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23 February 2016

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St Hugh’s students support the work of The Gatehouse charity.

In Hilary Term this year, students at St Hugh’s started a voluntary sandwich club as a way to link the student community at College to the work of The Gatehouse, a charity which provides support and help to Oxford’s homeless and poorly-housed population. Tom Barringer, (3rd year, Mathematics and Philosophy) coordinated this project and offers his account of its work below.

This term, with the help and guidance of Laura Caccia, the JCR Charities and Communities representative, I have started the JCR Gatehouse Sandwich Club. This club has fortnightly sessions, where JCR members are invited to make sandwiches both for their own lunch and to take to the Oxford Gatehouse, a drop-in centre for homeless and vulnerably housed people near the St Giles memorial.

I have been involved with the Gatehouse since summer term last year and I became involved because I wanted to do something to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in British society. It is one of the most worthwhile things I can say I have done while I’ve been here. The guests are grateful, my co-volunteers are incredibly nice people (as you might expect from people working for free for a charity organisation), and it’s strangely cathartic, after spending a day reading about counterfactual conditionals or trying to grind out a solution to some set-theoretical problem, to just put your brain on hold for half an hour and chop fruit.

However, the Gatehouse is in need. The upcoming local government cuts will badly affect both the prospects of homeless and vulnerably housed people in Oxford and the funding of the Gatehouse itself. It needs all the help it can get.

St Hugh’s students walk past homeless people every day. The problem of homelessness is very visible in Oxford, and I, like every one of us, am used to seeing people sleeping on streets and remembering their faces every time I idly think to myself “hm, it’s chilly out tonight”. People are very prepared to do something to help, and the Gatehouse helps their guests a lot. They provide tea, coffee, cake and soup (as well as the sandwiches) to anyone who asks for them for two hours a night, six nights a week, in an atmosphere where people can sit and talk to each other and to Gatehouse volunteers. They also regularly have an internet café, craft sessions, hot meals provided by Tesco, a volunteer hairdresser and probably more events which I have forgotten. They are amazing.

In an effort to support the work of the Gatehouse, our Gatehouse Sandwich Club meets for one and a half hours at lunchtime on Wednesday of odd weeks, and makes the eight loaves’ worth of sandwiches which the Gatehouse requests from providers:  four on white bread, four on brown, with two loaves each of ham, cheese, tuna mayonnaise and egg mayonnaise. Volunteers pay a donation of £2 for the chance to make a sandwich or two for themselves at the same time. In this way, the costs of the food are recouped and volunteers get something solid in return, as well as the warm fuzzy feeling that I’ve come to associate with Gatehouse work.

The response to the first session was better than I could have imagined. People from every year (from first to fourth) turned up, and we’d completed the eight loaves so quickly that several people who turned up late were disappointed that they couldn’t help – they had to content themselves with helping to clear up.

That’s why I wanted to start the Sandwich Club – to bring this atmosphere to Hugh’s and to do some good on the side as well. I realise now, though, that I couldn’t have succeeded if this atmosphere wasn’t already there. If people here weren’t prepared to help, this wouldn’t have gone ahead. If people, very understandably, weren’t prepared to give up time in the middle of their Oxford term for this, then this wouldn’t have gone ahead.

But they were, and it has. I overheard a conversation the other day about St Hugh’s in which student Elise Page used the phrase “viciously caring college” to describe us. I couldn’t agree more – long may our viciously caring streak continue.

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