With homelessness in Blackburn with Darwen at a record high, and the switch to universal credit leaving many unable to cope, one organisation has been looking after and supporting the most vulnerable in society for more than a quarter of a century. Lancashire Telegraph reporter, Amy Farnworth, went to the Thomas Organisation to find out how the work they are doing is offering a lifeline for those who need it most.

The Thomas Organisation has been operating in Blackburn for 25 years.

Founded by Father James McCartney in 1994, it offers drop-in facilities, outreach and rehabilitation programmes for those with addiction problems. It also provides residential provision and support for prolific offenders and the homeless, to guide them towards a new life of opportunity and hope.

The organisation uses a network of volunteers and recovery mentors who liaise with the most disadvantaged in society to help them on the road to recovery.

Drop-in coordinator, Bev Suddick, said: “Essentially we’re a recovery area. We work with those on the margins of society, who are really struggling, so victims of domestic violence, drug addicts and the homeless, and run projects which aim to build better opportunities for those people to help them engage in the community.

“We also offer rehabilitation and recovery housing and provide a food drop-in centre where we feed about 50 people a day.

“A lot of people come through our doors after hearing about us through word of mouth, but we do get plenty of referrals too, and we have recovery housing in Salford and are just about to move into a new house in Bolton.”

Mrs Suddick said the organisation often supports people who cannot claim benefits or who are struggling with the switch to Universal Credit. She also said there are people who have been using their services for several years, and find the open door policy a welcome relief from what can sometimes be an isolated existence.

One such person the organisation has managed to help is 37-year-old Michael Wilson.

Michael first accessed the Thomas Organisation around 15 years ago, after a horrific car accident in Spain left him unable to work and his life descended into one of drug addiction and homelessness.

He said: “When I left school I worked as a chef for a while, but when I was 21 I went to Spain with a friend to work and travel around.

“However I had to stop working after a car accident left me with a broken arm and leg.

“I was on the sick for a long time and got into a bit of a mess financially and ended up going down the wrong path with drugs.”

Michael, originally from Blackburn, has two children, but due to his lifestyle choices, he lost contact with both of them.

He said: “I was sleeping rough for a while, living on people’s couches, and then I started coming here to use the food drop-in centre because I didn’t have enough money to buy food.

“But more often than not I just came down for a chat and started to build relationships with the people working here.

“There’s people to turn to and people who will listen to you. They do so many good things and I think it would be very hard for a lot of people if they weren’t here.”

By attending the Thomas Organisation, Michael has been put in touch with other services, including doctors and nurses who have helped him with his drug rehabilitation.

He has also been offered volunteer opportunities, which he says has given him the ethic he needs to one day get back into the workplace.

He said: “It’s part of my daily ritual now to come down here, even if it’s just for a coffee.

“And thanks to Bev and everyone here I’ve been clean and off heroin for around 18 months.

“They’ve even helped me find some secure accommodation and are helping me get all the right benefits in place so that hopefully, by the time I’m 40 I can be settled and back working again.

“I know lots of people who’ve been helped through this place and their lives have been saved. The people who work here are amazing. Bev in particular is a wonderful woman and has helped me a lot.

“If it wasn’t for the Thomas Organisation I don’t know where I’d be.” * The Thomas Organisation received an £8,000 grant from the Lancashire Telegraph owner’s charity arm the Gannett Foundation UK. The money will go towards new windows at the charity’s Blackburn headquarters. If your application missed out in 2018, you can try again later this year. Chairman of the trustees Simon Westrop said: “If your application did not succeed this time, please don’t be discouraged, but look at the applications that have won grants and think how you can come up with even better ideas next year. Often we think the best applications are not the headline-grabbers but the small ones that meet a particular need and instantly improve daily life. For instance, the new kettle the community centre has been wanting for ages. So think practically.”