Rachel Tucker, 49, leads voluntary group Swindon Homeless Helping Hands, which recently helped a homeless man, Karl Alexander, secure a flat

“MY motto,” said Rachel Tucker, “is that homelessness is not an illness.

“It’s not a disease you can catch. It is just something that happens.

“You don’t walk away and ignore it - you help people. By sitting and having a coffee with a homeless person you’re not going to catch homelessness, and if you have just five minutes to say, ‘I’m going to get some coffees - do you mind if I bring them back here and sit with you..?’

“Every single homeless person is somebody’s daughter, brother, sister, husband, dad.”

Rachel does what she does for complex reasons.

The work itself, though, couldn’t be more straightforward, vital or life-changing for those it touches.

“We walk around four nights per week,” she said.

“Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We meet in the Wyvern car park, and we always leave three of us there.”

The three wait with sleeping bags and other vital items while the rest of the team head for the the town centre.

“We have hot food made for us by some of the volunteers, little snack packs, breakfast bars and things like that.

“That all stays back at the car park with the three volunteers while the rest of us walk round the town centre, looking for homeless people.

“We just go out and engage them, asking if they want to have a chat, do they want a hot drink or some hot food, are they warm enough, do they need hats or socks.

“If they’d like to go back to the Wyvern car park, meet the other three and collect items, that’s fine – or if they don’t want to leave their spot we’re a bit like Meals on Wheels!

“We give a text to the people at the car park and then bring what’s required, whether it’s a hot meal, a hot drink, gloves, a hat.”

There have been occasions when she was moved to tears by the responses of the people helped.

Preparing for the annual fundraising sleep-out run by charity Threshold Housing Link, she needed advice.

One rough sleeper cautioned her to make sure she had plenty of cardboard to stave off the worst of the freezing cold – and offered her his own.

According to the most recent Threshold survey, on any given night there are likely to be up to 17 people sleeping rough in the town centre alone, with more elsewhere.

Rachel lives in West Swindon. Originally from Lambourn, she married while still in her teens and suffered domestic violence.

After enduring the abuse for seven years, she left.

“I walked away with nothing. I had no money, no bank account, I didn’t even have a nappy to put on my youngest son. I had no job and didn’t know how to drive.”

Although Rachel had no connections in Swindon, she headed for the the town and approached the council for help. That was 24 years ago.

It was while living in Stratton that Rachel mentioned to a neighbour that she would like a career in nursing. The neighbour, herself a nurse, encouraged her to take the steps needed to qualify as an auxiliary.

Today Rachel works as a professional carer while juggling family life, a GCSE maths course and her volunteer work.

That work was partly inspired by her own experiences with a beloved family member who experienced homelessness, but also by Rachel’s own observation of the way homeless people in general are treated.

“One day I was sitting in the town centre, just people-watching. The amount of people that walked past this poor little guy who was sitting outside Iceland was astonishing. Some people would kick things at him. That poor boy.”

By that time Rachel had already taken to offering homeless people warm clothing, hot drinks and other provisions at her own expense.

A close friend suggested launching an appeal on Facebook, but Rachel was reluctant. A couple of months later, in November, the friend revealed not only that she’d set up a page but that it already had hundreds of followers.

As word of the work spread, volunteers came forward, and a supporter set up a GoFundMe Page which enabled the team to help one homeless man, Karl Alexander, to get a roof over his head and apply for jobs.

Another homeless person is in the process of being helped in a similar way, and the group – as already revealed in the Swindon Advertiser – is gearing up for its highest-profile event yet.

On March 17 there will be a gala fundraiser at MECA in the town centre, complete with red carpet, and all proceeds will go toward providing supported accommodation for homeless people.

Rachel would like to see a day when everybody recognises that homeless people are just as deserving of dignity, respect and help as anybody else.

She recalls other times when she’s been people-watching and heard a homeless person wish a passer-by a good day, only to be ignored.

“If just one says, ‘Have a nice day,’ that means the whole world.”