Every weekday morning, Sr Lucy Dunne makes her way to a supermarket, to stock up on fresh produce for Cornerstone, the Manchester day centre for the homeless that she has run for sixteen years. Until very recently, she would also be found every day stirring the vast pots of food, helping to serve up 200 lunches. Sr Lucy, of the Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph, looks back with great satisfaction on having been able to help many people in need: “Over the years, I’ve enjoyed cooking very much. Nobody who comes here goes without a meal. A hot meal is very important to the people who come to us.”
Each weekday, breakfast is served, then lunch and the Centre has now expanded its support for the vulnerable, by offering showers & laundry provision, haircuts, eyetests and educational classes, including English for asylum seekers and refugees. Uniquely, it also offers temporary accommodation in portacabins which have been donated by a construction company. These ‘pods’ now sleep 24 people nightly in addition to the emergency bedding that is available inside the Centre.
Sr Lucy is saddened that all this is necessary in a prosperous city, but is heartened by the outpouring of goodwill from all the volunteers who support her: “Unfortunately it seems that the need continues to grow greater than ever and so we must continue to ask the Lord to continue to bless us in our work each day.”
The idea of helping the growing number of single adults adrift on the city streets came from a local priest 27 years ago, who enlisted the support of Sr Pauline Gaughan, who initially opened a small café offering sandwiches and drinks. Sr Lucy comments: “The apostolic drive of the Daughters of Charity, particularly Sr Pauline and the inspiration of the Divine Word, elaborated in Chapter 25 of St Matthew’s Gospel, turned the half sheet of foolscap into a living and breathing mission, within a matter of months.”
In recent years Sr Lucy has noticed an increase in asylum seekers and refugees who arrive in great need: “These people are really destitute, they are entitled to nothing. We’re trying to make life a bit easier for them.” A barber from Syria, who originally turned to Cornerstone for help, is one of those who now volunteers his services weekly.
Of society in general, Sr Lucy notes that compared to when she started at the Centre, food poverty is now an issue and not just for the homeless: “There were no such things as foodbanks 16 years ago. Families are needing them now – the working poor. In addition the delays in processing benefit payments have created a lot of difficulties for some.” She also laments the availability of cheap drugs: “The latest one that’s around has been making people ill and some have died. It destroys people.”
Sr Lucy has been described as “like a mother to all who come to Cornerstone.” She focusses these days on spending time talking to clients and befriending them individually: “They see this as a safe place to be, a bit like having a family. When they come in, I get their life story and an account of how they arrived to be where they are. People of any age group can encounter problems.”
Turning her thoughts to the future, Sr Lucy is looking forward to staying put: “I enjoy being here, wandering around in the background. I keep an eye out for any clients who might be looking a bit lost. Faith is the basis of what we do: Jesus wants us to look after the poor and downcast. The Lord will let me know when it’s time to stop.”