When the homeless charity Nightsafe had to close its doors in March 2020 as the UK went into lockdown, CEO Jan Larkin didn't know what to do.

"We’ve been going over 30 years and we’d never been closed," she says. "When we were forced to close the day centre and the night shelter, I remember sitting there that day thinking ‘I don’t want to go’. I cried."

Nightsafe, has been supporting young people in the Blackburn with Darwen area since 1990.

During that time, the charity, which relies heavily on volunteers, has helped more than 14,750 locals aged 16-24, who have been homeless or at risk of becoming so.

In total, the organisation has served up more than 150,000 meals to vulnerable people, and prevented more than 43,000 nights spent on the streets of East Lancashire.

Nightsafe's operation includes an emergency night shelter, where up to five people at a time can stay in a safe environment for up to nine nights.

During this time, staff work with the borough and various social services and authorities to help secure more permanent living arrangements.

"Nobody's turned away homeless," says senior operations manager Faith Marriott. "Everybody gets accommodation."

The charity also runs four supported accommodation projects where young people can stay long-term while receiving bespoke support for their needs.

Finally, there is also an activity-based day centre, Platform 5, which is open to everyone in its accommodation projects, as well as homeless people who can use it on a drop-in basis.

Here, everyone has access to hot drinks, meals, showers and laundry facilities - as well as practical advice, activities, sports sessions and life skills classes.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Nightsafe had to immediately shut the night shelter and day centre.

Residents in its long-term housing projects had to isolate indoors, just like every other household in the UK.

"The pandemic really hit us hard," says Jan. "We are, albeit, a relatively small charity, but we’ve been a constant in young people’s lives."

The day centre continued to provide what Jan calls 'door support' for homeless people on the streets, providing blankets and sleeping bags at a distance,

But nobody could come into the building until it re-opened to the homeless in May in a socially-distanced manner, with the support of Public Health.

"The first person who came and accessed us turned up at the door - he hadn’t had a shower in nine weeks," recalls Jan. "He cried."

“Can you imagine what lockdown feels like for a homeless person?" says Faith. "They have nowhere to go."

"Last summer was really really hot - there’s nothing worse than being homeless when it’s hot," adds Jan. "We don’t have drinking fountain facilities anymore, so one thing we were really doing was making sure we had bottled water to give people."

Thankfully, the night shelter was allowed to re-open its doors in December, and has been running at reduced capacity, offering three emergency beds per night, ever since.

Both Jan and Faith believe the biggest challenge during the pandemic has been looking after the mental health and wellbeing of their young people, as well as that of staff and volunteers.

The charity worked hard to keep its housing project residents productive and occupied, setting up gardening competitions, securing laptops so they could stay connected, bringing in home gym equipment and commissioning a professional to focus on emotional wellbeing.

Modifications were also made to the night shelter, which was thoroughly deep cleaned during its closure, and kindly re-decorated courtesy of the local Round Table organisation and Crown Paints.

Staff installed a dishwasher to ensure kitchen equipment could be washed at high temperatures, bought new bedding and got new furniture that could be cleaned easily.

“We had to take every precaution to be safe,” says Jan.

At the start of the pandemic there were concerns about funding, but Jan says Nightsafe has been lucky to secure various grants to minimise the impact of any drop in income.

And the support from the community, she says, has been amazing.

“We’ve always been so well supported - not just in Blackburn with Darwen but right across Lancashire," she says. "Lancashire people are the best, and we’ve been amazingly well supported in terms of donations.”

Public Health has also been very supportive, with all staff given Covid-19 vaccinations that allow them to continue to work safely.

Both Jan and Faith are immensely proud of both the young people in their care, who they say have shown incredible resilience, and of the charity's hard-working staff and volunteers.

So what's next for Nightsafe? "Hopefully at some point, some light relief for us all to get together," says Jan. "I’m so hoping we can have our sleepout [an annual fundraising event] this year."

Faith agrees: “I can’t wait to see all the young people together, celebrating that we’ve come out of lockdown, that we’ve got through this together.”

To support Nightsafe, see nightsafe.org