Shelter from the storm at Hatfield charity

A LOOK at the work of the Hertfordshire branch of homeless charity Shelter, based in Hatfield.

THERE is a film by director Ken Loach called Cathy Come Home, in which a young family suddenly find themselves evicted from their house after the father loses his job.

It charts the decline of the family over a number of years, culminating in social services taking the children away from parents Cathy and Reg.

Broadcast on the BBC in December 1966, Cathy Come Home was one of the first television dramas to deal with such hard-hitting social issues as homelessness and unemployment, and alerted the nation to the hardships faced by people struggling to make ends meet.

But while the film undoubtedly played a huge part in changing the country’s attitude towards homelessness, it is often wrongly credited as the founding block for national homeless charity Shelter, which by coincidence was founded just weeks before Cathy Come Home was televised.

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Nevertheless, there is an inextricable link between Shelter and Loach’s movie, as Martin Earl, service manager at Shelter’s Hertfordshire branch, explained.

“The moment in the film when social services come and take Cathy’s kids away; Shelter really comes out of that situation.”

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Martin and supervisor Mark Swann were speaking to the WHT at the charity’s Hertfordshire head offices in Queensway House, Hatfield, about the work of Shelter and the help it provides.

Clearly, it’s a busy time since the recession.

“With the downturn there’s been a clear impact on people’s ability to make rent payments and pay creditors,” said Mr Swann, supervisor at the Hatfield branch.

“Calls about mortgage and rent arrears have gone up by about 50 per cent. Affordability has become a big problem.”

That’s where Shelter comes in. It offers advice, support and even legal help (it has desks at several county courts throughout Hertfordshire) to people either in danger of losing their home or already out on the streets.

The charity is borne out of the belief that in an affluent nation such as the UK, everyone should have a home.

“The message is we can help stop people becoming homeless,” said Mark. “Even if you find yourself in court, there is often a lot we can do to put things on hold and give you time to sort out your money problems.”

“Saying that,” added Martin, “It’s not as if people shouldn’t try and sort out their problems first.

“But there might come a point when it’s time to pick up the phone.”

If you are having housing problems, call Shelter for free on 0808 800 4444.

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