YOU simply have to meet Ben Ambrose and Mark Craven to appreciate the outstanding work of a Taunton-based charity that supports homeless people.

Both men are getting their lives back on track after experiencing some extremely dark times.

And they can’t speak highly enough of the part that the Open Door charity is playing in helping people out of despondency.

Ben didn’t personally use the services of Open Door as he was living in Yeovil when he plummeted towards rockbottom.

But he has seen the positive impact it has had on so many people.

Meeting him cheerfully running a café he recently took over in Magdalene Lane, Taunton, it’s hard to imagine the difficulties he has managed to overcome.

“I was made homeless in 2014 and was in a shelter in Yeovil sleeping on couches for a week,” recalled Ben.

“I was then in a room for about four weeks, doing everything I was told to, before being offered a place with a housing association for 18 months.

“I’d struggled with addiction, but I was clean on March 27, 2015.

“I started doing everything that was suggested, moved to Taunton, got a flat, got back into work.

“In 2018, I bought my first property three-and-a-half years after being homeless.

“I had everything I could ever have dreamed of - a fiancée, house, car, pets, a good career.

“Then came a difficult separation. I was financially ruined. I relapsed and had to start again.

“I last used on December 23 2018. Since then I’ve been clean.”

Ben has since bought the café, which he rebranded Solz, spending many a long day decorating it and “re-establishing” it as a café cum sandwich bar.

Breakfasts and lunches are served Mondays to Saturdays between 8am and 3.30pm and can be eaten in or taken out.

He added: “I wanted to bring customer service into Taunton. It’s all about giving back.

“I did meals for local people during first lockdown, made complementary coffees for police officers.

“Now I’m giving back to Open Door for everything it does.”

To that end, Ben is hosting a charity day on Saturday, July 3, from 10am to 4pm, when 100 per cent of sales will be donated to Open Door.

Mark visits Solz café most days and he and Ben give each other support to ensure the corner they have turned remains turned.

“Open Door helped me massively,” says Mark, who used to work in a well-paid security job before his world came tumbling down.

“They helped me at the start of the year through a very difficult time.

“I was made homeless after poor mental health and a relationship breakdown.

“I had been full-time employed, lived in the family house, had a car.

“Then I was sat there staring at homelessness after a stay in hospital.”

Mark, who regularly pops into the Open Door premises, said: “From where I fell, Open Door helped pick me up, put me back on my feet.

“Now I’m trying to give something back.

“I want to help put something back in aid of Open Door, to the organisation that has given me so much and to those in need of food, clothes housing applications, advice and signposting.

“I was seriously unwell with nowhere to go.

“I was put in emergency housing. I love it so much down here in Taunton and don’t want to return to my old problems.”

Open Door day centre is based in Mount Street.

It initially offers “a warm welcome, a smile and a cuppa”.

The three members of staff and almost 50 volunteers then work to ensure people’s basic needs are met.

The premises features showers, a clothing store and laundry facility.

Breakfasts and lunches are served with unlimited refills of tea, coffee and juice.

The aim of everything is to increase people’s self-esteem and to give them a positive sense of belonging to our community.

Individuals can receive tailored support plans, which target key goals such as developing life skills, sustaining accommodation and accessing employment.

Referring to the support offered by Ben’s open day at Solz, Door deputy manager Nina Green says: “We’re really pleased.

“With the pandemic and how hospitality has been affected, we appreciate they are doing what they are doing.

“It makes what we do at Open Door really worthwhile.”

Anyone who would like to support Taunton Open Door should contact the charity on on 01823 271996.

Details about becoming part of the volunteer team can be view on the charity’s website at where you can also find details of how to support Open Door through donations via its Virgin Giving page and Amazon Wishlist.

Staff would also be happy to give a short talk about Open Door to schools or organisations, while groups are welcome to visit.