Every Thursday night there’s a gathering at the Kwik Fit car park in Stockton.
People meet for a chat and a free meal – and there’s a lot of hope in the air.
And that’s just what Stockton couple Craig and Coleen Furmidge want the sessions to bring – hope.
For most of those who come along have issues of their own.
But for the past year and a half, they’ve known that every Thursday night, they’re guaranteed a meal, a safe place, a listening ear and an escape from those issues – for a couple of hours at least.
And Craig says those attending, who mainly come from the “bedsit land” of the town’s Hartington Road area, can also be helped onto a brighter path.
Providing the food and companionship are members of the New Beginnings church group, founded by Craig and friend Paul King last year.
It stemmed from former Blakeston School pupil Craig’s desire to help the people he saw in Hartington Road around 18 months ago.
He and wife Coleen first handed out tea, coffee and cakes.
Then one day Coleen cooked up a tasty stew at home, which went down a treat.
They started serving it from the back of a van and that’s what they still do to this day, with permission, from the Kwik Fit car park on Yarm Lane.
And now, after months paying for the food themselves, Craig says they’re getting a bit of help.
Craig, 46, said: “When we first started, me and Coleen paid for it all. But as it’s gone on, we started getting the odd donation – one lady had been diagnosed with cancer but still gave us £235. And every week, someone, somewhere provides a little bit for us to do it.”
Committed Christian Craig – who works for The Furniture Superstore, in Washington, and worships at the Teesside Vineyard Church in St Luke’s Avenue, Thornaby – found God eight years ago during a holiday In Ireland: “I was crying and shaking in the middle of Dublin – I knew God was calling me.”
But while the evangelical urge is strong, he says they don’t ram it down the throats of people who attend on Thursdays between 6.30pm and 8.30pm.
He said: “We have a lot of regulars and we do pray for the guys, although we’re not over the top with it.
“Before I started this, I was oblivious to the need in Stockton. Now we get between 30 and 60 people each week.
“It’s about food, friendship, faith and love – we’re just someone to talk to and maybe point them in the right direction.”
The couple, who have three children – 27-year-old twins Shane and Faye, and 16-year-old Samuel – admit it can be challenging.
Craig said: “It can be hard, especially if the guys who come are drunk or whatever. But a lot of them have respect for us and what we do.
“And the fact we can go home and know we’ve made a difference in our community – that’s why we do it.
“But I must stress it’s not only me and Coleen – it’s the New Beginnings team. It was just my idea to start it but they are a big part of what we do.”
So impressed is Coleen’s sister Claire Evans, she’s nominated them both for a Gazette Community Champion award.
She says not only do they run the Thursday night sessions, they held a carol service and Christmas box appeal last year, they collect and distribute clothes to those who need them and they’ve supported people in rehab – “giving hope when an individual thought there was none.”
She said: “They’re very humble and don’t shout about what they do – they simply do it because of kindness.”