‘Rebuilding Lives’ is the maxim of Michael House, a hostel situated in Boscombe, Bournemouth. It provides needs for vulnerable people who require support and those who have a history of rough sleeping. The house opened in 2000 and recently recorded its 500th resident. The charity has been established for over 22 years and Michael House is due to celebrate its 15th anniversary on July 10th.
Mark Horsford, the Chief Executive, is a gregarious, friendly, articulate man with an obvious passion for his role, his desire to create a supportive sanctuary for the residents is inspiring and infectious. Mark’s background is eclectic, in previous incarnations he was a baker, an engineer, then moved into volunteering as a DJ at a local hospital until found his vocation at Michael House. Initially he was a volunteer then an assistant manager, after leaving the charity to work and manage other homeless services, he took on the role as Chief Executive and he manages the house with imagination, compassion and verve. His diverse background has obviously equipped him with invaluable inter-personal skills and compassion. The house grew from St. Michael’s church Night shelter on Poole Hill. Initially it was a twelve bedroom project but it expanded and now houses up to 33 people in a 25 bedroom house. Mark’s ethos is that Michael House is a home not just shelter and that it provides a space in which people can rebuild their lives. That is extremely evident in the amazingly visionary, motivational projects he and the team have set up.
The house has a tranquil friendly atmosphere and welcoming surroundings, a comfortable living room in which people can relax and interact, windows display striking stained glass paintings which were created by the residents during their weekly art classes , a fish tank tended by the residents, a community room which is utilised for various events with dart board. A lot of the features have been created by residents at the house, imaginative planters made from railway sleepers, drawings and paintings decorate the walls.
The leafy, verdant rear garden is a haven and provides a peaceful, contemplative space. It has bird boxes, a bat box, and a pond full of tadpoles. The charity was recently granted a Dorset Wildlife Plaque due to the Michael House’s environmental contribution; the long term plan is to have a place of wildflowers and indigenous wildlife. The garden has a beautiful mosaic table produced by the residents incorporating 15 stars for every year the house has been open, it is a special symbolic group effort illustrating how much this sanctuary has meant to them. The outdoor space has also recently received a shed through a generous donation from a local choir, The Evergreen Songshiners and was erected by volunteers from Waitrose’s charitable scheme Community Matters. This will be an invaluable addition to the facilities, providing a private space for support sessions and peace.
The house is a registered Learning Centre and provides tutoring in Maths, English, emailing and a six week money management course, cookery and health and hygiene courses, all of which equip residents to move on confidently to independent living. 94% of the residents participate in career related activities. Residents are supported through one-to-one sessions and group support. There is a monthly house meeting so any concerns or ideas for improvement can be aired. Residents are involved in an environmental clean-up campaign to keep nearby Churchill Gardens free of litter and a safe community space. The house is run mainly through Housing Benefit and tenant service charge contributions. However, as an independent charity and service, they are also reliant on donations and sponsors to increase new and creative opportunities for their residents. One particular donor gives all the money he makes through organ recitals to help fund the facilities.
Criteria for being considered for a place within the house entail; you must be over 18, have support needs or a history of rough sleeping, no age limit. Priority is given to those applicants who have a local connection. Drugs and alcohol are prohibited and people must be at least 28 days clean. Minimum stay is usually 3 months, the is maximum 2 years but some residents in special circumstances have been allowed to stay longer to support the mutual aim of independent living. The house is constantly staffed by a day team and a night team, and is supported by a passionate board of trustees. Nine people in the last four months have moved on to new opportunities. Michael House keep in contact with people who have moved on to support them in their new environment and opportunities.
The organisation arranges many diverse activities in which to create a community atmosphere, raise funds, morale and create a sense of support, independence, self-esteem and inclusion. These include music nights, a book club, ‘Bake- offs’ , darts tournaments, a weekly art class, Agatha Christie murder mystery evenings, participation in the ‘Movember‘ fundraiser, a ‘Comic Relief’ custard pie throwing event, Diversity weekends (one of the most recent being a Jamaican Event with traditional food). Future planned events include a fourth of July barbeque featuring line dancing and Country and Western Music. July 10th promises to memorable as it marks the 15th anniversary of the founding of Michael House with a vintage style tea party in the ‘wildlife’ garden and features music by ‘The Evergreen Songshiners’ who are committed supporters of Michael House.
Mark’s take on his role was that he felt “privileged” and that his favourite part of his job was “seeing small changes in people” His best moments “Seeing people move on, moving in then leaving a stronger person”. This truly is a remarkable place full of vibrancy and optimism, occupied and run by special people.
To find out more visit the Michael House website
Michael House, 46/48/50 Grosvenor Gardens, Boscombe, Bournemouth, BH1 4HH. Enquiries : 01202 393178. E- firstname.lastname@example.org