A Watford-based community project is on track to deliver more than 1,000 winter warmer backpacks this month to rough sleepers in areas across Hertfordshire and beyond.

Hand on Heart sought to expand their annual Winter Warmer Project in response to the second Covid-19 lockdown and the increasing number of visible homeless on the streets. Added to this, the drop in donations and the onset of the winter conditions has created even tougher conditions for rough sleepers.

The Hand on Heart team sourced essential items and assembled 1,050 backpacks with a team of 42 volunteer families, including the Mayor of Watford Peter Taylor.

The project was coordinated from the project's base in Watford town centre and the backpacks are being distributed to rough sleepers across Watford, elsewhere in Hertfordshire, Central and Greater London, Birmingham, Milton Keynes and Essex.

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The winter warmer backpacks contain blankets, hooded sweatshirts, thermal clothing, gloves, woolly hats, tee shirts, socks, underwear, hot water bottles, deodorants, oral hygiene sets and personal protective equipment.

The items selected for the backpacks were based on consultation with rough sleepers and guidance from homeless shelters. Separate backpacks were created for men and women with a range of sizes and accompanied with cupcakes baked by local bakers.

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Afzal Pradhan in conversation with Watford Mayor Peter Taylor

Hand on Heart’s co-founder Afzal Pradhan said “This is a critical time to distribute the essential packs. The second lockdown – and start of the cold and wet months – is making it extremely difficult for our guests to source basic items which we all take for granted. Sadly, we have seen an increase in the number of homeless on the streets. The situation is becoming desperate.

"However, working in collaboration with other charities and the support from our partners Beta Charitable Trust, we are making an impact to provide help to rough sleepers on the streets.”

Hand on Heart have completed the distribution of winter warmer to the following locations with their partners which include charities, shelters and food banks: Watford (with New Hope); The Strand, Central London (with Nishkam SWAT); Luton (with Noah Enterprise); Harrow (with Harrow Food Bank), Hemel Hempstead (with Dens); Milton Keynes (with Smart CJS); St Albans (with Open Doors) ; Ealing (with Ealing Soup Kitchen).

Four further distributions of the Winter Warmer backpacks are planned during the winter to complete this project: The Strand, Central London (with Who is Hussain?); Holborn, Central London (with Children of Adam), Birmingham (with The Hope Source); Southend (with HARP).

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The High Sheriff of Hertfordshire at the project's Watford base

The backpack preparation, assembly and delivery was supported by the involvement of the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire Henry Holland-Hibbert, Watford MP Dean Russell, the Mayor of Watford and Watford councillors Rabi Martins and Asif Khan.

The Winter Warmer Pack distribution marks Hand on Heart’s ninth project in 2020, a year which has brought to a fore the plight of rough sleepers and the vulnerable in society.

Mr Pradhan added “Hand on Heart have had a remarkable year to serve disadvantaged, vulnerable and homeless people during the Covid-19 pandemic. We could not operate without the volunteers and the support they bring.

"The challenges of the pandemic could not prevent over 200 volunteers taking part in some capacity across our projects this year. The community spirit has been overwhelming, which we hope to continue into our projects for next year.”

The volunteer group was established in 2007 to support rough sleepers, vulnerable and the disadvantaged across England.

Since 2019, the group has evolved and provides essential items and vital services to rough sleepers.

Hand on Heart is supported by Beta Charitable Trust and a host of volunteer families and individuals.