01 February 2010

Staff from Northamptonshire County Council’s Longtown Outdoor Education Centre are set to canoe more than 150 miles across England’s inland waterways to raise money for charity and raise awareness of what the centre does.

Six outdoor enthusiasts will set out on Monday, February 8 to paddle their way from Northampton to Wales to raise money for the Northampton Hope Centre, formerly the Northampton Soup Kitchen.

The centre offers practical support, friendship and a sense of community to Northampton’s homeless and other socially excluded groups.

The quest will see the team canoeing on the Grand Union Canal, River Avon, River Severn and Severn Estuary to reach their goal in Wales.

County council cabinet member for children and young people, Cllr Andrew Grant, said: “For many years Longtown has provided an excellent opportunity for our young people from Northamptonshire to enjoy the great outdoors in all weathers under the guidance of experts.

“Not only are the activities the centre provides a lot of fun but they also encourage the development of many skills that enhance the young people’s lives for years to come.

“An experience in Longtown can improve leadership skills, build confidence and unlock new skills many thought they never had.”

The trip comes 12 months after canoeists from Longtown took part in a shorter charity paddle, which took them from Herefordshire to Northampton.

It was on this journey that the head of the outdoor centre, Mike Fawcett, decided to raise money for Northampton Hope Centre, after encountering men sleeping rough under a bridge in severe weather conditions.

On a visit to the charity’s Northampton base, Mr Fawcett, discovered that two of the Hope Centre’s clients were ex-servicemen who had recently served their country in hostile environments.

Commenting on the various ex-servicemen who are clients at the Hope Centre, Debbie Galton of the charity said: “I think the causes for homelessness and social exclusion amongst ex-servicemen or women are the same as among any other group in society: mental health problems, childhood troubles, poverty, divorce, addiction and, increasingly, debt-related problems. But the transition from military to civilian life can trigger problems.”

The team includes three canoeists who originally hail from Northamptonshire: Recently appointed operations manager Lee Cave from Rushden; trainee instructor Tom Sharpe from Kingsthorpe; and friend of Longtown, Laurianne Mackenzie (nee Ansell), from Cogenhoe.

To find out more about the challenge visit the Longtown website, email Mike Fawcett on mfawcett@northamptonshire.gov.uk or phone 01873 860225.

To make a donation visit the just giving website.

Information about the Northampton Hope Centre:

Northampton Hope Centre began back in 1974 when local man Michael Mulligan started a free food handout for rough sleepers from the back door of Bishop’s House in Marriott Street. This grew over the years into the Northampton Soup Kitchen and finally developed in the Hope Centre, a Day Centre offering a wide range of services and practical support to Northampton’s homeless and other socially excluded groups.

35 years later, they are still offering life’s basics such as hot meals, showers and clothes. They now also offer a range of life skills workshops and activities to improve their clients self esteem and enable them to move on. The client group includes the street homeless and vulnerably housed along with those who are settled but have ongoing complex needs including drug, alcohol and mental health issues.

The centre offers practical support, friendship and a sense of community. Without the Hope Centre, many clients would have no-where to turn and no hope of improving their future. The charity sees approximately 60 clients each day and it costs £12,500 each month just to keep the doors open.

For more information go the the Hope Centre website.