Railway station hosts homeless banquet

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionGuests were given goodie bags filled with essentials

It’s no ordinary commuter Monday at Euston Station in London.

The last train left at 23:00 on Sunday and the passengers are home – but the concourse is busy with people sitting down to a Christmas Day feast.

An arrivals board reads: “Special notice: Network Rail invites you to Euston Station. Merry Christmas!”

For the first time, the transport hub has become a homeless shelter for 200 people – as one of many public spaces that normally lie empty on Christmas.

Some 45 volunteers have worked overnight to transform the station ready for a banquet of smoked salmon, soup, a roast, and Christmas pudding.

Next to barred ticket terminals and a shut WH Smith, Boots and Paperchase, tables and chairs are decorated with red poinsettias.

Image caption Sharon has come to Euston for some company on Christmas Day

One of today’s guests, Sharon, says she has worn her best dress for the occasion.

“My support worker Christine told me about this a couple of weeks ago,” she says.

“I knew I didn’t have anything to do. I would be at home on my own and at times you’re lonely, especially at Christmas.”

Sharon, who moved to London from the US two decades ago, says she had to give up work as a retail manager because of a leg injury, but hopes to return next year.

“I’m on the mend, I’ll definitely be dancing today!”

Image caption Joe Hendry, Euston’s station manager, initially dismissed the idea

About 120,000 people pass through Euston every day, making it Britain’s fifth-busiest train station, according to ticket sales data.

But today is more relaxed; cheers erupt as a pianist plays Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

It’s a novelty for those who normally work at Euston, including station manager Joe Hendry.

“I initially didn’t think it would be possible,” he says.

“But turning up to work today at 06:30 this morning and seeing everyone here – it’s wonderful.

“We have a big local homeless population here, so I’ve seen some familiar faces.”

Warning over UK’s ‘hidden’ homeless

One in 25 people homeless in worst areas

Reality Check: Who is homeless?

‘Lonely at Christmas’

Jay, originally from Cork, moves from place to place in the area, and is currently living in an abandoned solicitors’ office.

“If I wasn’t here I’d be in the office – there’s 20 of us – we would try and have a good time,” he says.

Image caption Jay squats in local properties, and says he would otherwise be unable to afford a Christmas dinner

“We got tickets for today – it’s nice to have something to do, we have bare cooking facilities and don’t have much money for nice food.”

But word has spread.

Outside the station, people – many clutching blankets and shopping bags – are trying to get entry to the dinner, which is ticket-only and tightly guarded by Euston’s security staff.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionNetwork Rail’s Steve Naybour: “Santa came last night” to Euston

The event was the brainchild of a group of Network Rail workers, including Steve Naybour, who was inspired by the Glastonbury Festival’s use of vacant fields.

“Every year the festival uses fallow ground that would otherwise be unused – in a similar way, we thought about how we can use our empty stations,” he says.

Steve’s used to working over Christmas – and has a shift on Boxing Day – but says today is different.

“It’s amazing to see the concourse looking so festive, which would normally be packed with commuters.”

Volunteers prepping the alcohol-free four-course meal tweeted their efforts using the #EustonChristmas hashtag.

Nearly 50 different businesses and organisations have donated items – including food, drinks and thermal clothes – to the event.

Mr Naybour says he has been “blown away” by the generosity, adding: “We’ve got a whole department store of clothes we’re waiting to give out.”

Two hundred children from schools in the local area have made Christmas cards to give to the guests, while local kitchens have opened up to help volunteers prepare the meal.

Image caption Charity volunteer Jon Glackin says empty buildings should be used as shelters

Jon Glackin, from the charity Street Kitchen, says he “jumped at the chance” to help. “People we’ve known over the years are coming along,” he says.

“Something we’ve always tried to highlight is empty buildings, for feeding people, for sleeping and for shelters,” adds Jon.

Elsewhere:

  • A theatre in Plymouth is opening its doors to offer homeless people a place to stay. Locals have decorated the foyer of the Palace Theatre and donated practical items like coats, shoes, blankets and jumpers.
  • Westlode Fisheries in Spalding, Lincolnshire, is opening on Christmas Day between 13:00 GMT and 15:00 GMT offering free hot meals for the “homeless, elderly or people who are struggling this Christmas”.
  • Burnley’s Muscle Factory gym is opening at lunchtime offering shelter, food and haircuts so that “no one should feel alone on Christmas Day”.

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42477120