As January, traditionally the coldest time of year arrives, the extreme cold of mid-winter, can pose serious health risks for rough sleepers.

Dorset has been particularly hard hit by homelessness as figures have shown 1,522 households needed help from the local authority due to homelessness or because they were at risk of homelessness between April 2022 to March 2023 - a 10.2% increase from last year.

Yet amidst the rising figures and the ever-present cost-of-living crisis, there is a beacon of hope as charities across the county are transforming the lives of the most vulnerable.

One such charity is the Lantern Trust, based in Weymouth, which works to rebuild the lives of homeless people through a dedicated support service, suiting people’s individual practical, emotional, and personal aftercare needs.

It is situated on Ranelagh Road and can be very easily missed with its unassuming exterior.

This belies the remarkable work going on behind its doors as vulnerable members of the community are given the vital help they need to get into safe accommodation, re-integrate with society and re-build their self-esteem.

Dorset Echo:

As well as hot food and drink, people can also access various services including crisis response, debt management, financial assistance, benefit advice, domestic violence advice as well as housing and accommodation support.

Kelly Tweed, 41, has been volunteering for the charity for 15 years and became homeless eight weeks ago.

Thanks to the charity, she has now been given a B&B as well as support with her PIP. She expressed her immense gratitude to the charity for making such a profound impact their programme has had on her life.

“They’ve done a hell of a lot. When I was homeless, they gave me food, hot drinks, clothes - they do everything for you, they’re so great here!

“I’ve known them a long time, so they’ve given me a lot of support over the years. What they do for people here is absolutely amazing. You wouldn’t get it anywhere else. If it weren’t for them, I’d still be on the streets.”

Dorset Echo:

The Lantern Trust was founded in 1983 and its CEO, Mike Graham has seen the charity grow to reflect the local need for support not just for rough sleepers, but for those finding it difficult to access additional services.

He said: “In those early days it was set up around the understanding that there was lots of need in our community as there were lots of people in the street homeless. So, a crew of our volunteers got together and roam around different churches at that point. It was mainly just helping people with benefits and offering a warm place and cups of tea.

“In 1994 we secured this building. We had a drop-in coffee bar service where people can just come in and it was quite informal; they could access inexpensive food, cups of tea and coffee, and we just continued to see a need. The understanding of all our services is we grow to where there’s a need.”

“Every time we send someone away from our location to go to another service, they either didn’t get there or there’s more referral red tape. So, we began to build a hub of likeminded services.”

The charity works closely with other agencies to provide substantial support covering every aspect of someone’s life. These include fellow homeless charities Shelter, Julian House, and youth centre Hope House.

On top of that, Mr Graham also ensures all staff and volunteered receive a thorough training in safeguarding so they can establish a strong rapport with vulnerable members of the community and handles their trauma with sensitivity and compassion.

Dorset Echo:

“All the staff here are trained to at least Level 3 of safeguarding which is from my perspective the minimum standard. By the time vulnerable people get as far as the Lantern, they could have gone through multiple traumas in their life from childhood to adulthood. Central to all of what the Lantern offers is the building of trust and lasting relationships.

“I think that’s what’s really special about the Lantern it’s not just that we’re person centred but that our support follows the individual. It’s built to what their needs are not what our perceptions are of their needs.

“Work for some of our guys is a longer journey. Adding stability, getting support for their mental health, helping them feel safe, often people have come from long periods of not feeling safe all their adult lives.”

The Lantern Trust is helping to transform mental healthcare accessibility as part of Dorset’s Mental Health Integrated Community Care (MHICC) programme. Wellbeing coordinators will be based throughout Weymouth and Portland as well as people from Community Mental Health Teams and the Steps 2 Wellbeing initiative, with the aim of establishing an official NHS standard wellbeing hub in the county.

Mr Graham claims integrating all healthcare services and providing more social housing is crucial to tackling the homeless crisis not just in Dorset but also nationwide.

“The crisis is one of support so there needs to be a more joined together approach of all services. I think homelessness needs a real focus lens of people not fitting into very strict categories like rough sleepers, because homelessness itself is broader than just people who are sleeping on the streets. Homelessness from our definition is people without a home, it’s that straightforward. We need more houses; we need more social houses, and we also need a better understanding of homelessness.”

With its various hubs and tailored care plans, there’s no doubt that The Lantern Trust is paving the way for ground-breaking work not in supporting the homeless but providing adequate mental health support for those struggling.

In the wake of Covid-19 and current cost-of-living crisis, the trust calls for action and above all else lends a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on for those in crisis. That is why, over the course of the festive period, you can find the team of volunteers and staff bustling away on Ranelagh Road, only closing on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

More information about the charity can be found on the charity website: