A FORMER army barracks just outside of the town centre has become the home of a charity helping the town's homeless.

The 1.5 acre site houses the operations of Emmaus Bolton, a group which supports people in their transition from living on the street to finding their own home.

Organisers will try to help anyone who needs support - from people who are referred by other group's to those who just show up at the Fletcher Street compound.

Each 'companion' is given a bed at the site, in the former Derby Barracks block, and helps out with jobs around the various buildings owned by Emmaus.

This can be anything from repairing or manufacturing items at the sites workshop to cooking in the cafe.

The sites are drug and alcohol free and each person who joins agrees to sign off mainstream benefits in an effort to help them totally support themselves.

Tony Stephenson, executive lead for the Bolton branch of Emmaus, explained that the work helps to fund the operations of the charity and also teach people skills so that they can get jobs after leaving.

He said:"We try to give these people who come to live with us as many different experiences as we can.

"We're a totally independent community, we generated all the income we need to do the work that we do through the various bits of business we have."

Like many charities, Emmaus takes in donations of furniture, clothing, books and other items and sells these on at discounted prices.

However, items are also manufactured on site by people who are living at the barracks, this includes things like benches and planters for the group's garden centre.

Mr Stephenson said: "We offer a great service to people for collecting stuff that they don't want any more for free.

"We put new life into it, these things help people who need to come here rather than the high street because they can't afford it.

"The cafe, for example, is very inexpensive and it means that these people who are socially or financially excluded can come here with a friend and meet for food or a drink."

Homelessness has become an increasing issue in Bolton as it has in many parts of Greater Manchester.

Bolton Council's housing officers estimate they deal with as many as 2,000 homes each year in which an individual is in danger of becoming homeless or already lives on the street and it is thought that as many as 20 to 30 rough sleepers could be living in and around the town centre on any given night.

Mr Stephenson hoped that Emmaus' work could help these people but admitted that the issue was a huge and growing problem.

He said: "We think we've made a huge difference here, unfortunately homelessness is still hugely on the increase.

"Whilst politicians say they are going to end homelessness, we are just seeing it increasing more and more.

"That said, people who come here to live do a huge amount in helping those who are in the most need."

To contact Emmaus Bolton with a donation or for advice, call 01204 398056.