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Former fire station in Clerkenwell gets new life as LGBTIQ+ homeless centre

Founders delighted at how UK’s first specialist centre has grown in its first year

24 January, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

Matt and Jess Turtle, and Carla and Laik Ecola

THE UK’s first LGBTIQ+ rough sleeper shelter has gone from strength to strength, with a new café and an exhibition on the history of homelessness set to open.

The Outside Project, based in the old Clerkenwell fire station in Rosebery Avenue, was founded by LGBTIQ+ activists dissatisfied with provisions for people in mainstream shelters.

Since moving into the site last year, the project has acted as a shelter, safe space, library, community centre and source of support for any LGBTIQ+ people, whether homeless or facing the prospect of becoming homeless.

Anyone who wants to be directed to the right services can speak to a member of the Outside Project team, or a number of other services represented on the site.

“We’re just always growing,” said founder Carla Ecola. “A few months ago it looked completely different in here, and in a few months’ time it will look different again.”

The Outside Project’s library

Some of the free space inside the building will soon be taken up by an LGBTIQ+ “oasis café”, for homeless people, or just people who don’t get along with their housemates or parents.

“It can also be used for different events like poetry workshops,” they added. “We’re going to run barista training, and we’ve decided to call it ‘Café Queero’. One of the experiences of being homeless is spending time in cheap coffee shops like Caffè Nero – so it’s a nod to that really.

“We’ll give the people who work here training to talk to people, and signpost them to where they can get help.”

The ground floor space also boasts a free shop and a library, while upstairs there are 12 beds – all of which are occupied.

Other activities that take place in the building include a domestic violence group, Taekwondo classes, social evenings and well-being groups.

The café is expected to be open within a month.

Clerkenwell fire station was closed in 2014

A collaboration between the Museum of Homelessness and the “Queerseum” has also taken over a section of the ground floor, and is due to open on February 1. The Museum of Homelessness exhibition, named Truths of the last 10 years, charts the rise of austerity in correlation with the rise in the number of people becoming homeless and of people living in temporary accommodation.

The charity, which was set up in 2015, is looking for its own permanent space, but has taken up a temporary residence in the old fire station.

The museum is also charting every homeless death in 2019 as part of the Dying Homeless campaign.

Co-founder Matt Turtle explained the exhibition also focused on the rise of charities and grass­roots homeless support groups, and praised the borough for the way it approached the issue.

“There’s a real sense of solidarity in Islington,” he said.

The exhibition sits alongside the Queerseum, dedicated to charting the rise of LGBT+ rights.

The Clerkenwell space is also shared by other organisations including African Rainbow Families and Streets Kitchen.

Anyone who wants to help with the Dying Homeless project can find more information on the Museum of Home­lessness website:

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