The "Grub and Gab Club" (Incorporating “Coventry Open Christmas”)
Please take a look at the clubs’ logo below, a smiling plate face supported by a knife and fork and enclosed within a very simple house/home. This device, we hope, encapsulates the clubs aim and objective, which is:
"To provide food, shelter, warmth and friendship to the homeless or lonely."
The Club began after a one night ‘one-off’ venture on Christmas Eve 1991; (one of our founding volunteers uncovered a need for a christmas shelter when he was volunteering at the Holy Trinity Christmas Day dinner the previous year. Homeless people were arriving in Coventry overnight simply to spend Christmas Day at Holy Trinity. They were subjected to some appalling weather conditions whilst they were waiting for Trinity to open.
Following this “experiment” it was perceived that there was a gap in the provision of a hot meal for the homeless on Saturday lunchtimes throughout the rest of the year. We had gathered a great bunch of volunteers together for our first night shelter, so much so that they were very keen to start a Saturday dinner service.
With great support of the Reverend Giles Harris-Evans, Canon David Clark and Rev. Andrew Willson, (not forgetting the then Church Council of St. Peter’s, Hillfields), we found a venue and initial funding to begin our Saturday meals and the succeeding “Coventry Open Christmas’s”.
Christmas 2019 will be our twenty eighth “Open Christmas”!
Informality has always been our key-note in that we have always said that the club would never be composed of, ‘them and us’ and, as far as possible, our visitors (guests) and our volunteers are one group except where practicalities (e.g. environmental, H&S etc.) dictate otherwise. We wear no badges; we use only first names and all we ask of visitors and volunteers alike is mutual respect and good manners towards each other.
One is always struck by the paradox that whilst we are pleased to be able to provide this service, we fervently wish that the need wasn’t there. The fact remains that the need is still with us and has not diminished during the years we have been in operation – an average of over 40 meals each Saturday! We derive a great deal of pleasure being a part of one of the six devoted teams who make up the clubs volunteer force.
We work to a six-week rota which means that we are only on duty about 8 or 9 times a year, (not an onerous commitment, as approx 60 volunteers will tell you). Whilst we enjoy a great deal of informality, we have had to be squeaky clean with the legalities, (constitution, equal ops. policies etc.) and especially with Environmental Health matters. So much so, that when we first began our service, we invited the City Councils Environmental Health Dept. to come along and advise us.
Whilst we shall always be grateful to former clergy at St. Peter’s Church, Hillfields, we now have a new home at St Barnabas Church on Saturdays. We look forward to forming a close and warm relationship with Keith Neville and the folks at Queens Road Baptist Church during Open Christmas. And we continue our Saturday meal for the homeless and lonely at St Barnabas Church.
The perennial concern for the club is, of course, funds. As with most voluntary organisations our funds are all raised in house by our own volunteers either in cash or in kind (i.e. foodstuffs etc.). We have had fund raising dances, bazaars, car boot sales, bag packs and so on. It would take many pages to list the people who have helped us. Many of these donations have been relatively small, a few pounds here, a few tins of foodstuff there, but quite wondrously, they have come from individuals (often of limited resources themselves) and they have always been given cheerfully.
Whilst, at the time of writing, the club is reasonably solvent, but as time goes by, our money literally gets ‘eaten up’ and our continual worry is the future of the club. Our needs are not great, £4,500 to £5,000 a year is all we need to provide a good, wholesome meal every Saturday and also for us to provide the night-shelter “Coventry Open Christmas”.