ROUGH sleepers say brave Worcester hotel staff 'saved their lives' by taking them in during the coronavirus pandemic.

In total 45 rough sleepers have been homed temporarily at the Fownes Hotel in Worcester during the deadly Covid-19 outbreak which has now killed more than 50,000 people in all settings across the UK.

The hotel threw open its doors following an urgent mission to get vulnerable homeless people off the streets before the virus struck.

Management at the hotel in City Walls Road quashed rumours circulating on social media that guests had trashed the hotel saying it had been kept 'pristine' throughout.

Staff say many of their new guests have been 'lovely' and 'grateful' for the support they had been given, treating their rooms 'with respect'.

One former bricklayer, now homeless, even showed his thanks by building a wall for the hotel and laying a patio in just four days. When other hotels were closing their doors, hotel assistant manager Julie Merrick said the Fownes had thrown them open because staff 'wanted to help'.

The hotel began taking people on March 10 and the hope is that many can be found accommodation once they leave. The mission to get rough sleepers off the street stepped up a gear at the end of March when a Government official announced that councils should 'get everyone in'.

Fownes guest Peter Swinbourne, aged 48, homeless for 25 years, said hotel staff and charity workers from homeless charity CCP and St Paul's Hostel 'saved me'.

Mr Swinbourne, originally from Pershore and known to his friends as Barney, was wearing a mask to reduce the risk of infection or transmission.

He said: "I have never slept in a double bed before. I'm happy here - this is a five star hotel putting up homeless people. I'm an alcoholic and have been in and out of prison all my life."

Terence Marriott, 55, has been at the Fownes Hotel for six weeks of the pandemic.

He said: "I have been well looked after. It has been excellent. The food is also excellent - I've got a bit fatter. I feel a lot healthier than when I came in."

Management of the hotel has been maintained by a skeleton crew of 11 people led by general manager Mohamed Khalil and assistant manager Julie Merrick who have both worked at the hotel for 15 years.

Staff remaining to help include two restaurant workers, reception staff, housekeeping and night porters.

A further 15 staff have been furloughed.

Ms Merrick, a mother-of-two, estimates she has worked double her usual hours during the course of the pandemic. She has been impressed by her staff and believes they have found the experience 'rewarding'.

She said: "We're the only hotel in Worcester doing this. Everybody else closed their doors. My staff are very brave. They have gone above their job role, absolutely. It has brought us all closer together as a team. The staff have been absolutely fantastic."

Eddie Boult, a bricklayer by trade, built a wall at the hotel because he was 'bored' but also as a thank you to those who have looked after him. Other homeless people have been jetwashing the hotel patio.

CCP has been providing support and advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week through line manager Oleg Mitchell who has been coming to the hotel daily since April 3.

Work includes addressing addictions, supporting people with benefits advice and working towards securing them future accommodation.

The hotel has 62 rooms, close to 50 of them occupied by rough sleepers brought in off the streets by Worcester City Council and other partners who have been working together during the pandemic, including hotel staff, CCP and Worcestershire County Council.

Observing social distancing, a Worcester News reporter visited the hotel where signs reminded people to wash their hands because of Covid-19 with hand sanitiser provided at the entrance.

Staff have been offered PPE including gloves, face masks and aprons but so far management say no cases of Covid-19 have been reported.

Restaurant staff, including head chef Andrei Eugen, have been working seven days a week, providing three course meals to their guests, delivered directly to their hotel rooms in disposable containers to reduce the risk of virus transmission. A reward system has been introduced whereby pizza is delivered to guests on a Tuesday night if they respect hotel rules.

Each guest in the hotel has their own room with en suite facilities. Security, provided by Safe to Go Security, is 24 hours and regular searches are made of the rooms to make sure no drugs or other illicit substances are on the premises and to make sure the rooms are tidy and in good order.

The hotel is subject to 'daily deep cleans' several times a day, including door handles, handrails and lift buttons, as staff have worked to prevent the virus gaining a foothold in the Fownes.

Police have been performing regular patrols of the streets around the hotel and management say they will call them at the first sign of trouble. The hotel doors are locked at night.

It is not the first time the hotel has helped people - it also homed 25 to 30 people displaced by floods across Worcestershire in February and has been a home from home for NHS key workers.

Mrs Merrick accepted there were some guests who had shown challenging behaviour, some guests had mental health issues or were wrestling with addiction. She said social distancing was difficult to maintain, especially when alcohol was involved. Many chairs have been removed to prevent people gathering in one place.

The three hotel bars have all been cleared of alcohol as a precaution and no alcohol is permitted on the hotel grounds.

She stressed that many guests had been 'grateful for the help'. The hotel has also put in place a laundry service with guests able to wash their clothes regularly. Some had been washing their clothes in the bath until the service was introduced.

The hotel has had to deal with some challenging and sometimes tragic situations - heroin addict Daniel Cox died at the hotel in April and staff expressed their condolences to his family.

Last Friday several police cars swooped on the Fownes Hotel following a fight outside. However, hotel management have stressed that neither the complainant nor the two suspects arrested were resident at the Fownes. Hotel staff helped the complainant, calling an ambulance, when he came into the hotel seeking help.

Two men were arrested for affray.