A CHARITY that helps bring a bit of cheer to several people sleeping rough in and around Taunton has won the equivalent of the MBE for voluntary groups.

Representatives of Open Door, based in a former school in Mount Street, were last week presented with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services by the Lord Lieutenant of Somerset Lady Gass.

Manager Mark Woodcock said: “We’re thrilled – it’s a recognition and appreciation of our volunteers, who are the heartbeat of this place.

“We have two members of staff, but the service is basically run by three different volunteers each day – without them it couldn’t operate.”

Open Door offers food, showers, a change of clothes and help in finding accommodation to between 15 and 25 people sleeping rough at any given time.

Service users include people who bed down in the open around Vivary Park, the Bridgwater to Taunton Canal, Bishops Lydeard and behind a service station.

Many are addicted to drugs or alcohol, while others have mental health issues or have experienced a family breakdown.

“We’re doing our best to get down the number of people sleeping rough,” said Mr Woodcock.

“Typically someone comes here, they are quickly assessed and then sent to a crash pad at Taunton Association for the Homeless.

“They are incredibly resilient. If you come into Open Door, there’s nearly always a happy, calm, relaxed atmosphere, which is down to the volunteers and the clients who are sleeping rough.

The organisation regularly receives donations of food, but the amount has increased over the last month with several schools handing over their harvest collections.