On a chilly winter morning, after a night sleeping on the cold streets, or waking up in temporary accommodation with an empty cupboard, the offer of a cooked breakfast and a friendly smile can be a lifeline.

When you are cold and hungry, lacking your own safe place, a plateful of eggs and toast and quantities, along with lashings of hot tea and coffee – something that most of us take for granted – is vital to set you up for another hard day.

Swindon’s Big Breakfast Plus has been providing breakfasts for homeless people for nearly 25 years. It started off as the Broadgreen Breakfast Club, running at the Broadgreen Community Centre in Salisbury Street, and now opens its doors six days a week at the nearby church hall of St Luke’s church.

One regular diner, Terry Knight, says the breakfast club saved his life.

“I’ve got a flat to stay in, but I was sanctioned 16 months ago, and I have no benefits,” he said. “I come here six days a week, and often it’s my only meal of the day. It’s really important to me, and feeds me well. I would not get anything to eat otherwise.”

The breakfast club will celebrate its 25th birthday in June next year – a quarter of a century taking care of some of Swindon’s most vulnerable residents. But demand for its services show no sign of passing into history – indeed, organisers report that homelessness in the town is increasing.

Rosemary Curtis, trustee and honorary secretary for Big Breakfast Plus, blamed rising rents and what she called “the scandal of Universal Credit” with its six-week delay. She is also concerned that giving housing benefit directly to claimants rather than to landlords may cause problems for people who find it hard to manage money because of addiction.

“We’ve seen the effects of an increase in homelessness,” she said. “People may think it would never affect them, but really everyone is only one step away from homelessness.

“The biggest risks are losing a relationship, or losing a job. People focus on addiction when they think of the homeless but there is a variety of reasons it can happen.”

The charity is called Big Breakfast Plus because in addition to providing a hot meal, the hall provides a space where people can meet outreach workers from Swindon homeless charity Threshold, who can give advice and support.

“We come down three mornings a week. Some people don’t want to talk or engage with us, but over time they get to know who we are,” said outreach worker Steve Chamberlain.

“A lot of our engagement work begins here.

“If someone wants help, we can offer advice and guidance, and we can point them in the right direction.”

The breakfast club is open from 7am and 9am every day but Sunday, and serves around 25 breakfasts daily – though numbers range from around a dozen to as many as 40 people. Some regulars may turn up for a meal over many months, while others may drop in for a short time then move on again.

Rosemary said the element of choice was very important – clients can choose what they want for their breakfast, giving them options, even in a minor way, in a life where they have little personal control.

Cereals, beans, sausages, egg and toast are all on the menu, and when they place an order, clients are asked where they slept the night before.

This also gives the breakfast club a record of homeless and vulnerably housed people over time.

“We’ve helped 175 rough sleepers this year,” Rosemary said. “Around 45 per cent of the clients are rough sleepers, and the others are either sofa surfing or in a hostel or other temporary accommodation.

“Some of our users are in local authority accommodation, or have problems with benefits, or managing money. Some are in private lets but without any access to cooking facilities.”

Breakfast club chairman Ram Thiagarajah has been involved in the charity for 21 years, since moving to Swindon.

“I met someone who was volunteering here, and I was looking for a project to support in service to the community,” he said. “I am an engineer, and with my skills I was wanted on the management committee.”

Jo Heaven is coordinator of the breakfast club. She is responsible for the recruitment and retention of volunteers, sourcing donations of food and linking to other outreach services. Each morning she is helped by one of two cooks, Sue Gasiorek and Sandra Porte, and two volunteers from a pool of about 20 regular helpers.

Sue Gasiorek, who has been a cook with the organisation for 17 years, said the profile of the clients had changed over the years.

“We have fewer alcohol related problems than when I first came, and we have many younger people coming along now,” she said. “We get the occasional difficult situation with a tricky customer but not much – everyone is very cooperative and very grateful to get a good hot meal. It may be the only one they get that day.”

The club operates all year round, six days a week, except when Christmas Care - a Swindon charity that provides a temporary shelter with hot food, personal care and Christmas cheer for homeless, isolated and vulnerable - is running.

The charity needs to raise £20,000 a year to operate, and fund-raising is a constant challenge.

Organisers apply for grant funding, and they have support from local businesses such as Zurich and Nationwide. Aldi also makes food donations.

Ram’s long commitment to the task was inspired by a desire to help others but he is disappointed the club is still needed after all those years: “These are vulnerable people and they need help. Someone has to do it.

“When I started, I thought homelessness was a temporary problem. But unfortunately, it’s still here.”

To find out more about Big Breakfast Plus, to make a donation or volunteer, visit the website bigbreakfastplus.org.uk.