With hundreds of people expected to use the Newport Night Shelter during the cold winter months, Chris Seal speaks to the people that use it to see how it has helped them over the Christmas period.

"It’s changed my life."

That’s how one person described the Newport Night Shelter earlier this week.

The night shelter, which has been running for seven years, offers a safe place for people to stay when they need it the most over the cold winter months.

It not only offers warmth and comfort to those that are struggling during what can be one of the loneliest times of the year, but it also offers a warm meal (as well as breakfast) and a friendly atmosphere to lift one’s spirits.

Indeed, on the night that the Argus visited the shelter earlier this week one of the guests was brought to tears after the volunteers unveiled a surprise birthday cake.

From November 30 until mid-January the night shelter is based in seven different churches for every night of the week.

After that, it moves to another seven churches from January until March 20.

It’s through the legion of volunteers from both the churches involved and the EdenGate charity that the service is able to provide for those in Newport who find themselves looking for a place to sleep each night.

Marc Hepton is a Newport Night Shelter co-ordinator and works four days a week, on call 24 hours a day, making sure that the service caters for everyone it can. The night shelter is limited to 12 people each night and the people who use it, who are referred to as guests, are not allowed to drink alcohol or take any drugs on the premises.

He said that the night shelter worked on a referral basis, with those rated as a priority for emergency accommodation sent to them from the likes of Gwent Police, Newport City Council, the Probation Service, the Gwent Drug and Alcohol Service (GDAS), as well as hostels like Solas on Clarence Place and The Olive Branch day centre on Stow Hill.

He said about the referral system: “It’s safer and we get the most needy people coming to use us.

“Safety for all our volunteers, and our guests, is our primary concern.”

During their time in the night shelter they try and address their housing needs, as well as providing advice if they have any alcohol or drug problems and helping direct them to the rehab centre.

They also offer a friendly ear and provide support to anyone that needs it.

He said one of the hardest things they had to do was turn people away when they were full up.

“I try my best not to turn people away as we don’t want people on the streets.”

He said that the scheme, which was launched by EdenGate CEO Stuart Johnson and his wife Caroline Johnson, had made a ‘massive difference’ to Newport.

“There’s not one other service in Newport that provides emergency accommodation like the night shelter,” he said.

“Without us we would have people sleeping in the cold outside in the winter months and people would be dying.”

He said that a lot of the success of the night shelter was down to the generosity and warmth of the volunteers, with more than 300 set to give up their own free time to work around the clock offering their help: “We like to keep a family feel to the atmosphere,” he said.

“The volunteers are fantastic. The night shelter wouldn’t be able to cope without the volunteers.

“They cover either the 6pm til 10pm shift or the 10pm to 6am shift.”

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the night shelter will also be providing shoeboxes full of presents to the guests, after items were donated to the EdenGate charity by members of the public.

“One gentleman was in tears last year as it was his first time out of prison on Christmas Day in 15 years,” said Mr Hepton.

The night shelter catered for 460 people last year, and it wouldn’t be surprising if even more were to make use of the invaluable service this year.

Mr Hepton said that the night shelter wasn’t just beneficial to the guests, but also helped the volunteers too.

“This is such a rewarding and motivating job,” he said.

The seven churches covering the night shelter now, from Monday to Sunday, are St Julian’s Methodist Church on Caerleon Road, Holy Trinity Church in Christchurch, St Mary’s Church on Malpas Road, Bethel Community Church on Stow Hill, St Paul’s Church on Commercial Street, St Julians Baptist Church on Beaufort Road and St Mark Church on Gold Tops.

The seven churches running from January are: Christchurch Centre in Malpas, Duckpool Road Baptist Church, Newport Cathedral, Nant Coch Church, Lliswerry Baptist Church on Camperdown Road, Malpas Road Evangelical Church and St John’s Church on St John’s Road.

Darren Wood, who has previously featured in the Argus after he broke both his arms and legs falling from George Street Bridge, has stayed as a guest and volunteered at the Newport Night Shelter.

“I have been a guest three years running and have also volunteered, so I’ve experienced every church and met all the staff,” he said.

“It’s nice to experience both sides of it.”

He has most recently been working as a general labourer and lift operator at the Friars Walk development, but after finding himself unemployed he has been back to the night shelter.

He said he was thankful for all the help from the night shelter and said that anyone who is experiencing homelessness should seek the help that is available to them.

“They have really helped me turn my life around and put me on the right track,” he said.

“For anyone that is homeless the advice I would give is to see what help is available and use it.

“The night shelter has changed my life.”

Benjamin Jenkins, 40, a plasterer by trade, also praised the night shelter.

“I think it’s fantastic and is a brilliant scheme,” he said.

“They are really kind and good to you.”

During the night the volunteers realised that Benjamin was vegetarian, so volunteer Beverley Cousins rushed home to pick up a quorn fish meal and cook a baked potato so he had something to eat for dinner, as well as some vegetarian sausages for the morning.

“I was in work today and had quite a stressful day,” she said.

“My colleagues said they bet I couldn’t wait to go home and relax with a bottle of wine, but I told them instead of that I was going to the night shelter to help other people.

“We are all only a pay packet away from being homeless, so it’s nice to help others.

“It’s a joy to come here.”

She added: “I just think that we are so lucky and fortunate in life. Some of us have never experienced hardships like others. It’s just that what we can do to help other people, as everyone needs help now and again.”

One woman, who did not want to be named, said that the night shelter stopped people from feeling isolated.

“When you are homeless it’s nice to have contact with people and stops you from feeling isolated.

“It’s helping me with my drug and alcohol problems and it’s almost like a family.”

And that pretty much sums up the Newport Night Shelter.

As from the moment people walk into the night shelter that’s how they are treated, like family.