10 Years of Justlife

Jon was 33 years old when he was sent down for burglary, he got a six month stretch and it did him the world of good. He showed up back in Openshaw looking really fit, strong and healthy. This was the longest he’d been off heroin and alcohol for the best part of twenty years and it was time for a new start. ‘All I need is a job and a place to live’ he said to Gary and Hannah Bishop as he stood propped up at their kitchen worktop devouring a bacon sandwich. ‘Then I’m all set and I can get back with my girls and be a proper family.’

‘Just a job and a place to live’, it wasn’t much to ask, but it turns out those things are extremely hard to come by and Jon ended up in a B&B on Gransmoor Avenue, in Openshaw, east Manchester. Within a few days of being discharged from prison he was dead and his body lay there, undiscovered, for two weeks.

The Bishops rallied some friends and began a journey to better understand what kind of community Jon had been living in, getting behind the street’s fearsome reputation, squalid physical conditions and ‘no-go-zone’ feel. They started regular visits to residents in smoke-filled rooms, inviting them to the local church hall for a decent meal.

A few weeks later, a group of B&B dwellers were gathering at the hall once a week, with volunteers serving food and listening to the toe-curling stories of life in East Manchester’s B&B-land. As this long-hidden community began to engage with the outside world, housing workers and other professional services added their expertise to the growing momentum for change for every individual who lived there.

The sad fact was that for so many residents, the horrors they described were ‘just life’. This phrase was repeated endlessly by residents who felt their life had run into a cul-de-sac and their only way out would be in a box. ‘It’s just life’ – a mantra to the acceptance of despair and hopelessness.

In October 2008, Justlife was formed. An organisation which would come to symbolise hope and justice for this community by actively reaching out to the afflicted, the poor, the addicted, the lost, sick and traumatised residents of Manchester’s Homeless B&BS, building trust, finding the good, gathering help, working and campaigning for transformation.

Justlife’s research has shown that over 50,000 households in England live in Bed and Breakfast facilities and they estimate that there could be another 25,000 accommodated in similar lodgings under different names.

From then to now, we’ve grown from Manchester to Brighton and experienced a few other places in between. We still see the need for our work ten years on, and are working towards a day when it is no longer necessary. Until then we will continue to support those lost to the darkest corners of the private rented sector, working to ensure that all stays in unsupported temporary accommodation (UTA) are as short, safe and healthy as possible, and that not one person or family is left hidden and ignored in UTA anywhere in the UK.