Former Caritas Anchor House chief exec scoops MBE in Queen's Birthday Honours

Keith Fernett

Keith Fernett has scooped an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours. - Credit: Frances Fernett

A former chief executive who turned around a failing charity has been made an MBE for services to the homeless.

Keith Fernett spent 14 years at the helm of Caritas Anchor House in Canning Town, saving the homelessness charity from closure in 2005.

An "elated" Mr Fernett said: "When you have a role like I did at Caritas Anchor House, you don't often win popularity prizes. You have to take often hard and difficult decisions.

"When I took over, Anchor House had reached rock bottom and we had to really sort it out."

Part of that meant finding £13million to refurbish Caritas Anchor House's base, which led to a court battle with HMRC after it demanded the charity pay VAT on £7m.

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According to Mr Fernett, the charity had an "awful" reputation when he arrived in 2004. Police officers joked they would cross the road rather than walk past its Barking Road premises.

He recalled rugby tackling a resident about to smash a chair over someone's head.

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Established as Anchor House in 1962 and renamed in 2014, the charity's original purpose was to provide temporary accommodation for out-of-work seafarers. With the closure of the Docks in 1969, it gradually fell into disrepair. 

But Mr Fernett transformed the charity into a residential and life skills centre, focused on tackling the root causes of homelessness and helping residents return to independent living.

Under his leadership, the charity won the backing of famous faces including Dame Barbara Windsor, Jeremy Paxman and former featherweight world champion Barry McGuigan.

The 68-year-old, who described himself as a "head banger" in a career of trouble-shooting, took on the role partly because of a connection to the Catholic charity stemming from his own faith. 

During Mr Fernett's tenure, the charity won numerous awards and plaudits from bodies including the UK Skills Council and Citizens UK.

A 2011 study by Oxford Economics found that for every £1 invested in Caritas Anchor House in 2009, it delivered £3.98 worth of impacts on society.

It was also put on a surer financial footing with income rising from £850,000 to £2m.

In 2017, Mr Fernett stepped down from Caritas Anchor House. He is now a trustee at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy Trust as well as an adviser to the charity Money A+E.

He is also a director of tech firm Global Noticeboard which is developing software for humanitarian purposes.    

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