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Shropshire homeless charity celebrates 30th birthday with cash boost

By Mark Andrews | Oakengates | Features | Published:

A Shropshire homeless charity which was formed with the help of television series Challenge Anneka has received a near-£100,000 boost as it celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Stay had its origins in an episode of the TV series Challenge Anneka

Stay, which was formed in 1990 when television host Anneka Rice helped transform a dilapidated former chapel into a shelter for the homeless, has been given a £97,000 government grant.

It has been awarded the money after helping to find permanent homes for 150 out of 160 homeless people across Telford & Wrekin who were taken off the streets at the start of the lockdown.

The Stay charity was formed when Wesley House in Oakengates were renovated as part of the Challenge Anneka series

While this has not eradicated Telford's problems with homelessness – the charity's Kay Bennett says there are always more people who will find themselves out on the streets – it is still a remarkable achievement, which would probably never have happened were it not for the outbreak.

At the start of the pandemic, the Government instructed local authorities to provide temporary accommodation for all rough sleepers, usually in hotels. In Telford & Wrekin, a task force was formed made up of the local authority, Stay, and another housing charity, Maninplace.

Between them, the partnership provided temporary accommodation for 160 rough sleepers, and of them 150 have now been found permanent homes.

Kay Bennett and Paul Sansome, both of Stay

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The borough is second only to Bristol in the number of people it has taken off the streets during the outbreak.

At the same time, the partnership has prevented 172 people from becoming homeless, after either negotiating with landlords or working with families to find alternative accommodation. This has left just a handful of people still in temporary accommodation.

The Stay charity began life when Anneka Rice helped convert an old chapel into a centre for the homeless 30 years ago

Miss Bennett says being able to have regular contact with homeless people has been one of the silver linings to come out of the pandemic.

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"Dare I say it has in that respect been a bit of a blessing, having been able to deal with them all face-to-face," she says.

The Stay charity began life when Anneka Rice helped convert an old chapel into a centre for the homeless 30 years ago

"It means they can't just disappear to the next park. We've had success with people who have been homeless for years, by helping them curb their drinking and addiction problems. Those are the people it is difficult to work with, but having them all inside has helped."

Miss Bennett says this work has not gone unnoticed by the Government, which has been full of praise for the way the partnership has tackled the problem.

The Stay charity began life when Anneka Rice helped convert an old chapel into a centre for the homeless 30 years ago

"The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has commended Telford’s taskforce, and commented that no other borough in the country has such a handle on rough sleepers as we do here in Telford," she says.

The £97,000 grant, which has been allocated through the Homeless Link charity, will be used to pay for emergency accommodation and finding permanent tenancies so they do not return to the streets.

The Stay charity began life when Anneka Rice helped convert an old chapel into a centre for the homeless 30 years ago

The money will not last forever, though. Miss Bennett said it would probably all be gone by November, making it even more important that long-term solutions to the problem are found.

Stay was formed in 1990 when a group of volunteers from local churches sought the help of the TV series Challenge Anneka, where each week the presenter would lead a team on a community project.

The Stay charity began life when Anneka Rice helped convert an old chapel into a centre for the homeless 30 years ago

The programme followed Anneka complete renovation work on the chapel in just 39 hours, after asking local businesses to donate both building materials and labour for the project.

The Telford episode saw the former Primitive Methodist Chapel in Station Hill, Oakengates, renovated so it could be used as a hostel for young homeless people.

The Stay charity began life when Anneka Rice helped convert an old chapel into a centre for the homeless 30 years ago

It moved out of the building 10 years ago, by which time it no longer met the required standards for hostel accommodation, but today Stay now manages more than 70 beds across the borough.

As well as providing accommodation, it also provides support and advice regarding cooking, housekeeping, and finding employment. It also works with Telford Mind to provide mental health support, and plans to launch a support scheme from people unable to access financial help from the Government.

Anneka Rice helped the Stay charity renovate a former chapel in 1990

Stay chief executive Terry Gee says the charity will also be launching new branding to mark the 30th anniversary.

He says it is a great privilege to continue the work with the council and Maninplace to accommodate those most at risk during the pandemic. But he says the money will only go so far, and it is vital that people in the area help to support the charity.

Connor Owen, Pippa Brown, Anthony Vale, Antonia Weaver, Sharna Gray and Kay Bennett (front) taking part in the Stay Charity Sleepover at AFC Telford United's Ground. Picture by Sam Bagnall.

"Sadly, rough sleepers are, of course, unable to shield if they have a health condition and that puts them at increased risk," says Mr Gee.

"They are also unable to self-isolate if showing symptoms, putting them, and others in further danger. This funding will allow us to accommodate and support some of the most vulnerable people in the area – but not indefinitely. Our work here has only just begun."

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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