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Peterborough churches' housing scheme set for national roll-out

17 April 2015


AN INNOVATIVE church-based housing scheme in Peterborough looks set to be rolled out nationally, after delegates from around the country gathered in the city at the end of last month to hear how the initiative Hope into Action was helping to release millions of pounds' worth of capital for supported independent living.

The scheme is relatively straightforward: a Christian with spare capital buys a house, and leases it to the charity for five years. The house is then let on affordable rents to vulnerable homeless people, who are supported by volunteers from local churches. After eight or ten months, the tenants are ready to move into longer-term accommodation, and new tenants move in.

The investors receive a two-per-cent annual return on their investment. After five years, the house is sold, and they receive the sales proceeds.

"We know that there are millions upon millions of pounds of Christian wealth across this country," the executive director of Hope into Action, Ed Walker, told delegates. "When you put money in banks, shares, and savings accounts, as we all rightly do, you are sharing with the rich and enabling them to get richer. Why not share some of it with the poor, and help the poor get richer?"

He recognised that the scheme was not for everybody, but he said: "One can see a massive seam of wealth which, if tapped, could have a dramatic impact on the Kingdom and the poor in this country. We see a time when it is normal practice for Christians to have some of the wealth shared with the poor through investing in a house."

The scheme, which began five years ago, now has 14 houses in Peterborough, and another 13 elsewhere in the country. Eight more houses are currently being prepared. The initiative has been welcomed by Peterborough City Council, which is now working to build the initiative into its proposed "housing pathway".

"My vision is about having the right services for the right people, families, and communities, at the right time, in the right place," the council's corporate director of people and communities, Wendi Ogle-Welbourn, said. "We are only ever going to be able to respond to that vision if we work in partnership with people. . .

"Individuals need a tapestry of support, because what will meet one person's needs won't meet another's. We need to be able to pick and choose, and build that individual tapestry together." She continued: "Homelessness is a big issue for us. If we don't make sure that people have got a roof over their head, any other service we put in will not make a lasting difference."

A key aspect of the scheme is the volunteer support from local churches, who provide mentors for the tenants. "Success for us is when our tenants feel love from church members," Mr Walker said.

He said that although the initiative was evangelistic - "we want people to come to faith; we long for that" - he emphasised that "we would never want to abuse our tenants spiritually, or force our beliefs on them. Many people have come to faith. We love that. But we have to be careful not to be overly zealous and abuse people spiritually."

One of the houses in Peterborough is sponsored by the cathedral. The cathedral Missioner, Canon Jonathan Baker, said: "Hope into Action has been brilliant in helping us to provide a long-term solution for a family that would otherwise have been shunted from one form of temporary accommodation to another.

"Members of the congregation have donated furniture and equipment to help set up the house, and one of our small groups has taken on the role of offering friendship and support to the residents."


ONE of the largest groups of homeless people are those who were in local-authority care as children.

"As a social worker, I really don't want to put children into care," Wendi Ogle-Welbourn, of Peterborough City Council, told the Hope into Action conference. "We bring children into care to keep them safe. That's great. But what do we do at age 18? We say goodbye.

"I think that's really difficult, because, between the ages of 16 and 21, I left home about five times, because I was trying it out. When you're in care, you don't get that opportunity, because when you leave - sadly, because we don't have enough placements - we have got to put somebody in that bed with those foster carers."

She remembered a time, she said, when young people in care were given a black plastic sack to place their belongings in when they left. "Just being given a suitcase makes a fantastic difference."

Speaking in the House of Lords, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Timothy Stevens, said last month that young people in care were "among the most vulnerable and at-risk members of our society. . . At no point in their lives are that vulnerability and risk more acutely felt than when transitioning to independent adult living."

Bishop Stevens, a former chairman of the Children's Society, said that "these youngsters are three times more likely to run away than other young people, and an estimated 10,000 of them go missing each year."

The physical and mental health of young people leaving care "is poorer than that of young people in the population as a whole", he said. "They are almost twice as likely to have problems with drugs or alcohol, or to report other mental-health difficulties." That was why young people, when consulted, wanted to be able to leave care when they were ready, and stay beyond the age of 18 if not.

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