Problem with homelessness continues as charity worker steps down

Canaan Christian Centre founder Evelyn Smith and caretaker Winsome Grant with some of the household

Canaan Christian Centre founder Evelyn Smith and caretaker Winsome Grant with some of the household items on offer at their final weekly garage sale, which will be held on October 15. Picture: KAREN BETHELL - Credit: Archant

A charity worker who has devoted nearly 40 years to providing shelter and support to needy families from the UK and abroad has decided to take life a little easier , and, next week, she will be hosting the last of the weekly charity garage sales which have seen her raise more than £30,000.

Evelyn Smith, 72, set up Canaan Christian Centre at Sheringham with the help of long-term friend June Coghlan and a small team of volunteers in 1976.

The seven-bedroom bungalow, in Holt Road, at first provided temporary accommodation for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

However, over the years, its work expanded to include a lunch club and a weekly children's club, with the centre also offering seaside holidays to needy youngsters and families.

After making a road trip to deliver Christmas presents to children living in a Hungarian orphanage in 1996, Miss Smith and her supporters began making regular treks to take aid to the youngsters and, 13 years ago, set up a sister centre in the west of the country.

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Kanaan Haas, which is now funded by the Hungarian government and provides shelter for up to 40 people, is still supported by Canaan, and, earlier this year, residents benefited from a new £4,000 play area built with funds raised by north Norfolk volunteers.

Other projects have included running a bible camp and paying for holidays for youngsters at an orphanage in Ukraine, supporting families in Nigeria and Brazil, and sending mugs filled with gifts and toiletries donated by Cromer Parish Church members to Hungarian orphans.

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Recognising a need for temporary accommodation for homeless people in north Norfolk, three years ago Miss Smith handed over the reins of Canaan to a team of staff and volunteers and the centre is now run under the direction of Cromer and District Food Bank chairman Michael Mahon by caretaker Winsome Grant.

'There is a real problem with homelessness in the area, so I felt that the right thing to do was to turn Canaan over to help them,' Miss Smith said.

Ms Grant, who aims to offer homeless families and individuals a chance to 'rest, refuel and re-power', said people often came to the centre in desperate need, with one elderly man founding living in a broken-down car just outside Cromer.

'When he arrived, he looked as if he hadn't had a decent meal for weeks,' she explained. 'But, when he left us to live in his own home, he was completely transformed.

'We are not just a homeless centre, we are a family, and when people leave, I feel a sense of loss too.'

After being told by her doctor – and her friends – that she needed to 'slow down', Miss Smith last month decided to take a step back and, while she will continue as a director of Canaan - and as a member of the ministry team at Cromer Parish Church - she will no longer be running her Saturday morning garage sales.

Instead, donated furniture will be collected for Canaan residents to take with them when they move into their own homes.

'I am so glad the centre is so effectively used,' Miss Smith said. 'It is wonderful to be able to give people a chance to find peace and take time to step back and see where their lives are going.'

Canaan Christian Centre, Holt Road, Sheringham, will be hosting its final garage sale on Saturday, October 15, from 9am-2pm.

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