Behind the scenes at the Wigan hotel transformed into a coronavirus support hub

The Mercure Hotel can currently accommodate up to 50 people who are homeless or have no fixed address as well as providing an intermediate location between a ward at Wigan Infirmary and home.
Service users and staff in the garden areaService users and staff in the garden area
Service users and staff in the garden area

The building has been taken over by Wigan Council working together with homelessness charity The Brick and with support from a number of other borough organisations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

And the authorities are hailing the innovative project as a success.

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James Leach-Holt, operations director at The Brick, said: “We feel we’ve got a really good offer for emergency support.”

The Mercure Hotel has been turned into a support hub for vulnerable residentsThe Mercure Hotel has been turned into a support hub for vulnerable residents
The Mercure Hotel has been turned into a support hub for vulnerable residents

The downstairs floor has been turned into the centre of activities and operations, with staff holding one-to-one meetings with service users in the comparative privacy of the lounge and seating area and pool and table tennis nearby.

The conservatory hosts art activities while other rooms contain gym equipment, a cinema screen and games console. There is also gardening and crafts, with sessions outside when it is sunny.

Sessions are limited to five people at a time, sanitiser and gel has to be provided and there are rotas to make sure everyone who wants to try something out gets a go.

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Signs explaining social distancing messages are on display throughout the building.

Dan Fleming from Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles and GB athlete Marilyn OkoroDan Fleming from Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles and GB athlete Marilyn Okoro
Dan Fleming from Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles and GB athlete Marilyn Okoro

Each service user has a hotel room and eats their meals there as well as isolating should they show any symptoms of Covid-19.

Everyone involved admits that a traditional homeless shelter’s set-up could have been a nightmare to manage infections in and says that worries about service users being able to lock themselves away have mostly proven unfounded.

Mr Leach-Holt said: “We had some concerns about going from a shared environment with visibility to individual accommodation. There have been some safeguarding concerns but they are limited compared to what I predicted, and it has been really positive for residents’ independence and empowerment.

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“The Government guidance about spacing out dorms was helpful but not helpful. Having to isolate in that environment could have been very difficult.”

Mr Leach-Holt said PPE was available for those visiting the rooms of isolating residents and two council workers were seen during the Wigan Post’s visit wearing aprons, gloves and face coverings.

The hub had a couple of cases in its early days and since then the number of people isolating with possible Covid-19 has fortunately been low.

The upper two floors of the Mercure, meanwhile, have been home to around a dozen people who left hospital but were not ready or immediately able to return to their house.

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They are supported by council employees with help from homecare agencies.

Both The Brick and Wigan Council say having so many organisations, including Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles and addiction service We Are With You, linked in one place has made them think how the hub’s benefits can be retained in future.

Local authority service manager David Gray (above right) said: “This has enhanced our offer for rough sleepers and homeless people even further.

“We’ve got more people involved, we’ve brought together health colleagues, outreach, nurses, mental health support. We want to keep some of this when we move to the next stage. It has potentially unlocked limitless things.”

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Residents are even benefitting from personal training from Olympian and GB athlete Marilyn Okoro, who is a health and crisis contact worker.

One service user who shares her story is Georgia, 20. She was referred to the Mercure by the council after a night on the streets, having previously stayed with a friend.

She said: “Everyone is so welcoming, lovely and supportive. The staff are like a best friend and it’s like having my own little family.

“I’ve been trying all the activities and love painting. I feel safe and am very thankful.”