AFTER spending most nights during lockdown serving hot meals to homeless people, a woman has spoken about why she is getting involved.

Using the name Here4Darlo, Susie Cheshire has been feeding homeless people in Darlington for just over a month after growing concern for people during the pandemic.

She said: "I've been homeless myself so I know what it's like and to have people looking down their noses at you.

"Everywhere you look there are hungry people and it's hard work to get a food parcel. They want to know everything about you. A lot of the people I serve don't want contact with authorities and they don't want to speak to those people.

"People don't want to go to the authorities that have let them down time and time again. I don't want to ask them unnecessary questions. I just want to give them a hot meal, a brew and a chat."

"Some people don't have any human contact."

She has been cooking the meals since just before the second lockdown in November, spending six nights a week serving them from a bench outside Tesco in Tubwell Row.

Inspired by her sister, who helps to run Amazing Grace, a soup kitchen in Blackpool, she has been trying to find premises so she can have somewhere warm to serve the meals from and keep the project going in the future.

The Northern Echo:

She sometimes feeds up to 30 people a night – either people who are sleeping rough or are in hostels but do not have access to an oven, or sometimes even a microwave.

Susie has experience of what it is like to be homeless, after finding herself with nowhere to live following the breakdown of a relationship.

"I moved in with him and when the relationship broke up he chucked me out and I had nowhere to go," she said. "That was four years ago. Street Angels looked after me.

"Being homeless is definitely what made me do it.

"It's so degrading having to go through a bin for food, to go to that level for what is a basic necessity. Everyone should have a hot meal. I've seen people who have had their tents set on fire, or seen people urinating on them. I just want them to have something to eat so they know someone does care and so they have one less struggle"

Susie, with her partner Mark, and some other volunteers, have been buying and cooking food themselves, sometimes with the help of donations from the community in the form of a mountain of foil trays from Billingham-based Magnum, bread from Sainsbury's and on one night, 30 meals from Akbar The Great, in Bondgate.

They have been serving up an array of stews and curries, shepherd's pies, meat balls and roast dinners on a Sunday.

"They're diamonds," says one man, who has been sleeping rough in the town, as he scrapes his foil container clean.

"People are struggling more than usual. It's good to take care of people.

"There's not so much caring and sharing any more.

"I wouldn't usually stop at something like this but people haven't been in touch as much this year. It's been a strange year."

"It brings you together to have a chat for five minutes."

Another man added: "When I haven't had anything it's very useful. It's good to come down and have a chat. There's always some conversation going on."

He added: "Sometimes I get a bit of anxiety walking around town but it's nice to stop and have a cuppa. I've been coming down since it started. It's a good thing. If ever you don't know what to do yourself on a night you can come down and have a cuppa and a chat."

Ashley Blakey, from Darlington, heard about the project through social media and decided to get involved.

She said: "I feel guilty then I'm going back to a warm house. I've been homeless before so I know what it's like.

"Everyone deserves a chance, whether they have an addiction or not.

"It can happen to anyone. I've seen rich people end up on the street as well."

She added: "People don't feel judged here. Even at a food bank people can look down their noses. It's nothing to do with me what's going on in someone's life."