Dan Atkins is the founder of Buses4Homeless, a charity that refurbishes decommissioned London buses to use for eating, sleeping, wellbeing and learning spaces for the homeless.
Can you tell us how you came up with the concept?
Three years ago I discovered a guy sleeping rough in a luggage storage compartment of a coach. It had a profound impact on me. So much so that later that same day I went on to buy a double-decker bus and began refurbishing it into a home for the guy. Fast forward three years, we’re now good friends, he’s back in employment, has a roof over his head and is happy.
This experience got me thinking about doing this on a much bigger scale, which is where the Buses4Homeless idea came in.
The Buses4Homeless project is currently focused on completing the refurbishment of four London buses and moving into a static site where we can rehabilitate those that need it most. We have already raised around £125,000 and are looking to raise an additional £25,000 to complete the work. The four services we will be providing over a 3-month intensive programme are:
- Bus 4 Shelter: Sleeping up to 16 homeless people per night
- Bus 4 Dining: Teaching guests to cook and prepare healthy and nutritious meals for themselves and others
- Bus 4 Wellness: Offering personal development, healing and psychological help to support their mental well-being
- Bus 4 Learning: Soft and vocational courses to re-engage them into employment, apprenticeships or their own businesses
What were the big barriers to get up-and-running?
Obviously, the biggest barriers are funding. However, we were blown away by the engagement and level of support from the community and the events world. On January 11th we did our first ever charity dinner. We were hoping to raise £5,000 that night so we could buy a bus and we ended up raising £30,000 over two days. Two weeks after that, Stagecoach donated four buses and we were cracking on with the refurbishment of our fleet way before we would have hoped.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
The biggest challenge for us was getting a fixed site for the buses. This allowed us to tap into electricity, put welfare containers on-site to allow for toilets and showers, and to create a warm, homely space for our guests.
Off the back of a media piece, we were put in touch with Costain Skanska JV who delivered the HS2 Crossrail project. They put us onto an enormous site in NW London and eight days later we were on-site setting up our first ever camp, which we’ve named #ParadiseCity.
What was your AHA moment when you realised this was what you wanted to do?
The CEO Sleepout at Lords in 2018 — where you sleep rough for a night to raise money and awareness — was the moment I realised I had to get the Buses4Homeless project up and running.
It was FREEZING and I made the fatal error of walking to the toilet in my socks. They got wet and even though I had layers on, I froze. It was the worst night’s sleep I’d ever had. The following morning I got into my car, cranked up the heating and drove back to a warm flat, to get into a warm shower, to eat a warm breakfast, and get into a warm safe bed. It was that moment I realised that nearly 9,000 people in London don’t get the same privilege. That’s when I knew it was time to get started!
How can people get involved in Buses4Homeless?
If you’re engaged in our story and want to find out more or volunteer, visit our website www.buses4homeless.org.
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