Charity sets foot on property ladder

A CHARITABLE Morpeth housing scheme for vulnerable young people is looking to get a foot on the property ladder.

The Barnabas Safe and Sound Project offers accommodation to young people in crisis, as well as helping them move on to independent tenancies

The charity has 12 bed spaces in Morpeth, Pegswood and Ashington, as well as two ‘crash pad’ units for emergency housing.

At present, all of the properties are rented, but Barnabas hopes that in the longer term it may be able to take advantage of a downturn in the housing market to buy accommodation of its own.

Chief Executive Chris Menzies said: “Accommodation costs are dramatically reduced compared to a couple of years ago.

“As an organisation we have being leasing property from other landlords so one of the things we might look at in more detail over the coming year is raising funds to purchase property.

“It could help us to become more sustainable in the future.”

Supporters of the charity have been asked for input on the proposal, but Chairman Gordon Bolton is fully behind the idea.

“From the trustees’ point of view, there is so much money going on rent and we would sooner it was going to Barnabas,” he said.

“If we can develop our own housing stock it makes us that much more secure and it gives us significantly wider options.

“If we were to replace our rented accommodation with housing stock we could convert it ourselves and be in a situation where we could use that housing stock as a training base for young people.

“As an employer I get lots of CVs coming across my desk and an awful lot of them show absolutely no experience whatsoever. What we would like to do is potentially use the housing to offer young people an opportunity of putting something real on their CV which employers can look at and know they have learned something of the world of work.

“That is one of our longer-term strategic aims.”

The tentative plans were announced at the charity’s annual general meeting in Morpeth Town Hall after Mr Bolton revealed a turn-around in finances, from a £16,500 loss in 2010 to a slight profit of just under £6,000 by the end of March this year.

While income fell by three per cent, Barnabas managed to cut its costs by 11.3 per cent. It also increased its value by 1.1 per cent to £515,000.

Mr Bolton said: “That is a tremendous turn-around.

“When we saw the effects of the recession coming we went through a cost-reduction exercise. We had a very difficult period when we reduced the number of full-time staff, along with other costs, but we now have a situation where our balance sheet shows that we have increased our overall worth.

“We have gone through a period of uncertainty about the future, we had anxieties for our staff team and job security, and also fear about our ability to give the service that we were set up to give.

“Our income has been reduced, but our costs have reduced even more and we have come through.

“The staff have done that because they have taken on more responsibility. Where previously a lot of decisions were taken at the top, now it has come down to the people on the front line so we need to say a big thanks to them because they made this possible.”

He added: “We are dealing with young people who have been hurt, or are vulnerable or at risk so we can’t broadcast what we do, we just quietly get on with helping them. We have to continue to satisfy a need and no doubt as things develop over the next year or so things are going to get even worse and the need is going to be greater.

“The thing that impresses me most, apart from the dedication of staff and volunteers, is the courage and tenacity of the young people themselves.

“They start off pretty rough, but with a little bit of encouragement they get there and that is great. It is lovely to see and nice to be part of. Our job is just to help them to achieve it.”

In addition to its supported housing work, Barnabas has extended its detached youth work and delivered various youth projects, such as skating and BMX sessions, football, art and crafts. It also runs a Bouldering Wall from its Dark Lane centre.

For information about its services, or booking the bouldering wall, contact Barnabas on 01670 514881.