There is a pain behind the eyes of one visitor to Homeless Aid UK’s regular street kitchen.
The man has been on the streets for ‘years’ but still musters a cheeky smile and a laugh, while joking with co-founder Billa Ahmed under the iconic arches of Le Mans Crescent in the centre of Bolton.
But behind the banter, it’s clear to see that he has been through the mill.
Explaining what Billa means to him, the man said: “He’s lovely. I love him, he’s a top guy.
“I’ve slept on and off for years but he’s always looked after me.
“I’ll be honest, at times I’ve tried to end myself but something above has brought me back.
“That guy, without him…”
It was at this point that man started to choke up and couldn’t get his words out but it’s clear to see how much he appreciates everything Billa and the rest of the volunteers do for him.
Billa has a huge personality but has a heart to match and his humility is one of the things that stands out right away.
Listening carefully to every word that the man said, he refused to take credit and instead heaped praise on his team.
“They’re absolutely amazing and there’s no I in team” Billa said.
“Even during the pandemic, not a day went by where we didn’t feed the homeless.
“Some of my team have health conditions so they risked their life to help these people.”
Billa grew up in Bolton but Homeless Aid UK initially took to the streets in Manchester.
Talking about how his journey into helping those less fortunate started, the 51-year-old said: “Around 2006, I started doing a lot of charity work. I was doing a lot of aid work abroad, I was like a humanitarian.
“I saw people I knew from growing up in Bolton ending up on the streets. My religion teaches me that charity begins at home and something in me told me that I need to do something and help people.
“These people are someone’s mother, someone’s brother, someone’s sister and the world may have turned their back on them but they just need a break and that’s why we help them.
“We started in Manchester with a few of us. We had one flask, one bag of sandwiches, one bag of clothing, walking up and down Market Street.
“Now we have hundreds of volunteers. From something so little it’s amazing”
Homeless Aid UK now has a food bank, while the street kitchen runs four nights a week – each Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 7pm until 8pm.
Homeless Aid UK has also partnered up with a number of local takeaways, where homeless people can take a voucher and get a free meal.
Grillsters, Rice n Three, Mash’s Wing Ranch, Koolios Fried Chicken, Syds Takeaway, and Reel Fish and Chips are all signed up to the scheme.
Service users can also get breakfast from Grill Rush and The Coffee Grind on different days.
Billa thinks that the quality of food served is one of the most important aspects.
He added: “The food we give to them is better than we eat; pizza and chips, packed lunches to see them through tomorrow. We don’t give out of date food.
“None of us have ever taken a wage, we don’t take expenses.
“Each sitting may cost us £150-£200 but we have a lot of good partnerships and airlines give us lots of donations.”
Also at the site, there are representatives from St John’s Ambulance and nurses to help those who ‘fall through the net’ get checked up and vaccinated.
“When they come here, if they need socks, underwear, shoes we can provide all that,” she said.
“We throw parties for them and have partnered up with the Light cinema so we can take them to the pictures and things like that.
“We go out to them every Christmas with gifts as well.”
Billa added: “We just try and make them feel human again.
“It’s not just about the food, it’s about the social aspect.
“They can meet people who care for them, talk to them, and smile with them. It’s just amazing.”
If you would like to donate money, food, or anything else to Homeless Aid UK, visit the website.