Caritas Anchor House's 'move-on' flats provide hope for Newham's homeless
PUBLISHED: 13:00 26 January 2017 | UPDATED: 13:49 26 January 2017
For proud receipient Roseann Adams, who was once homeless for 15 years, the best thing about her new studio apartment is its calm.
“The peace – it is so peaceful,” she said. It’s hardly surprising when you consider the constant dangers, stress and fear faced by people in Newham who are homeless.
Roseann is one of 25 residents from Caritas Anchor House (CAH) who will spend six months living in 25 “move-on” studio flats, adjacent to the charity’s main building in Canning Town.
The flats’ completion at the end of 2016 marks the second phase of the homelessness charity’s £15.3 million Home and Hope Appeal, launched back in 2011.
They will support existing CAH residents, like Roseann, to offer a transition back to independent living in about six months’ time.
Keith Fernett, chief executive of the Canning Town charity, calls the accommodation a “finishing school”.
“The residents can cook and clean for themselves,” he said. “They are paying their own rent.”
He adds that each person still receives support but a “light touch” is provided to encourage residents to tackle problems by themselves first.
“About eight years ago we tried flats out in the community as a first stage move-on as a project to see what we would learn,” said Keith of the homes’ origin.
After realising “a certain number weren’t able to make that step to independent living”, the idea for site-based accomodation was born.
As a whole, the Home and Hope Appeal will repurpose CAH as a “fit for purpose complex” to meet the increasingly complicated needs of those who come through its doors.
Phase one involved refurbishing existing residential rooms into individual learning zones, complete with a bedroom and workspace.
The move-on flats form phase two, while the next step will be to focus on maximising the training facilities at the centre.
Keith says a selection process was used to identify which residents would move as 60 out of 115 residents have been living at CAH for more than six months.
“We gave it a lot of thought, how long they had been here,” he said. “We looked at where they were in their personal developement, what were the needs of the community and who needed that final push.”
Two “role models” – Debbie Brown and Roseann Adams – are among the intake. “It was the best Christmas present ever,” said Debbie, adding that she was the first one to move in.
“I was a mum in a big house – to go from that to not being able to make a piece of toast can kill your sense of who you are.
Tax bill could have shut charity down
On top of the usual demands and additional pressures faced by CAH in recent months, one problem has loomed above all others.
The charity recently successfully appealed a decision by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to add an extra £1million of VAT to the development of the move-on flats.
Keith said: “We were worried the charity would have to close,” as a result of the huge bill.
HMRC had changed the charity’s status from “homeless hostel” to a “residential and life skills centre”, meaning its VAT liability would increase from the previously advised £250,000.
However both parties have now signed a legal agreement to reverse that decision.
The charity will be reimbursed for the additional VAT already expended, and will not have to pay further VAT on its construction works until 2018.
Keith estimates the charity lost £500,000 in donations as a result as people were reluctant to support a “tax bill” but says the charity is now positive once more.
To make a donation to the appeal, visit caritasanchorhouse.org.uk
“For me it is about being able to look after yourself again, being able to take control of what you want to eat and when you want to eat.”
Not everyone will be as far along in their personal development but support will still be available to residents experiencing mental health and emotional problems.
Debbie says the physical proximity of having CAH next door offers “the confidence of knowing that someone is still here”.
“You are in a new block but you are still under the rules of Anchor House,” she said. “It is also a way of CAH seeing [if you are ready].”
I put it to Keith whether residents will be able to deal with rocketing rents once outside of CAH’s care.
He acknowledges that rental levels have “exploded in the last two years” but the charity must focus on equipping people with the right skills.
“We call it getting on the staircase, getting up a step at a time,” he said. “We do not view ourselves as a homeless charity but an educational organisation for the disadvantaged.
He added: “This is going to be life-changing for everyone.”
Residents helped to create their new havens
A neutral colour scheme including magnolia walls was purposely selected for the move-on flats, Debbie said.
“It is a big transition when you move over and you don’t need anything bold and in your face,” she explained. “It had to be a blank canvas.”
The 47-year-old consulted with fellow residents so that everyone had a chance to have a say about the rooms’ design and colours.
While there are a few variants with individual layouts, the studios measure 27ft by nearly 11ft on average.
Each comes with a separate bathroom plus defined areas for sleeping and eating.
“It is just amazing to actually go to bed in a separate area,” said Debbie.
“I haven’t got to be in a separate room from a TV or other people for years.”
Ahead of moving in before Christmas, every resident was given the basics according to what they wanted.
A bed, chest of drawers, bedding, table and chairs, comfy armchair, TV and wardrobe were all on view in Roseann’s room.
However it was the colourful kitchenware, books and fabric coverings that were really key to showing off her personality.
Roseann arrived at CAH in October 2015. The mum-of-four had fallen on hard times after spliting up with her partner, and had turned to drugs.
By the time she came to the charity, she had been sleeping rough and living on people’s sofas for 15 years.
The 59-year-old described the charity as having “literally turned my life around”.
This is thanks to CAH’s holistic approach towards treatment – addressing people’s mental and emotional needs as well as offering specialist support for substance misuse. There is also a huge focus on getting people “job ready”.
Last year, CAH provided a home and support to 250 people, supported 36 into employment, and 80 into independent living.
For Roseann, who used to do support work for a employment charity, some other good news had coincided with her move.
She disclosed that she had just been appointed as a Lifestyle Architect – a keyworker for residents – for CAH.
Her final step now will be to achieve independent living over the next six months.
She says her new home is “like moving to another planet” but is enjoying every minute.
“There is no-one knocking on your door,” she said – unless it’s for a cup of tea of course.