From Australia to Amelia Street for owner of Belfast’s mobile foot clinic
Elderly and middle-aged people who have fallen on hard times are among the homeless queuing for help at a new podiatry outreach service in Belfast.
A man of 90, another who hadn’t taken his shoes off in months for fear they would be stolen, and yet another who was wearing shoes one size too small are among the many people seeking treatment from Co Down podiatrist Kathryn (Kat) Jones.
Kat, who also runs a special clinic for people on benefits and low income, bought a minibus and ripped the seats out to create an outreach service for the homeless.
It is just one of many ambitious projects she aims to set up to help both the homeless and young people in her hometown of Newtownards.
However, her focus now is on raising funds to give 500 homeless and low-income families a Christmas to remember.
Kat gave up the good life in Australia nine months ago to come home and devote herself to voluntary work.
The 43-year-old podiatrist set up Inspired Greatness (IG), a podiatry clinic with a difference.
She aims to use her premises in the town’s Frances Street as a drop-in centre for teenagers and has also established a group to help tackle youth mental health.
But it is her work with low-income families and the homeless where she has really been making a difference.
Kat says she has been moved to tears by the plight of the homeless visiting her twice monthly clinic in Belfast: “Our mobile clinic visits Belfast’s Tomb Street on the first Monday of every month and Amelia Street on the third Tuesday. My plan is to take it all over Northern Ireland wherever there is need.
“We have up to 14 people attending each clinic and they all get a care pack with clean socks, underwear and toiletries.
“One guy came to see me and didn’t want to take his shoes off because he never had them off before as he was afraid someone would steal them.
“Another was wearing shoes which were one size too small for him and his nails were digging into his toes.
“He had all of the clothes he owned on him, two pair of jeans and three tops and that’s all he had in the world.
“It is all I can do not to cry, it’s heartbreaking, and I just feel we are doing so little and there is so much that needs to be done.”
On hearing of her work, people have started to leave donations into the clinic so that often the podiatry bus has now started to bring clothes and even food for its patients. Kat is currently working hard to raise money to bring a bus-load of homeless people from Belfast to Newtownards to join up to 500 other people for a four-course dinner on Christmas Day.
Last weekend she completed a mammoth sponsored 250-mile cycle — with just one break of 40 minutes to sleep — raising over £1,200 and she also staged a gala ball in Belfast last Thursday to boost funding.
She says: “I am not a cyclist, but it took me 28 hours and I stopped every 50 miles for a food break and had one 40-minute nap, so it was tough going but I’m delighted to have done it.”
A remarkably selfless woman, she gave up a home, business and left her two teenage children, Jordan (19) and Aliyah (16) with their father in Australia nine months ago to establish Inspired Greatness.
She explains it was all because of a dream: “Twenty years ago I had a dream of establishing a youth drop-in centre in my hometown, but it never happened.
“A couple of years ago I had the dream again and all the memories of what I had hoped to do came flooding back and I realised this time I had to do it.
“I had lived in Australia for 12 years and moved home nine months ago. I started IG in August while still in Australia but opened the podiatry clinic and wellbeing centre in May.
“I couldn’t open the drop-in centre because of Covid but we are now hoping to launch it next month.
“I just want to create a safe place for young teenagers to come after school with their friends and chill out and hopefully then start to offer different courses and help build them up to be the best versions of themselves that they can be.
“I have also teamed up with Aware NI to facilitate a mental health support group for 18- to 30-year-olds which will be run in the centre every other Wednesday.
“God has brought me through a lot of stuff in my life and if it wasn’t for Him, I wouldn’t be here, and I just want to live my life helping other people to be their best selves.”
As word of her good works has spread through Newtownards, the clinic has also become a drop-off point for donations to help the homeless.
It has enabled Kat to set up two large tables at her outreach clinics offering sleeping bags, duvets, coats, hats, gloves and the most coveted — new shoes.
With the support of a team of volunteers she now hopes to serve Christmas dinner in Queen’s Hall on December 25 but still needs donations to help cover the cost of the food.
“The meal is for families in need, people who would be by themselves and the homeless,” she says.
“Christmas can be a sad time of the year for a lot of people, and I want to give them something to look forward to and give them the best Christmas I can.”