Former Northampton rough sleeper takes on charity bike ride to say thanks to Hope Centre

Pictured from L-R: chair of organising committee Robert Whittle, former Hope Centre user Anthony Fitzgerald and retired chair of the Hope Centre Adrian Price pictured at the Waterside Campus on their ride back to Northampton on September 6.
Pictured from L-R: chair of organising committee Robert Whittle, former Hope Centre user Anthony Fitzgerald and retired chair of the Hope Centre Adrian Price pictured at the Waterside Campus on their ride back to Northampton on September 6.

A man, who slept rough on the steps of the Guildhall for three months, took part in a charity bike ride to pay thanks to the homeless charity that helped him get housed.

Anthony Fitzgerald accessed services at the Hope Centre for three months after quitting the Army and moving around the country, before he began to sleep rough in Northampton.

While he was homeless he volunteered at the charity and helped to clean and do laundry, which, at the same time, helped to improve his social life with fellow service users.

As a result of gaining support from a mental health nurse and a housing support officer the Hope Centre helped Mr Fitzgerald get a property in the Eastern District before he started his full time job at West Bridge Depot.

On September 5, 39 cyclists set off from Waterside Campus, and travelled by coach to Ypres in Belgium, where they laid wreaths - on behalf of Northampton organisations - at the Menin Gate that's dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown.

Anthony joined the team on the bike ride back on September 6 and cycled 35 miles from St Neots to Northampton - in a bid to raise about £35,000 for the Hope Centre. The amount is still to be confirmed.

He said: "I did a shorter route, I rode from St Neots to Northampton. It was still a good experience, I loved it. I'm hoping to do that next year."

"It's obviously a good cause and the staff members do help people move on who have problems. Quite a few people have now achieved what they wanted to do and get a flat or get into work.

"This is a way of paying the Hope Centre back for the things they have done for me. Before I got my job I was there volunteering every day. I did the laundry there or if they needed a cleaner I would do that too."

Oasis House, which is now open six days a week, was opened back in 2012 and is part funded by the HCA’s Places of Change and National Affordable Housing program, as well as Northamptonshire County Council Supporting People and NHS Northamptonshire.

In addition to accommodation, a range of organisations helping homeless people are also under one roof. These include the Hope Centre, which has day time drop-in facilities, the NAASH offices, Hope Enterprises, medical services provided by the Maple Access Partnership and the Homeless Forum.

Robin Burgess Hope Centre CEO said: "We are hoping and expecting to raise around £35,000 – one rider alone raised more than £4,000, but we realise many can’t make that much.

"These funds cover core costs – they are roughly equivalent to eight per cent of the operational budget or three weeks of our services being open.

"This funds the day centre to open to offer a warm, safe environment where people can get out of the cold, have meals, have a shower, get clothes, get some sleep perhaps, and go back out there.

"It is about the core services of keeping people alive and helping their lives to be better, with activities, events, groups and fun that we lay on for them alongside the core service."