in Burton is a prominent charity on a constant mission to raise vital funds for the homeless in the town.

From the yearly sleep-out event, to the drive for food donations to their well-stocked food bank, providing help for people falling on hard times, it is an organisation that achieves so much.

But it can be quite easy to be unaware of the YMCA's many attributes, so the Burton Mail were given a tour around the YMCA's Reconnect Centre, in Orchard Street in the town.

The foodbank on the premises is open all year round to provide support for families and individuals who may have fallen on difficult times and are struggling to put food on the table.

People are able to get food from the foodbank up to four times a year, but workers at the YMCA in Burton insisted that people will not be turned away if they are in need.

Paula Senior, the fund-raising officer at the YMCA said: "During school breaks, we get a spike because of the number of families receiving free school dinners, then needing to feed extra mouths for one or two weeks.

"Because we don’t see food poverty in homes, we perhaps think that it doesn't happen, but it does. It is there. There is a lot of food in one of these packages, but for a family of four, they’ll go through it in a couple of days.

People are able and encouraged to make their own meals in the kitchen
People are able and encouraged to make their own meals in the kitchen

"What we'd love to do is increase the size of the food bank, because it is quite small. So then we could give out fresh bread, give out eggs, milk, toiletries and fresh vegetables – if only we had the storage."

One volunteer busily working in the food bank added: "We're doing between 60 and 70 packages a week. We were doing 22 a week before recently."

Anyone who is homeless or need help turning their life around are able to walk up to the door of the Reconnect Centre and speak to experts who are able to assist.

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Those needing accommodation will be first shown a cluster room, which is the first point of shelter given to those homeless who approach the YMCA, with 13 separate rooms on the Reconnect site.

Each room comes equipped with a bed and a wardrobe, donated from charity shops, and occupants are able and encouraged to add their own furniture as and when they can afford to do so.

Visitors are not allowed in the cluster rooms, but an onsite lounge room is available for family and friends to pay a visit to their loved ones.

Residents in the 13 rooms share one communal bathroom, and the on-site kitchen and canteen are open for the cluster room residents three times a day, where they can cook for themselves or join with a communal, free meal.

With full flats also available on site, Paula Senior explained why when someone is brought in off the street, they are not placed straight into a flat.

She said: "We don't want to take people in and put them straight into a flat, it can be quite shocking for them.

"Going from having nothing, to a full flat can be difficult, so in these cluster rooms, they're not constantly monitored, but we will come in each day to check."

The centre has recently had a pool donated for the lounge
The centre has recently had a pool table donated for the lounge

Staff at the centre were eager to stress that care at the YMCA is not a short-term fix, but a long process to help people turn their lives around.

Occupants in the cluster rooms used to be restricted to just two years, which has now been abolished to give people more time to make a move.

When choosing a resident to move into a flat, when one is available, bosses at the centre go through an in-depth process.

The first consideration is the length of time residents have been in the cluster rooms; the longest inhabitants are normally the first to be up for the move, but other factors are brought into the decision.

How well kept the resident is, how tidy they keep their room and their behaviour and ability when preparing meals in the kitchen area can all improve or damage their chance at moving to an on-site flat.

In the flats, the residents have far more room and more freedom.

There is once again no time-limit on how long residents can stay in a flat, and each comes with dedicated kitchen and bathrooms and lounge areas to replicate a normal flat.

The flats available for residents at the Reconnect Centre
The flats available for residents at the Reconnect Centre

The 18 flats and 13 cluster rooms available at the Reconnect Centre are consistently filled, with waiting lists drawn up of people wanting to get help.

To help this situation, whenever somebody has fallen on hard times and approached the YMCA, whether they are able to enter accommodation or not, they will receive support and guidance to try and get their life back on track.

One of the YMCA methods of help is through mediation. The centre has a dedicated mediation office and officer who talk through their concerns with people and attempt to make amends where possible, to avoid them ending up on the streets.

Paula Senior said: "Some people might come in having difficulty with housing, or there's conflict in the family, in fact we had one lady who had some counselling and then after a period of six months she sent us a donation.

"She said that without the support, she wouldn't have been able to get where she is today. So we're always conscious that we ask people for their time and food, and the sleep-out and other fund-raisers but what we get goes to others."

Peter O'Reilly, the mediating officer at the YMCA in Burton said when some schools see issues which children have in their home life, they regularly turn straight to authorities or social services, while he believes mediation might be a more effective fix.

He regularly goes into schools to be able to talk to children about problems, to try and treat them before they escalate.

The lounge has a row of computers that are specifically for applying for jobs and working on CVs
The lounge has a row of computers that are specifically for applying for jobs and working on CVs

Mr O'Reilly said: "We attempt to avoid homelessness happening. If a young person comes along saying they need a flat or somewhere to stay, we try and give them mediation first.

"Then we see if we can get them back home, if it's appropriate. As they get older, 18 or 19-year-olds, they're starting to get to an age where they can think that maybe they're better away from home.

"At the same time, social services, police and other support teams say to us, 'why wait until it gets to a crisis point? Where a young person gets kicked out or leaves home? Why not support families much earlier on and nip things in the bud?' Mediators love this, we love getting in there before it all escalates."

Away from the long-term cluster room and flats that are on offer at the Reconnect Centre, there is plenty of short-term advantages for those having difficulties to visit.

An on-site shower room is available for rough sleepers to be able to clean, as well as a storage of basic, but crucial items like sleeping bags, spare clothing and hygiene products.

There is also a row of three computers, set up specifically to allow people to apply for jobs, write and work on CVs or for educational purposes.

Burton Mail sign up for the YMCA Sleep-out

A Burton Mail reporter will be taking part in the YMCA sleep-out in November, aiming to raise awareness and funds for the homeless.

The event, which takes place on Friday, November 10, in Tamworth, and Saturday, November 11 in Burton, will give people the opportunity to find out for themselves what it feels like to be homeless and sleeping rough.

Those "sleeping rough" in Tamworth will walk the 14 miles to Burton, then camp out in either the tunnels of the Pirelli Stadium, home of Burton Albion Football Club, or in the graveyard at St Modwen's Church, in Burton's Market Place.

Last year saw a record-breaking 155 people take part, with volunteers ranging from as young as six right up to 75, raising £33,602 for the Burton branch of the YMCA which helps homeless people in the area.

Anybody interested in donating to the Burton Mail's contribution to the sleep-out event can visit the online dedicated fund-raising page here

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