A 'LIFELINE' day centre for the homeless has made a breakthrough in its bid to move to a much-needed new building.

The Porch Day Centre in East Oxford has bought a former church just a short walk from its current home, two years after launching a £1.5m fundraising campaign to find a new base.

Its current premises in Magdalen Road needs major repairs and the new building is only a few paces away, in the former Magdalen Road Church.

Guy Scotece, the centre's manager, said: "This isn't a vanity project for The Porch, the fact is that our current building is in need of extensive renovation.

"We are limited in what we can deliver, so the new building will be a more flexible space and will allow us to adapt as needs change."

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The Porch has been running for more than 30 years, having been founded by All Saints Sisters of the Poor in 1986, at the convent's base in Magdalen Road.

One of the sisters, Helen & Douglas House founder Sister Frances Dominica, has been appointed chairwoman of The Porch's trustees.

It soon outgrew the convent and later moved to St Mary's Road around the corner, before settling at the corner of Essex Street in 2001.

Although initially founded as a soup kitchen, the service now provides much more.

One service user called Simon, who was enjoying breakfast and watching television during the Oxford Mail's visit, simply said: "It's a lifeline."

As well as getting breakfast, lunch and hot drinks, service users can access a computer suite, showers, one-to-one counselling, help accessing housing and employment, and talks from speakers including lecturers and campaigners.

Mr Scotece said: "People feel relaxed and safe here, they get well looked-after.

"This is their family; their home."

He anticipated that the day centre would have to stay put for about two years, while work is carried out on the new building.

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The new base is about twice the size of the current building, but the move was about becoming more flexible rather than expanding.

As a happy coincidence, its doorway and windows exactly match the Porch logo.

Jon Fitzpatrick, director of The Porch, said: "It's a big blank canvas for us to work on.

"It gives us plenty of scope for renovation – it's about having a bespoke centre, tailored to the needs of our members."

In the last quarter, The Porch supported 133 individuals who had used the service at least three times a week.

Mr Fitzpatrick said the number of rough sleepers in Oxford was declining but added: "It's still high for a city of Oxford's size, and nationally the numbers continue to grow - we are not through the crisis yet.

"The majority of people continue to access our services because this is where they feel part of something. It's become a social hub."

Chilton-based architects Montpelier Estates donated their expertise to see what could be done to the existing space, but any improvements would still have been constrained by limitations of the building.

Purchasing another property became a more cost-effective option, and a search for a suitable site ensued.

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Mr Fitzpatrick said: "The most important thing for us was the locality, as lots of rough sleepers live transient lifestyles and return to us after a number of years."

He thanked everyone who had donated and said the whole Porch team was 'really grateful' for the support.

The deal went through just before Christmas and a banner for The Porch has now been hung outside the church.

Now the building has been purchased, it is fundraising for the interior.

At the start of December the service changed its opening times to replace an evening session with a breakfast session.

Mr Fitzpatrick said: "It's brought in a number of rough sleepers who were previously unknown to us.

"They are people that really need us; people sleeping out in tents."

His colleague Mr Scotece, who is involved with Oxford City Council's official counts of rough sleepers, said people in the city genuinely seem to care about the homeless community.

Also read: Rough sleeper total in Oxford has gone up

He said: "There's been an increased interest in volunteering and people in Oxford are extremely charitable and compassionate, without a doubt.

"When I came here I was amazed at the level of good will."

He said the issue of homelessness confronted people 'on their doorstep', adding: "It's a localised issue and people want to be part of the solution."

Mr Scotece said seeing someone on the streets is just a 'snapshot' of the individual in the context of their past and future.

He added: "Anybody dealing with substance use and homelessness should not be demonised - these are somebody's sons, daughters, mothers and fathers.

"They are human beings and they still have a worth in society, if you give them the support to achieve their potential.

"It's extremely rewarding if you can get someone moved from the pavement to supported housing."

He said he wanted the new project to include a safe space where rough sleepers can get rest, as many spend nighttime 'with one eye open' for fear of disturbance or robbery.

Anyone who can help can visit justgiving.com/campaign/ThePorchBuildingAppeal.