So this is how we started:
A great team run the centre on a day to day basis, cooking meals, offering internet access and advice on a vast array of problems.Many of the service users have multiple complex issues, may have drug or alcohol abuse problems, health problems, mental health issues and some criminal convictions; some people find themselves homeless through no fault of their own but all are treated with dignity and respect. Often ostracised from society these people may have nowhere else to turn to other than places like Maggs, who are supportive and offer constructive advice.
Most patients/clients lead fairly chaotic lives and are often in pain or discomfort. In order to reach this particular client group it is key to have this treatment at a point where it is easily accessible, i.e. at the drop in centre.
By setting up in a homeless centre, service users are more likely to take up treatment rather than travel to a clinic. Visits are made approximately every 6 weeks on a Thursday morning, when use is made use of a small room with a couple of chairs and a desk to provide treatment. There is an open door policy whereby anyone who uses the centre may have free treatment, which is of course confidential. Some people simply want to talk and offload an emotional burden; some very harrowing tales are often heard, but we are there to listen, never judge.
Many clients passing through the town may use the service once; others who are staying in the area may be seen again. The types of treatment and problems seen vary tremendously from week to week, sometimes very extreme, conditions that a private practitioner would probably not encounter, whilst others have quite reasonable feet. Homeless people needless to say, are on their feet in all weathers, rarely removing shoes and socks.
Many people enter the room barefooted and are embarrassed about their shoes and socks, some will have attempted to clean their feet, others not! Footwear is often ill fitting as clients have access to a clothing bank and will wear whatever is there. For others shoes are literally falling apart.
One client had such ill-fitting trainers, far too small, and consequently was in agony due to lesions on both heels exposing the Achilles tendon.
For this person, knowing she probably wouldn’t be seen again, her heavily soiled socks were discarded and replaced with new ones, her wounds were cleaned and dressed, and she was told not put her trainers back on as they were but to tread the backs down, slip her forefoot in and go to the clothing bank for different footwear.
Another client had just walked all the way back from Devon following a relationship breakup.
He had left with nothing other than the clothes he stood in, and his feet were badly blistered, swollen and sore.
New socks, dressings and replacement insoles in his boots made a massive difference!
Our clinic in the Stratford Link drop-in centre has a good, expanding uptake of the service. There we treat homeless/rough sleepers and the socially isolated – similarly to our work in Worcester – in fact anyone feeling the need to frequent such a centre is welcome to receive treatment.
This drop-in centre offers support for a variety of issues including housing, employment and health. Other activities run by the Stratford Link project include a music workshop, and access to an allotment where people learn to grow their own produce.
We meet an an array of very interesting characters and feet in the Stratford Link drop-in centre, all of them being treated with dignity, respect and compassion.All problems are treated, and new socks issued where appropriate. The supply of simple insoles from Langers (part of LBG Medical) has been invaluable in helping to ease painful conditions caused by poor footwear, creating comfort where previously there was none, and extending the life of worn out shoes.
If you are homeless and it rains, you get very wet feet, especially if you have holes in your shoes. Needless to say shoes and socks get soaked and there is nowhere to dry them, let alone any replacements.Notably, there was one client in Worcester, a lad in his early 20’s who attended the clinic following some wet weather; his feet were shocking, extremely malodourous, macerated and painful. Inside his worn out trainers was some brown pulp, all that was left of bits of cardboard. This was emptied out and replaced with dry PPT simple insoles. In half an hour his feet were treated, cleaned and had new socks.
Overall, our service is very well received and we get great feedback, all of which goes to help make it so worthwhile.
Other companies who have supported our work by donating podiatry supplies include C & P Medical (myfootcaresupplies.com) and Cannonbury Healthcare, which is very much appreciated – but not forgetting also those as well who have donated footwear and socks to grateful recipients.
Over the following period, we saw a hugely increased uptake of our foot care service, with both our orginal clinics – Maggs Day Centre in Worcester and the Stratford Link Project run at Waterside, Stratford-on-Avon – showing a great rise in the number of people treated as the word spread.
One lady, ‘Mary’, came in barely able to walk, but strode out in comfort having had her feet dealt with and new insoles in her poorly fitting shoes!
We were amazingly fortunate to have a good number of insoles and footcare products donated by Cuxson Gerrard, arranged by Michael Ratcliffe, whose continued support was much appreciated, along with Sam Mills at C & P Medical, who donated podiatry supplies.
More podiatrists have since joined us to grow the project, and other suitably qualified foot health practitioners are a great asset too.
We were then getting a reasonable supply of used footwear from a variety of sources – the Sweatshop sports goods store donated many pairs of trainers and some patients were collecting and handing over shoes and socks. These are a valuable resource, especially when winter is looming.
We received donated podiatry items from The Worcester Chiropody & Podiatry Practice – particularly useful are decommissioned but still useable instruments – and a donation of new instruments such as fine nippers, scalpel handles and files was also much appreciated.
Part of the success of our service is that by engaging with hard to reach people, barriers were gradually start to come down, making it more likely that they may engage with other healthcare professionals – an important element of the Forgotten Feet project is showing that we care and taking the time to build up trust.
Clive from the Stratford Link project said that they “… really appreciate Debbie and Lydia visiting us usually every 6 weeks, not only do they provide their professional chiropody services free of charge, but also provide new socks and footwear. All this free of charge with a big smile and a compassionate hearing ear. We all look forward to their visit to brighten up our day.”