THE Green Party's leader visited Worcester today - setting her stall on an election scalp after accusing the Government of letting homeless people down.

Natalie Bennett, on her second city visit in a matter of weeks, went to the Maggs Day Centre to talk to people sleeping rough on the streets.

The politician admitted to being moved after finding out at least 15 people using the centre's cafe this morning had slept outside overnight, saying much more needs to be done to tackle it.

She also upped the ante for next week's local elections by insisting the Greens are looking to take at least "one more seat" at Worcester City Council - and told this newspaper she was behind a campaign to turn more upper shop floors into flats.

Ms Bennett went to the Maggs site, in Deansway, for talks with volunteers and staff about the efforts being made to keep it going.

She said: "People think of Worcester as a very nice, prosperous place but as we've heard today 15 people have come in here this morning who have been sleeping rough overnight.

"But it doesn't surprise me, because I visit other cities and know this goes on everywhere.

"Anyone can become homeless - it can be people who have two good pay packets but one of them suffers from a relationship breakdown, for example.

"There are people out there who need help, and what we need is more support services.

"We've heard of people who have gone into prison with mental health issues, then they come out of jail with those same problems, it doesn't seem like the treatment is there."

She also said she was "very serious" about winning another scalp in Worcester, saying they wanted to build on the shock 2012 victory which saw Councillor Neil Laurenson elected.

"We are very serious about at least winning a second seat in Worcester, it's very important to get more representation and that's what we're looking at," she said.

During her visit she was accompanied by Worcester's Green Party branch chairman Louis Stephen, who is standing in Battenhall.

Mr Stephen is behind the campaign for more shops to convert their unused upper floors into flats, known as LOTS (Living Above the Shop).

Ms Bennett said she was keen for Worcester to become a "pilot" city for it, which the Greens would then be keen to roll out nationally.

She said: "Worcester could be a trailblazer for this - we'd seek to roll it out nationally, if you look at areas like Liverpool for instance we're the official opposition."

After visiting the centre she went to the King's school in Worcester for a Q&A with pupils, before heading to Cannock Chase.


DURING Ms Bennett's visit the Maggs Day Centre had around 15 people come and go in under an hour - many of them increasingly desperate for help.

That included Mark Harbison, aged 49, an ex-soldier from Northern Ireland who has been sleeping rough for 14 years.

Mr Harbison, from the Royal Irish Regiment, suffered a bomb blast in Northern Ireland and now suffers from a host of health issues, including mental health difficulties.

He said he was pleased to see leading national politicians pay the centre a visit - a place he called a "lifeline".

"The people of Worcester have been very good to me and I thank them for that," he said.

"This centre is very good, it serves a purpose - I've been homeless for 14 years and I sleep anywhere I can, benches, hedges, you name it.

"I came to this country to help people, I keep my eye on other vulnerable people, and the elderly, to make sure they are alright.

"I live rough but I help others, it's that simple."

Michael Connor, the centre's volunteer co-ordinator, said they were always after more donations, both cash and clothes, to pass on.

"We are totally dependent on people helping us out - donations of money is a big thing," he said.

During her visit Ms Bennett was impressed by the facilities, saying in other parts of the UK she was used to "odd corners of 1950s office blocks" trying to provide the same thing.

* The centre is looking for more people to donate via direct debit - visit to get involved.