IT IS 9.30am and breakfast is in full swing at Carecent. There is a fug of warmth and chatter in the large, cheerful room attached to the Central Methodist Church on St Saviourgate.

Groups of men and women clustered at the tables laugh and joke as they tuck into beans on toast or down mugs of tea. The five volunteers behind the counter smile and chat among themselves as they whip up food on demand.

At a corner table, beneath a large window complete with potted plant, 28-year-old Anna Kirby is sitting with her partner Brad and friend Shayne Benson. She and Brad are unemployed and share a single room in a shared house. When she was younger, she admits, she was “a bit stupid”.

“I got myself into crime,” she says. “Shoplifting. It is hard to get a job with a record like mine.”

She also used drugs, but that is all behind her now, she says. “Now I’ve got myself clean. I got off drugs through Compass. That and the shoplifting is all behind me.”

Her two children, aged 11 and two-and-a-half, live with her mother. “But when I get properly settled, hopefully one day they will come and live with me,” she says.

For now, it is enough to be able to sit in this clean, well-lighted place.

Carecent describes itself as a “breakfast centre providing for the homeless, unemployed, disadvantaged and lonely”. Run by volunteers from local churches, it has been doing just that for more than 25 years.

Neither Anna nor Brad have jobs.

“So we haven’t got a lot of money,” she says. “We come here to socialise and have breakfast. It’s a good place to come. They also have clothes and toiletries, and nobody ever talks down to you.”

She glances at the volunteers behind the counter.

“You’d have to be a good person to get up at the time they do to come and serve breakfast to a lot of homeless people,” she says.

That is one of the things that is most noticeable about this place. It is so relaxed. Grandma’s kitchen, the volunteers who work here call it – and that is the kind of atmosphere they have tried to create.

There is no pressure on those who come here to be anything other than what they are. Yet gradually, as they return, the people who use this place strike up friendships with the volunteers.

Volunteers such as Jane Segaran, Carecent’s deputy coordinator. It has always bothered Jane that society turns its back on some people; that while she has a comfortable bed, a home and a family, some people do not.

“When you’ve got a roof over your head and you’re walking past people that haven’t… it doesn’t seem right,” she says.

Many of us have probably had such thoughts, but Jane did something about it. Six years ago, after listening to a talk at her Methodist church in Holgate, the mother of three, who works as a road safety instructor for City of York Council, became a Carecent volunteer.

She is one of more than 50 such volunteers, many of them with church connections, who make sure those who have nowhere else to turn at least get the chance of a hot breakfast.

If they want, they will get a lot more than that, says Carecent coordinator Alan Wright.

Carecent doesn’t set out to preach and it is not here to molly-coddle people. It is deliberately open only for about two and a half hours every day, from 8.30pm to just before 11am.

People with nowhere else to turn can be sure of at least one hot meal a day, and somewhere to sit and socialise in the warm. But they can’t sit here all day.

“We want to keep people alive, but we don’t want them to live on us,” Alan says.

What they do want to do – gradually, without any pressure – is to establish a bond of trust with the people who come for breakfast, and eventually encourage them to seek help.

“We want to engage with them, then introduce them to help, whether it is with drugs, or alcohol, or whatever,” says Alan, a retired senior estimator with Shepherd. “Often they wouldn’t go to those organisations directly. But they are quite happy to come here because there is food, and we can then introduce people who offer these things.”

This approach pays dividends. Alan is on friendly, easy terms with many of the people tucking into breakfast today. Everywhere he goes, he is greeted with a friendly word or a wave of the hand.

“If Alan can help you, he will,” says Shayne Benson. “Most of them will, if they can.”

Shayne has been coming to Carecent for 15 years, since he was 18. York born and bred, he doesn’t want to talk about how he ended up on the streets, except to say that it was as a result of family breakdown.

He has been in and out of prison but now, thanks to the help of the Peasholme Centre, after years of living in hostels and on the street, he has his own flat. He has been in it for about a month now, he says. “It took me 12 years to get a flat like that. It gives you a real buzz, to have your own keys, your own place – somewhere you can invite someone back, and do what you want.”

But despite being settled in his own place, he is still a Carecent regular.

Some people give you a funny look when you walk off the street into Carecent – or ‘Carebears’, as he calls it.

“But there’s nowt wrong with coming here. It’s nice to come somewhere warm and dry, get a cup of tea, and something warm in your belly.” He looks around. “Most people wouldn’t know what to do if this place shut down.”

Thanks to the efforts of Alan and his volunteers, there is little danger of that.

THE Carecent rules are simple: everyone is welcome, regardless of age, background, or gender. Most, but not all, of those who come for breakfast are homeless.

A simple “Welcome to Carecent” notice pinned up by the door outlines the dos and don’ts.

“Please show respect for people and property as we are here to help,” it says.

“Refrain from:

• Drinking alcohol in all of the church areas

• Taking and dealing drugs (to do so will result in the police being informed) or we will be shut down

For many there is no other place to go.”

Carecent frequently receives letters of thanks from those who were helped here, says Alan Wright. And on its 25th anniversary a year ago a number of poems and letters were put up as part of a display.

One of them was the song The Carebear Blues, written and performed by former Carecent customer Mike Marshall for the anniversary. Here are the first two verses:

“When I wake up after a long night
Oh man I know that this cannot be right
No man, I shouldn’t have to wake up outside
And asking for handouts is hurting my pride
Thank God for Carecent
On St Saviourgate,
They’re always people putting food on your plate.

“It’s not just breakfast its much more than that
There’s always someone there if you need to chat
And if you’re lonely or feel all alone
For 25 years there’s been a cornerstone
We all call it Carebears
On St Saviourgate
Where there’s a friend or maybe a mate.”

Fact file

Carecent is open to all, regardless of background, age or gender, six mornings a week – Monday to Saturday.

As many as 50 or 60 people might come for breakfast on any one morning – sometimes even more.

As well as offering a hot breakfast, Carecent also gives out clothing and toiletries.

The organisation depends entirely on donations – of food (mostly from local churches and congregations), clothing, toiletries, money and time.

If you would like to find out more, call 01904 624244 from 8.30am-11am Monday to Saturday, or email