How a Leeds project is making a big change to lives of the city's homeless and vulnerable people

As well as not knowing where they will sleep that night - many of the homeless in Leeds don't even know where they are born.

Tuesday, 19th November 2019, 9:40 am

Our identity is something we take for granted but for many rough sleepers they don't even know how they got there themselves never mind having the day to day details like a national insurance number, a driving licence or passport that we need to apply for jobs, benefits, housing and health services.

It adds to the cycle of despair and destitution they already find themselves in and makes it even harder to break.

However, successful businesses across the city are using their revenues to help the people that call the city centre streets their home, often using the doorways of these business as the roof over their heads.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Rough sleepers in Leeds find it hard to get access to help.

Big Change

Big Change is a collaborative city-wide campaign helping people in need on the streets of Leeds city centre and was instigated by LeedsBID (the Business Improvement District) and Leeds City Council just over a year ago.

With support from Leeds Community Foundation and Leeds businesses, Big Change Leeds enables people to donate money, time and resources and its focus is placed on addressing individual needs with small but essential everyday items which are often unfunded – a bus pass, a flat deposit, clothes for an interview or basics to furnish a flat.

More than £50,000 has been raised since Big Change Leeds launched in late October 2018 and £34,000 funding has been given out to help close to 300 individuals so far.

Big Change Leeds was set up a year ago to help vulnerable people on the streets of Leeds.

There are 17 charitable organisations involved who work with the homeless, rough sleepers, women trapped in life controlling addictions, refugees and asylum seekers as well as those providing outreach services.

St George’s Crypt, Change, Grow, Live and The Big Issue North to Basis Yorkshire, Joanna Project and Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network are some of the ones that have benefited from Big Change funding.

The Crypt

Christine Lane is the head of health and well-being at The Crypt where 125 service users have been helped with basic items including bus travel for appointments, prison / hospital leavers packs, mobile phone top-ups and replacement birth certificates.

Staff at Squire Patton Boggs picked Big Change as it's charity of the year.

She said: "The small but essential interventions Big Change Leeds is enabling us to make possible are resulting in a massive change to clients - ranging from birth certificates and contributions towards essential travel for appointments to the provision of a puzzle book to support in signing up for a basic literacy and numeracy course.

“We were able to include a client who could not read into our Growing Rooms (addiction recovery programme). Although there is a lot of literature to read, we were able to get this information on CD and provide the client with a small CD player. This means he can study and understand without obstacles. I have already seen an improvement in his confidence, and he is engaging with the programme and continuing to stay clean.”

“Big Change Leeds has been really significant for us – having a huge impact in helping tackle and remove blockers which can stop someone moving forward – like just getting to an appointment - and it is supporting ways we can open up communication, engagement and build trust with people in need."

One blocker is identification and paperwork which without, vulnerable people are increasingly unable to access basic services and benefits.

St George's Crypt has helped 125 people under the Big Change project.

She added: "“If you have always had it, your identity is something you take for granted. If a person does not have identification or proof to say who they are, it puts so many blockers in the way for ‘normal’ living. It limits what they can do and the help they can access - they can’t progress towards any sort of recovery and improvement.

“Everybody deserves to have an identity – it’s a sense of belonging, to society. It’s having a value and a worth. The simple provision of a replacement birth certificate is invaluable - giving someone an identity does not cost a fortune, but it has such a snowball effect, opening up a whole world to them.”

Copies can cost between £10 and £30 depending on the investigative and trace work required but then enables people to get basic photo ID, ability to open a bank account, access medical care and get help in other areas.

Case Study

Gordon, aged 40, is a recovering addict who started taking drugs at an early age and has spent more than a decade in and out of prison.

On the day he turned up at St George Crypt he had nothing, including no identification. Using BigChange cash he was provided with clean clothes, a birth certificate and from that, a photo ID card.

He is now on the Crypt’s Growing Room programme, a regular volunteer helping out at the Crypt, and more than 30 days totally clean of all drugs (including prescribed) for the first time since a young age.

He said: "“A birth certificate was a starting block, providing that initial sense of worth, which helped my self-recovery. I would not be where I am now if I had not had that."

Over at Basis Yorkshire, which provides support to sex workers, the help is as basic, but as much needed, as providing clean underwear.

Amber Wilson, Business Development and Marketing Manager said: “The Beauty of Big Change Leeds is the variation of what it can be used for.

“It is simply helping provide the things we take granted – from having clean underwear in a size that fits to taking someone shopping to be able to choose their own food to providing books or a TV and licence to help deal with feelings of isolation or being able to decorate a house to make it their own. A good proportion of these costs we were previously not able to make.”

Ms Wilson added that access to Big Change Leeds funding made dealing with the reality of some of the women’s situations invaluable – helping someone remain in hospital, transport costs to critical assessment or provision of a second phone with password for a victim of domestic violence.

“We frequently have to act quickly – these are women with chaotic lives who are often at risk of returning to coercive / exploitative situations or partners, where they are controlled by others.”

“They have never been asked for their own opinion on anything and often have everything taken off them so small items and basic help and support mean an awful lot to these women."


There has been support for the campaign from business ventures such as Leeds Hotels & Venues Association, University of Law and Ward Hadaway, retail, police, faith and church groups.

Financial donations have ranged from a significant individual donation to a year-long fundraising campaign (Squire Patton Boggs’ Charity of the Year), profits from events and activities like quiz nights and cake bakes to simply collecting loose change. £6,500 alone has been raised by asking for £2 or £5 donations to attend LeedsBID networking events over the last 12 months.

Donations from individuals have helped with

£3.50 provision of clean underwear for homeless woman who said “appreciates having decent underwear”;

£4 for knee support bandage for homeless man;

£4.10 bus ticket for young man to attend Housing Options appointment. Now secured temporary accommodation after being homeless for 18 months;

£5 for toiletries for a young man so he could have a shower;

£9.25 replacement birth certificate helped middle aged man with history of homelessness and addiction “start process of becoming a citizen”.

£12 college enrolment fee for man to improve maths, with potential to progress to bricklaying course;

£20 emergency electricity credit to help young woman remain in property rather than return to partner with high risk of domestic violence;

£20 for new shirt and shoes for man starting employment;

£49 Starter pack for woman moving into new property after fleeing domestic violence;

£50 contribution to second-hand iPad for man in recovery to begin study and help look for work.

Andrew Cooper, LeedsBID Chief Executive said: “The city’s involvement and support of Big Change Leeds has been amazing, with businesses and individuals coming together to offer support however they can.

"By working together collaboratively as a city, we can continue to help those people in need on our city centre streets, enabling those essential individual interventions which help encourage and support those small steps which can lead to major change for the better in someone’s life.”