It was back in 1972 that the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd first launched their mission to help the homeless and vulnerable of Wolverhampton.
Pauline Hotchkiss was there.
Back in February, at the official launch of the charity’s new multi-purpose premises on Waterloo Road, Pauline was there once again.
Just as she has been for the 47 years in between, supporting the Good Shepherd both as a dedicated volunteer, loyal member of staff and a Board member.
Nigel Tinsley, chairman of the Good Shepherd board of trustees, recalls how the charity first started, after several churches in Wolverhampton had become concerned about the number of people sleeping rough in doorways and derelict buildings, and begging on the streets.
“Father Cleary, a catholic priest, had heard that a small group of Catholic brothers, the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd, had been trying to set up an overnight shelter in Birmingham, but without success,” says Nigel.
“The Brothers were contacted, and agreed to come to Wolverhampton if suitable premises could be found.
“Wolverhampton was still a town in those days, and the town council found a derelict cinema in Thornley Street which had been empty for years.
“The roof leaked, and it made the dining room at future sites look like the Ritz, but it had a basic kitchen and large room for sleeping and eating, and upstairs a cluster of dark little rooms which became the Brothers’ accommodation.
“It opened for business on Christmas Eve in 1972, with a band of volunteers and two Brothers, Thomas and Malachy.”
And Pauline, as we have said, was there too.
“I was a teenager at that time, and part of a group of Methodists who would walk around the streets to try and check on people who were sleeping rough and try and help them if we could,” she recalls.
“On that opening night, a group of us, young people from the circuit, went along to the mass, and we sang carols.
“I used to volunteer, and do what I could to help at that time, and managed to carry on doing a few bits after I had left school.”
The Good Shepherd gradually became established, with more Brothers being sent to help, but the building limited the level of help which could be given to those in Wolverhampton who needed it.
Legend has it that Brother Malachy and another priest knelt in the mud on a parking lot opposite the Shelter, and prayed for a new building and, true or not, it worked, with the council gifting the land to Midland Heart Housing Association who were given £1million from the Government to build a proper shelter.
The Good Shepherd Centre, as it was called, opened in 1986. And the first employee? That was Pauline.
The Centre boasted 42 self-contained bedrooms, an impressive kitchen, TV lounge, counselling rooms, a medical room, clothing stores, showers and a commercial standard laundry.
Alongside that was a dedicated dining room for non-residents, known as The Fold, and as the centre went from strength to strength, soon there were 30 staff, including a nurse seconded from New Cross Hospital, five Brothers, training staff and support workers, all held together by a brilliant administrator in Brother David.
“I remember they had the funding for the building, but needed another £1,000 for some extras,” Pauline recalls.
“I organised an event and invited all the local churches to have a stall, and give us half of the money that they raised.
“Some of them gave us all of their funds, which is the sort of generosity which has made such a difference to the Good Shepherd down the years.
“We raised what we needed, and that was one of the first things I did while working for the charity.”
The years since haven’t always gone smoothly for the Good Shepherd, with changes in housing regulations and personnel providing various challenges and ultimately, the Brothers leaving the Good Shepherd Centre in 2003.
The council in Wolverhampton did not want to lose their extraordinary skills and experience in looking after those on the fringes of society, and decided to provide funds to set up on a new site, with Darlington Street Methodist Church stepping forward.
It took time to once more grow the charity, and grow the services offered, but the people of what was now the City of Wolverhampton rallied around to offer support.
As the years went by, the focus of the Good Shepherd was extended from being purely a food service into providing help and support and linking up with different agencies.
Despite enjoying an excellent relationship with Darlington Street Methodist Church, it was clear that new premises were urgently needed.
A suitable building was found in Waterloo Road and as 2019 turned into 2020, the services were gradually transferred.
Enterprise Homes moved the Overnight Shelter into the premises, and new services and relationships with other agencies were established.
And then there, on the front row at the official opening in a packed dining room in February, was Pauline, now 71-years-old but with her passion and enthusiasm to support the Good Shepherd as strong and unflinching as ever.
“This is wonderful, what they are doing here now,” she says with a huge smile.
“As soon as I was told what was happening, I was thrilled to bits.
“Even when I finished working for the Good Shepherd when I was 60, I continued to be involved and at one stage I was Chairman of the Board.
“I have always given what I can to the charity, and I used to collect a lot of clothing to pass on, and I have always done what I can for the Good Shepherd.”
Nigel himself, now the Chairman, has also been involved with the charity for many years, and is full of praise for everyone involved and all who continue to provide support, as well as the Brothers, who first started looking after people almost half a century ago.
“The Little Brothers and the Good Shepherd have been in Wolverhampton for over 47 years now, and there can’t be many people in Wolverhampton who don’t know about us,” he said.
“The support we receive is amazing – there is hardly a church that doesn’t make donations, a school that doesn’t give us food at Harvest time or an organisation like Rotary or Round Table that doesn’t support us.
“And this is all down to the dedication of the Brothers, who have never given up on the homeless, and the staff and volunteers who support them.”
The Covid -19 pandemic has forced Good Shepherd to adapt its services, but it still continues to provide food and support to the most vulnerable of our citizens.
Can you help the Good Shepherd as we continue to provide that help and support in these challenging times? Click here for some ways to donate.