HE greets me with a smile which hides the unimaginable challenges he has faced throughout his entire life.

Gerry Linderman, 63, has lived with debilitating cerebral palsy since birth, a condition he describes as “horrible.”

It leaves him dependant on a wheelchair and struggling to communicate verbally.

Gerry has no family to speak of in his hometown of Colchester, but there is one place where he feels right at home.

He stumbled across drop-in centre Open Door, in Eld Lane, Colchester, 18 years ago and soon became a regular visitor.

The charity offers support to anyone who needs it and is well established in the town after 32 years.

The volunteers, some of whom have been involved with the centre for more than a decade, have become Gerry’s second family.

Charity director Peter Dale can converse with Gerry with relative ease, having steadily built up a rapport and friendship.

It is a shining example of Open Door’s ethos of treating every single visitor as a person worthy of love, regardless of the hand life has dealt them.

Gerry may struggle to talk, but he is a hugely colourful and intelligent man, clearly made more confident by his time with the volunteers.

“I sometimes get abuse in the street,” he tells me.

“People don’t understand me, here they do.

“It is all there in my head, mentally there is nothing wrong.

“My mind is fine, but my body isn’t, it’s been this way my entire life. It’s what I live with.”

The charity clearly means the world to Gerry, who has raised more than £1,300 ahead of a sponsored walk around Castle Park, on June 23, in support of Open Door.

Peter explains the charity is focused squarely upon the individual needs of every visitor who walks through its doors.

From helping people to fill out forms to assisting in securing accommodation for the homeless, the charity does not limit itself to any particular issue or cause.

Anyone, from a desperate drug addict to a high-flying businessman suffering with depression, is welcome.

A team of 24 volunteers work 80-hour weeks to make sure there is someone on hand to welcome visitors.

Peter said: “Nine million people in the UK report they are always or often lonely, social isolation is rightly getting more attention.

“In the past we were perhaps seeing more of a problem with addictions.

“This is still a problem, but we are seeing a shift.

“We support rough sleepers, whether it is simply giving them a sleeping bag or a hot drink, or helping them secure housing.

“There are officially 20 rough sleepers in Colchester, however that figure is certainly higher.”

He added: “We are a Christian charity and want to show people God’s love, we run a Sunday service for people who perhaps aren’t as comfortable in a traditional church setting.

“But we are open to everyone of any walk of life and any faith.

“We focus on people individually and show them they are much more than a label, that they are capable of more with physical, emotional and spiritual support.”

About 100 people will take the step of talking to a volunteer at Open Door every week.

Smiling from ear to ear, Gerry adds: “They want to help us, they have definitely helped me and now I want to do something to help them.”

To support Gerry’s walk, visit mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/gerryod