One of Birmingham’s most respected figures celebrates £1m fundraising milestone

Sister Sabina Staff with her MBE

Sister Sabina Staff with her MBE

Sister Sabina Staff, one of the best-known and most respected figures in the Birmingham Irish community, has celebrated reaching a £1 million fundraising milestone to help homeless people in the Midlands.

Since she retired from teaching Sister Sabina has spent 22 years working for the charity Sifa Fireside in Digbeth, where she still volunteers 40 hours of her time each week.

Nicknamed ‘the Mother Teresa of Birmingham’, Sister Sabina has now raised more than £1million to help the region’s homeless, braving all weather conditions and dangerous areas to distribute food, bedding and clothing to those sleeping rough.

Now aged 86, Sister Sabina was born in Ireland and grew up there. She became a nun in 1951, moving to live in St Paul’s convent near the centre of Birmingham.

She spent many years as a schoolteacher in Coventry, including being headteacher at Corpus Christie School in Ernesford Grange, before retiring in 1993 to work with Sifa Fireside.

Sister Sabina’s charity work and in particular passing that mammoth £1 million figure has now been recognised in several newspapers, including the national Daily Mirror.

Explaining how she came to be involved in Sifa Fireside, the origins of which she founded with the support of her convent, Sister Sabina said:

“When I retired I was at a loss as to what to do with myself when I realised there were a lot of homeless people in Birmingham.

“We started off from scratch by raising money to refurbish a completely derelict building.

“At first we could only afford to give everyone a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits. But now we are helping hundreds of people every day.”

“It has been said that I’m the Mother Teresa of Birmingham, but I don’t believe that.

“I have raised around £1million over the years.
“All of my friends have started running away from me because I tap them up for money so often.”

“Four years ago I was approached by a widow in a park who gave me a cheque for £25,000 to help the charity.

“With Gift Aid that went up to £31,000. What a generous donation.

“She told me she had been raised by our sisters in Ireland and wanted to help.”

Sifa Fireside was formed by the merger of two charities – Supporting Independence From Alcohol and the Fireside Charity.

The group currently employs around 40 members of staff and is supported by a similar number of volunteers.

The charity now feeds 94 people for breakfast and 160 at lunch every day. It also provide toiletries, showers, hairdressers, sleeping bags, clothes and food packages to the most needy in society.

Sister Sabina’s work is under threat though as government cuts have led to a loss of £140,000 a year in council funding for the charity.

The former headteacher is now campaigning to ensure the centre, based near Birmingham’s Bullring, gets enough funding to carry on supporting the region’s most vulnerable.

The funding crisis has also prompted Sister Sabina to issue a desperate public plea for help.

“In my opinion homelessness is a problem that’s often brushed under the carpet,” she said. “There are a lot more people on the streets than the figures suggest.

“We are desperate for funds and extremely grateful for any donations.”
Anyone who wishes to donate should visit www.www.justgiving.com/sifafireside/donate/