Sheila's Story

Sheila's Story

Interview with Sheila Warrander, volunteer and supporter

By Helen Inglis


Sheila first heard about Alabaré in 1998 when she and her husband had just moved to Salisbury. At his first Rotary meeting, he heard a speaker from Alabaré, who appealed for volunteers who would sleepover at the old Damascus House. When he got home, Sheila discovered that he had volunteered her to help!

What did ‘Sleepovers’ entail?

I would arrive at 8 pm and stay through until 7 the next morning providing help with any crisis, should one occur, though fortunately there were very few. Although I wasn’t paid, for the first six years I would be the only person on duty, at times it was quite hairy! All sorts of things happened and on one occasion someone did have a knife. Initially, there were families as well, although this was stopped after a comparatively short while. The building was not ideal, with higgledy-piggledy, long corridors and cellars and there was no logic to the way it was set out at all. It was quite a challenge. But I felt that I was doing something worthwhile, which was great. At 11 pm you could retire to the Sleepover Room but you remained on call all night.

I volunteered in that way for one night a month for over eight years, although for the last two it was decided that there had to be someone awake all night, a paid person, which meant you went to the Sleepover Room and left the staff to it. Now the role felt less worthwhile and less enjoyable as it was less of a challenge so when it was announced that Damascus House was going to be rebuilt, I opted out of further sleepovers. The plan was for a purpose-built hostel, Alabaré Place, to be built on the site of the old Damascus House in Salisbury. 

Tell me more about your year as Mayor of Salisbury

I was Mayor of Salisbury from 2006-2007 and it’s traditional for the Mayor to choose a charity to support during their year. I had 11 different organisations approach me and before deciding, I visited several of them, listening and learning about their work. But recalling those 8 years volunteering, I recognised the valuable contribution that Alabaré made to the lives of vulnerable and homeless people and although founded on Christian principles, I knew they welcome people of all faiths or none. 

Drop-In Centre

I decided to raise money for a dedicated Drop-In centre for the street homeless. At the time the service was operating out of the Friary Community Hall but only for three days a week and limited hours. The work here was vital, with staff listening and providing information on issues including employment, benefits and housing, with access to the alcohol and drugs advisory services. Clients could also make an appointment with Alabaré’s resettlement team for help to find appropriate accommodation. However, the laundry and shower facilities were totally inadequate and there was no office space or even a private interview room. The idea was to raise money for an enhanced and hopefully permanent Drop-In centre. When Alabaré Place was eventually built in 2012, the Drop-In centre was included in the centre of the building, along with showers and laundry facilities. During the appeal itself, the people of Salisbury raised over £64,000, which was over double the amount we had hoped for! This meant that we were also able to revamp the Friary Community Hall until Alabaré Place could be built. Although we held a variety of fundraising activities, the main one was Alabaré’s very first sleep out in the cloisters of Salisbury Cathedral in January 2007.


Sleepout at Salisbury Cathedral 

I was delighted to be able to organise the sleep out with my committee, with the invaluable support of Alabaré staff during the actual event. Over 100 people took part, including pupils from local schools, councillors and local press and it raised a fantastic £22,000! We began with a few prayers in the Cathedral before moving out into the cloisters.  As it was Alabaré’s first sleep out there, we also involved the army cadets for security, but it all went very well. We gave everyone bacon sandwiches when they woke in the morning, which for many was the most enjoyable part! I’m delighted it’s still an annual event today, with some of the original sleepers still taking part even now and each year it manages to raise more than it did that very first time. I slept out in the cloisters again in 2011 when the temperature was minus 4 degrees, and then this year, to belatedly mark my 80th birthday in 2020 and Alabaré’s 30th Anniversary in 2021, I took part in the Big Sleep at Home, sleeping in my cellar because of the pandemic.

15th Anniversary Celebrations

Another milestone was in 2006 when we marked Alabaré’s 15th anniversary with a dinner at the House of Commons, as guests of Robert Key MP. As Mayor, I gave a speech on Alabaré and the role that I’d played so far. Alabaré was just starting to appoint Ambassadors. A terrific variety of people were invited, the Lord Lieutenant, Founders John and Lee Proctor, CEO Andrew Lord, Trustees, and other Salisbury figures including the local press. It was a very enjoyable occasion! We should have had a boat on the River Thames I think but the weather was so bad they had to cancel but the dinner was able to go ahead, and it was a wonderful way to celebrate 15 years of operation and growth.