Outside a former church in the centre of York a group of people sit and wait.

They huddle together, cupping their hands over their mouths and stamping their feet. It is a cold night and they are doing all they can to keep warm.

More people join them, until there is quite a crowd on the pavement, standing to one side of the late evening shoppers.

Moments later, the doors to St Michael’s - now known as the Spurriergate Centre - open and they head inside.

The warm hall is filled with the wholesome smells of cooking. Tables are neatly laid, ready for diners, and soon the space is almost full.

This is Kitchen for Everyone (KFE) York, providing hearty meals and warm clothing for homeless and vulnerable people in the city.

For those who come along, on a Tuesday evening and a Sunday morning, it is a lifeline.

“It fills our bellies and gives us a chance to warm up, which is brilliant,” says Alan*, 58. “I’ve been four times. Last week was the best meal I’ve ever had,” he says, “The soup was so nice.”

Another, younger man, explains how he has lived on the streets for seven years after relationship problems led to him losing his home.

“I lost my house, my children, everything,” he confides, “Now I own what I am standing up in, that’s all.”

He says he is grateful for the winter clothes he has found at the centre, and sleeping bags.

Changes in circumstances, often unexpected, surround many a story of homelessness. Sitting alone at one table, one softly spoken man tells how he lost his home when his mother - a tenant in her property - died.

And Hazel*, who has suffered mental health problems for years, speaks of how she lost her home due to debt.

For the volunteers who willingly give up their time to be here, helping out is rewarding in many ways.

Carol McGrogan decided to lend a hand after her long-term health problems improved. “I feel a bit better at present and really wanted to give something back to the community. I was surprised when I met the people who come here, to see how grateful and humble they are.”

In common with a number of volunteers, Carol has been though upheavals in her own life. “I spent time in a homeless unit before I was rehoused, and could start to get back on my feet,” she says. “I certainly would not want to be out on the streets in this weather.”

New to the centre, Jeanette Craven has been through difficulties, having cared for her mother and sister before they died, and then losing her daughter.

“I retired this year, and my daughter died, I was suicidal,” says the former care worker, who also fostered her grandson for eight years. “I felt that I wanted to help people who need it. It makes me feel good to be giving something back. My heart goes out to them - they are so grateful and appreciative, always saying please and thank you, which you don’t get nowadays from a lot of people who are far better off.”

Overseeing the carefully choreographed operation, Helen Rawling, became involved after having done some volunteering work connected with the 2015 floods.

She spotted an advert on Facebook saying that local lay minister Dave Hobman who set up KFE in March 2016, was looking for people to help.

“The reason he set it up on a Sunday for breakfast was to fill a gap - Carecent in the Central Methodist Church in St Saviourgate provide a breakfast centre for the homeless and other groups of people on Monday to Saturday and do an amazing job, but there was nothing on a Sunday.”

A senior account executive for a manufacturing company, she adds: “We have people aged from 18 upwards, with most between 40 and 60. Some are homeless, some are living in hostels, some may have mental health issues and cannot support themselves either health wise or financially. We can refer them to other organisations if need be.”

Helpers also range widely in age – in the kitchen, Helen’s eight-year-old daughter Ellie, is busy cleaning out a pan, while Gabriella Bijster, 12, from Bubwith, is ladling out soup.

“I really like talking to people and getting to know them,” says Gabriella. “My sister and some friends had a yard sale to raise money for KFE and I thought I would like to come along and help.”

Gabriella’s mum Laura is also a key member of the team. Stirring a hot vat of braised beef and carrots - one of tonight’s choices alongside curry - she smiles as she recounts how she became involved through her daughter’s eagerness to volunteer.

“I really enjoy it, everyone is so friendly and it great to see people enjoying what we prepare.”

Warm clothing, and items such as sleeping bags are provided every week, through donations, Those who turn up can select items that with help to keep them more comfortable through the bitter cold nights. The volunteers are also making up Christmas boxes.

Support from local businesses, who donate food, funds or both, is gratefully received, and vital. Donators include Ashton’s estate agency, Haigh’s Bakery, Appleton’s Butchers, Greggs, Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons.

Organisers are planning to apply for charitable status for KFE next year.

By 7pm the hall is a hive of activity. Volunteer Danni Rankine is busy in the kitchen, Lynsey Noble plates up meals, Bret Tobler and Joe Wheeler, who volunteer for many causes through their church, help people get seated and wait on tables.

Team leader at KFY, Andy Darbyshire says: “We all moan about little things but this puts everything into perspective. It changes your life, and your outlook on life.”

*Kitchen for York, St Michaels Chambers, Spurriergate, York YO1 9QR, serves dinner on Tuesday evenings from 6.30pm to 8.30pm and breakfast on Sunday from 8am to 9.30am.

For more information, to volunteer or help with donations visit Kitchen for Everyone’s Facebook page.