Innovative partnership sees specialist rough sleeping teams supported by cyclists.

Volunteers on bikes have taken to the streets of London to help support people sleeping rough.

The cyclists are part of a service called First Response which is run by leading homelessness charity St Mungo’s in partnership with London estate agent Chestertons.

The scheme works by recruiting and training volunteers to work alongside St Mungo’s Westminster and Tower Hamlets outreach teams to find people who may be sleeping on the streets.

The First Response volunteers help by visiting the locations where members of the public – through the Streetlink Service – have let them know they have seen people sleeping rough.

The volunteers then let the Outreach team know if the person needing support is still there or has moved on, freeing up vital time ensuring the specialty trained workers’ time is maximised helping people who need it most.

Due to the speed and ease at which the cyclist can move around the city streets they are able to verify twice as many locations as volunteers on foot.

First Response has been running for four years but has only introduced the cycling shifts within the last 12 months. Since it started it has supported almost 800 people to leave the streets.

Supported by Chestertons and the Chestertons Foundation the scheme has recruited around 250 volunteers who devote their spare time to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.

These volunteers have spent almost 4,500 hours of their time volunteering to support 705 outreach shifts around London.

Thanks to the efforts of First Response volunteers who have checked almost 7,000 referrals, St Mungo’s specialist outreach workers are able to use their time more effectively, ensuring as many people as possible can be supported.

Angela Proctor, St Mungo’s First Response Coordinator, said:

“Our cyclists and all our First Response volunteers give up so much of their free time and are invaluable to this service, we really couldn’t do this without them and the support from Chestertons.

“I feel honoured to have worked on this project for so long and it is a real credit to everyone involved the huge success we have achieved over the last four years.

“The last few years have been a challenge with the pandemic but with the support of the volunteers and our staff we have kept up momentum and supported many people indoors during dangerous times. We are so grateful to everyone involved in this project.”

Salah Mussa, chairman of Chestertons and a trustee of the Foundation, commented:
“Chestertons and the Chestertons Foundation have supported St Mungo’s First Response initiative since its launch four years ago and are very proud of the impact that the scheme has had. Like St Mungo’s, we are committed to helping tackle homelessness and end the misery it causes thousands of people every year.”

Ian, First Response Volunteer, said:

“Working in Parliament I passed rough sleepers everyday walking into work. Living with mental health problems, I know how easy it would be for my, or anyone’s, life to suddenly turn upside down and end up on the streets; so I wanted to do something to help and First Response lets me volunteer around my job.

Cycling on shift means we can cover so much more ground than on foot or public transport. The more referrals we can check, the more people the outreach team can help. It is really great after a shift getting an email from the team to say that someone we’ve found is now getting help, and thinking I was a small part of someone possibly getting off the streets.”

Anyone interested in supporting this work can donate here and if you are interested in our volunteering opportunities please visit our volunteering page.