A former Christian bookshop in east Oxford is to become a centre for the homeless.

For decades St Andrew’s Bookshop on the corner of St Clement’s and Boulter Street spread the gospel but it closed last year during the coronavirus pandemic.

Now the ground-floor shop area is being converted into a day centre for rough sleepers and others experiencing problems with homelessness.

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The Oxford Winter Night Shelter is working with St Clement’s Parish Property to set up the new day support centre to offer respite, hospitality and encouragement to those who are homeless and vulnerably housed.

Twelve churches hosted the winter shelter from January to March, with its services running alongside those provided by the city council and other homelessness agencies.

But it did not run this year due to coronavirus and now night shelter volunteers will help to run the new centre called The Living Room.

Mary Gurr, founder of the Oxford Winter Night Shelter and Chaplain to the Homeless, said: “I am delighted the OWNS is able to work in partnership with St Clement's and with our partner organisations.

"It is hoped this new initiative will address issues of loneliness and isolation and provide sanctuary and practical help to some of the most vulnerable and needy people in our community.”

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Rev Gurr said the new base would work closely with homelessness agencies in the city and would get referrals from them.

She added: “It’s not a drop-in centre but it will be somewhere people can go for a coffee and a shower and there will be computers people can use.

“Initially it will run three days a week including one day over the weekend and there will be a high ratio of volunteers to guests.

“This is what we do - we serve God by serving our fellows and we really missed not working with them this year.”

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Through discussions with partner agencies, the OWNS has established that there is a need to provide support and companionship to members of the community, as the feelings of isolation and loneliness have increased during the pandemic.

The new centre will provide support in a small and friendly environment to its guests, targeting those who may feel more able to engage in this setting.

It is hoped that the team of volunteers will be able to open by the summer.

The next few months will be spent refurbishing the shop.

The winter night shelter was set up three years ago to provide overnight accommodation to the homeless and rough sleepers of Oxford during the winter months.

Due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic it has not been able to operate the shelters this winter.

Rough sleepers are being given temporary accommodation under the Everyone In initiative ordered by the Government.

When it is possible to do so, the winter shelter intends to reopen its doors, whilst continuing the Living Room operation.

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Rev Rachel Gibson, Chair of St Clements Parish Property, said: “We’re really pleased that we’re now also able to help in setting up the new day centre, which we hope will provide a warm welcome, companionship and support to its guests.”

For more visit ownsoxford.org.uk.

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