What is CENS?
Colchester Engagement & Next Steps (CENS), formerly known as Colchester Emergency Night Shelter, is a registered charity which has been supporting people who have found themselves homeless for almost 40 years. We provide emergency accommodation and help to those most in need across Colchester and Essex.
We offer more than just a bed and a meal, providing everything from housing and health advice to learning and support. Our aim is to move our residents on to permanent, safe independent living. We believe that having a home is a basic human right. Since opening, we have helped hundreds of people make fresh starts in their lives.
We underwent a major refurbishment in 2021, and now provide 15 ensuite bedrooms for some of the most vulnerable people within our community. We also provide 4 bedrooms in our move-on accommodation next door.
Where we've been
CENS has been operating for almost 40 years, and in that time has seen a great deal of change, development and progress in the fight against homelessness. Here’s our journey.
Where we're going
Although our ethos, passion and determination remains the same, we will be adapting our services and taking this opportunity to offer greater wraparound care to support our residents.
We receive funding from a variety of sources. A recent National Lottery grant enabled us to refurbish the shelter, ensuring that it is Covid-safe. We also receive funding from referrals via housing benefit. Additional funding comes through donations, fundraising and sponsorships. Donations are crucial to CENS, and as a small charity, 100% of your donations go directly to supporting the running of the shelter.
The residents do not directly pay rent, but the shelter receives payment through their housing benefit. In addition we request that residents pay a £4 per night fee, which covers all their meals and enables us to pay for heating, electricity, water, council tax etc.
CENS is a not-for-profit organisation, but in order for us to survive and run the shelter in a safe and efficient manner, we need to ensure that we can cover the costs related to keeping the shelter open. We ask our residents to contribute a small amount of money to their living costs, as we believe this shows a commitment from them, as well as enabling them to take the first steps towards budgeting and money management.
We always welcome donations and will ensure that every penny donated will go towards helping a homeless person. We are a very small charity, with no advertising or marketing budgets, so all donations make a direct difference. Find out more about how to donate on our Donate Page.
The shelter has many costs from heating and maintenance to meals and support. We are constantly looking for new projects which will help us improve our services and maintain our successful track record of supporting our residents and help them move on to secure housing. This cannot be achieved without your generous donations. All money donated to CENS will go towards the running of the shelter and will directly help a homeless person.
Whilst we do not request clothing donations, there may be certain times of the year that we require particular items. We will put a call out for these across our social media platforms.
We currently have no volunteering vacancies. However, whether you’re looking to volunteer once or on a regular basis, there are occasionally volunteering opportunities available at CENS. Head to our Get Involved Page for more information or to get in touch. Check our Facebook page for updates.
Your CENS team
Everyone who works with CENS has a unique talent which they bring to the charity. This culminates in a diverse range of skills, experience, backgrounds and education. However, one thing they all have in common is their passion and commitment to helping support homeless people rebuild their lives.
Marina first came to CENS twenty years ago as a part-time Administrator. Over the years she trained across all areas of the project, whilst studying accountancy in the evenings and juggling a variety of positions. She rose to the role of Manager ten years ago and set about making some changes which would benefit the project and the community. These included purchasing the move-on property and overseeing the complete refurbishment of the shelter. She feels as passionate and committed to improving the lives of people finding themselves homeless as ever before.
Patsi has a background in third sector and social services administration with engagement. She joined CENS in 2017 as part time administrator alongside her other role with Christians Against Poverty. When the shelter reopened in 2021 she was keen to return, and rejoined full time in June 2022. Patsi is passionate about serving vulnerable people, in a way that promotes independence with a realistic path forward. ‘It is a real pleasure to be part of this hard-working team, seeing people break the cycle of homelessness, and turning lives around.’
After running her own baking and confectionery business for five years, Emma was looking for a new challenge. The perfect role came up at CENS and she joined as the new Kitchen Coordinator in May 2023. She is passionate about food and cooking and loves the positive feedback from the delicious home-cooked food provided for the residents every evening. Emma enjoys working with the dedicated volunteers who help cook meals during the week and being a part of the great team at CENS.
Housing Co-ordinator & Project Worker
Julie came to work at CENS in 2017 as a Project Worker supporting residents overnight at the shelter. Whilst CENS was closed for refurbishment, she worked for MIND alongside the NHS crisis team, supporting people struggling with mental health issues, which she found challenging and rewarding. She is now enjoying working with the homeless community again and will use her new skills to support the residents.
Having worked in the Social Care sector for most of her adult life, Debbie joined the CENS team in 2017 as a Project Worker after leaving the National Probation Service as a Programmes Tutor. She soon found that working within the CENS team, supporting residents from all walks of life was one of her most rewarding job roles, and she is excited to be back at a time when there are so many positive changes taking place.
Admin Assistant & Project Worker
Hannah volunteered at CENS six years ago, and was struck by the sense of community the project offered people during their most challenging times. When a vacancy for a Project Worker arose, she applied and was thrilled to become part of something she believed in. She is also studying to be a therapist and hopes this will help her support the residents further. One thing she has learned from her experience at CENS is that homelessness really can happen to anyone.
“I have seen people come and go and there have been huge ups and downs, but nothing gives me more joy than when we say goodbye to someone who is moving on to secure accommodation, with a positive and hopeful future ahead of them. I feel privileged just to know that due to all the hard work by the team, along with ongoing support from everyone in the community, we are making a massive difference to the lives of those that need our support. We have many challenges ahead, given the cost of living crisis, but I know that we will continue to do our best to be here for those in need”
Marina Woodrow, Manager, CENS
Ray has been a Trustee since 2014. He first became a supporter when his company adopted CENS as their ‘Charity of the Year’. He helped initiate various fundraising events and was so impressed by the professional commitment of the staff and ambitions of the charity, that when the opportunity arose to become a Trustee, he unhesitatingly joined.
Alison has been on the Board for over four years and is the current Chair. Having studied Law at University, her career over the years has touched many areas of client- focused contracts including Public Health, Drugs and Alcohol Services, Domestic Violence and Fostering. She brings her academic knowledge and vocational experience to the Board.
A member to the Board of Trustees for three years, Emily has an editorial and marketing background, having worked within magazine and digital publishing for many years. She brings her skills and knowledge to CENS at a time of huge change and development, and supports the marketing, digital and fundraising efforts as CENS moves forward.
When Pete retired from his role as a civil servant, he worked for a housing charity as an advocate for people threatened with eviction. He started volunteering for CENS in 2018 and became a Trustee in 2022. Pete also works in the community as a befriender and English language coach, and volunteers for Colchester Refugee Action.
After graduating, Gerrard initially worked in investment
banking, before leaving the city and moving into property development, eventually establishing his own property development business. He started donating to CENS after learning about the charity and its work with homeless people, and became a Trustee and treasurer in 2016.
Faye has managed the real estate for Hiscox for the past eight years and was thrilled when in 2021, they chose CENS as their charity of the year. Impressed with what she saw, she joined the board in 2022. “I am committed to being a Trustee, as it enables me to help shape, support and contribute my ideas and skills to such a meaningful cause.”
Following a career break from her job as a software engineer, Clare became involved in affordable housing. She has been working in the Almshouse movement for over twenty years and is now the Clerk of 24 Almshouse charities. Through her charitable work, Clare witnessed the plight of homelessness and recognising a synergy with CENS, joined as Clerk in 2018.
What is homelessness?
There are many forms of homelessness. It can affect anyone at anytime. The causes and effects are complicated and varied and often so intrinsically linked that a cyclical situation can be created, which is hard to break free from.
Rough sleeping is the most visible and harmful form of homelessness. However, sofa surfing or living in temporary or unstable accommodation, such as a hotel or a B&B are also forms of ‘hidden homelessness’. These hidden homeless may be in less life-threatening situations, but they are still vulnerable, and are often only one step away from rough sleeping.
There are many reasons for people becoming homeless, including mental and physical health issues, problems with drugs or alcohol, relationship or family issues, abuse, economic hardship and unemployment. Whatever the initial cause, it can be very hard to escape the revolving door of homelessness without professional help and support. That’s where we come in.
We couldn’t be the success we are without the support, help and collaboration of our partner agencies, organisations and charities.
Here are just a few of them.
Beacon House provides a range of services to people who are either homeless, in insecure accommodation, or at risk of homelessness in Colchester, Essex. Services onsite include: NHS healthcare, showering facilities, laundry, clothing and toiletries. They also offer a cafe, counselling, life skills including CV writing, cooking and budgeting. All services are free of charge.
Phoenix Alcohol Project
Providing support, advice and information around alcohol use for adults living in Essex.