Charity forced to sell property to keep going

Pam Mills

Homeless charity The Bridge Trust fears for its future, after being forced to sell one of its Shipbourne Road properties to help plug a funding shortfall.

John Handley, Chief Executive of the Tonbridge-based organisation, admits the move had been necessary to cover the work it does to support vulnerable people in the area.

He said the charity is unable to meet the growing demand for its services, underlined by an increased waiting list of applicants.

Last year, 141 people from across West Kent sought its assistance, but its local properties are only able to support a total of 27 short-term residents.

Mr Handley believes plans outlined in George Osborne’s recent budget could also have a potentially ‘devastating effect’ on its long-term finances.

According to Mr Handley, the charity, based in Quarry Hill Road, which is marking its 25th anniversary this year, may lose up to 20 per cent of its income if Government plans are adopted. These could see not-for-profit accommodation providers’ status altered so they receive rents at a reduced Local Housing allowance rate. If implemented, this could be brought in from 2018 and affect The Bridge Trust’s long-term viability. Its annual running costs are between £450,000 and £500,000.

Mr Handley said: “This is a big concern for us. If the Government brings in the changes, it is very hard for small charities like us to absorb those losses.”

He said there were further pressures on its budgets as other Local Housing Associations it works with are also being financially squeezed by the Government. They are being ordered to directly cut rents by one per cent each year for the next four years (having previously been allowed to modestly increase rents annually), meaning their own finances were stretched to ensure enough places for homeless people.

The charity suffered another recent setback when it was forced to move its furniture storage warehouse at Cannon Lane, now being redeveloped by McDonald’s, to a more remote location at Paddock Wood.

It has been renamed as Bridge Revivals Homestore, which is part of its wider retail rebranding as Bridge Revivals for its two charity shops in Tunbridge Wells.

“We have found with our charity shops that we are just not getting the level of stock donated to us which is needed to generate sales, so everything is welcome and we would always welcome more people volunteering,” added Mr Handley, who said there had been strong support shown from organisations including the Tonbridge Old Fire Station, which had assisted in helping it host a charity quiz night towards its overall fundraising.

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