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Archbishop of Selsey Jerome Lloyd on helping the ever-increasing number of rough sleepers

PUBLISHED: 14:50 15 May 2017 | UPDATED: 14:50 15 May 2017

Father Jerome, Archbishop of Selsey. Photo by Széles Tamás

Father Jerome, Archbishop of Selsey. Photo by Széles Tamás

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From supporting homeless chefs to broadcasting his Latin mass online, the Archbishop of Selsey is not your average priest – as Russell Higham discovers

A priest with a long, wizard-like beard swishes silently around the room, his hands placed together as if in prayer. A gold crucifix swings from his neck and a Bible pokes out from the pocket of his cassock. Gently dropping his head to speak softly into the ear of an elderly gentleman, he says: “I can recommend a cheeky little Rioja with the roast lamb”.

Father Jerome Lloyd’s Sunday service is a little different to that of most clergy. Instead of communion wafers and a sermon, his faithful flock enjoy roast dinners made with choice local ingredients in some of Brighton’s most historic pubs. The youthful 50-year-old, whose official title is Archbishop of Selsey, worked in the licensed trade and as a restaurant chef before following his calling to the Old Catholic Church. He’s now found a way to combine his love of providing hospitality and good food with a project that helps the city’s ever-increasing number of rough sleepers.

Cherubs is Father Jerome’s chain of franchised pub kitchens serving traditional British cuisine – the charitable element being the fact the kitchens take on members of the city’s homeless with an interest in cooking, pay them a regular wage and put them through accredited NVQ training programmes to become professional chefs.

Trainees learn all the competencies required to work in a modern restaurant as well as life skills that can help keep them off the street. It’s an exercise in community entrepreneurship that echoes Jamie Oliver’s better known Fifteen project which gave young unemployed people jobs in his London restaurant.

Cherubs pay a percentage of their takings in rent to the hosting pubs but, apart from that, are run on an entirely not-for-profit basis. Jerome himself does not draw a salary; he works voluntarily and lives off a stipend he receives from the church.

“Most of the money Cherubs makes goes back into training our apprentices but the second call on profits is to help other local homeless projects,” he explains.

One of these is The Hub, a weekly homeless drop-in centre based at The Salvation Army’s premises near The Level. Here the city’s rough sleepers are provided breakfast and lunch in a clean, safe environment. What makes it unique is how Jerome insists that clients here are served the same way that paying guests are treated in Cherubs’ pub operations: orders are taken at the tables and the meals then taken to them by volunteer waiters who sit and talk with them as equals. Being treated with respect helps boost the low self esteem that often comes with the grind of sleeping on the streets. It also feels a lot more dignified than standing in line, bowl in hand, at a soup kitchen. Jerome also records a daily mass in Latin from The Hub that goes out over his YouTube channel to remote or housebound members of his congregation, providing a much-needed point of connection for the city’s most vulnerable and lonely.

Matthew is one of the 30 or so diners cheerily tucking into roast chicken, mash and vegetables at The Hub one cold Wednesday morning. A 41-year-old alcoholic whose addiction had led him into petty crime and trouble with the police, he wanted to put a stop to his life’s downward spiral and so walked the 140 miles here from his home in the Midlands. Asked why he chose Brighton, he explains that, as well as being known as tolerant and accepting, it offered the chance to start afresh in a place where nobody knew his history. “It was,” he says “about getting myself out of the place that everyone knew me as a drinker.” What it couldn’t provide him with was a home.

There were more than 4,000 people sleeping rough in Brighton this winter according to homeless charity Shelter – that’s one in 69 of the city’s population. And living on the streets has effects beyond the obvious ones of health and safety: lack of a permanent address means it is usually impossible to find regular employment, making it even more difficult to secure a proper home.

The Mad Hatter, formerly The Rock, in Rock Street on the edge of Kemp Town is the largest pub in Cherubs’ operation. An old coaching house dating back to 1787 with a nearby underground tunnel to the beach, it is the perfect setting for Sunday lunch. Many customers don’t even realise the good their patronage is doing and simply praise the quality of the food. Those who do feel sated in both body and mind. Simon Gangloff, the pub’s bar manager, describes how takings have increased since they began working with Cherubs a year ago: “You can tell that our customers feel happy to be supporting the local community, and in such an easy way – by eating a lovely roast dinner! There’s no charity premium involved either, it’s competitively priced. We’re really proud to be associated with what Jerome is doing.”

For anybody worried about being cooked food by people who are sleeping rough, Jerome reassures them that there are no hygiene issues: “Brighton Housing Trust has free and excellent showering facilities for the homeless. One of our kitchen porters sleeps in the doorway of French Connection but showers there every morning before he comes to work.”

Three weeks after being interviewed at The Hub, Matthew was beaten up by three youths and his few meagre possessions taken, along with those of several other people sleeping on the streets of central Brighton. Hearing of his plight, Jerome has now taken him on as a trainee in one of Cherubs’ kitchens. While he’s able to make a positive difference in a few cases like Matthew’s, he feels frustrated at the lack of social care available from official channels and bemoans their response to this worsening crisis.

Father Jerome can’t help every single one of Brighton’s homeless but just getting a few like Matthew back on their feet and into employment, is an important first step. “It’s what keeps my faith alive,” he says. And Matthew couldn’t agree more. “If there was a project like Cherubs in the Midlands I may not have had to walk all the way down here – but I’m really glad I did.”

For more information or to experience Cherubs visit The Mad Hatter, 7 Rock Street, Brighton BN2 1NF; 01273 674447; cherubskitchen.com

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