Tonbridge’s homeless charity has received a grant of £700,000 from the Kent Community Foundation [KCF] from the proceeds of the sale of the High Hilden care home.
John Handley, Chief Executive of The Bridge Trust, told the Times: “The amount is staggering; this kind of thing doesn’t happen – it’s what dreams are made of.”
The residential home shut in August 2018 after it ran out of money, and a planning application is awaiting approval to convert the site into nine flats and five houses.
The trustees of the care home have given £2.65million from the sale of the home to Tonbridge & Malling ‘to ensure that the money was used in a positive way for the good of the local community’, according to KCF.
Mr Handley said: “I was asked to pitch to them for some funding, but I had no idea how much they were going to give away. I put forward a proposal to buy a house – and they said yes.”
The charity has purchased a four-bedroom house in the town, which it will convert to accommodate five homeless people.
The new premises will provide it with much-needed income from housing benefit, which then comes to the trust as rent. This revenue stream represents more than a quarter of its funding – 27 per cent.
The intervention is timely, since the trust’s direct funding from Kent County Council [KCC] was terminated last April. The sum of £121,000 a year met about a quarter of its overall need.
Contracts for all homeless services in West Kent went to Look Ahead for them to sub-contract out. The London-based company provides specialist support and care services to people with a variety of needs.
After inviting tenders from homelessness organisations across West Kent, Look Ahead elected to deliver the adult provision themselves – while entrusting the care of minors to the YMCA.
Mr Handley said: “In the event Look Ahead have decided to provide a different, smaller service themselves to homeless adults – for those with high and complex needs.
“But the people with lower needs have not disappeared, they’re still there. We are still full – we had two people come in last week, and one an hour ago.”
Look Ahead aim to house 16 people, but they are trying to find accommodation, since they only own two premises in Tonbridge that can house six.
“Last April KCC and Look Ahead decided to pay us some transition funding, or otherwise we would have had to literally throw our people out on the street,” said Mr Handley, whose organisation supports 22 adults.
“But what actually happened was they reduced our funding from 22 people to 10. Then we were told that there would be no more funding at all from the end of this month – although we haven’t heard anything from them for six months.”
He added that the £700,000 ‘ticks a lot of boxes for us’. The Bridge Trust had to sell a house in Shipbourne Road three years ago because of ‘huge’ cash flow problems after it lost two furniture warehouses in the town.
To cover the shortfall, the trust took up the leasehold on two flats in Tunbridge Wells – but the housing benefit went straight to the landlord. With the new funding, it has been able to end the leasehold on the flats.
Mr Handley said: “It’s been quite a year to balance the books. We’ve made some staff reductions, our fundraiser and receptionist have left, and we’ve also ended leases on two shops in Tunbridge Wells – as well as not paying rent on the flats there.
“I’ve also been speaking to the councils about increasing the housing benefit for supported housing, because historically we’ve kept that at very low levels.
“We’ve done that so when guys do get into employment, they are not caught in a benefits trap with sky high rents when they leave. We need to claim for the full cost now.”
Helping hand for charities
KENT Community Foundation will be supporting charities and community groups facing extreme difficulties or closure as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
It is calling for applications for grants of up to £10,000 from charities with an annual income of £200,000 or less ‘to fill the gap that not being able to fundraise during the coronavirus restrictions will inevitably create’.
Initially it will give priority to charities supporting the elderly and vulnerable.
Josephine McCartney, KCF’s Chief Executive, said: “The impact of Covid-19 will see many in the charitable sector facing a very uncertain and worrying future.
“Kent Community Foundation has responded quickly by asking our existing fund holders and supporters to donate towards the new KCF Coronavirus Emergency Fund.”
To apply for funding visit kentcf.org.uk