BUILDING CONFIDENCE The Quaker Meeting Hall in Tunbridge Wells PHOTO: Rose Bainbridge

THE West Kent Quakers have teamed up with two charities to provide affordable housing for the homeless in their Meeting House. 

The large, 120-year-old building on Grosvenor Park is being converted into nine studio flats with the help of the West Kent YMCA, building charity Habitat for Humanity and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

The council has contributed £250,000 towards the overall budget of £770,750. It is hoped that the accommodation will be completed by the end of the year.

In a neat touch, YMCA clients are also helping out with the building work through the organisation’s Horizon Project, which offers practical courses in areas such as construction, carpentry and plumbing.

The flats will allow residents at the YMCA – who stay for a maximum of two years at Ryder House on Belgrave Road – to ‘move on’ and forge an independent future for themselves.

BUILDING THE FUTURE (L-r) Rob Marsh of West Kent YMCA, the Bishop of Rochester James Langstaff, Mayor David Neve, Greg Clark MP, Gareth Hepworth of Habitat for Humanity, Scott Stevens of Highpoint Developments, Sue Hall and Alison Ruff of West Kent Quakers PHOTO: Rose Bainbridge

“It’s very important because after all the hard work they’ve done – and the staff have too – they are then back at risk after two years,” explained West Kent YMCA Chief Executive Rob Marsh.

“Now they have a nice space to address the issues they face. And it’s only a couple of minutes away from us so they can carry on enjoying our support.”

YMCA housing worker Nadine Geehan baked a ‘partnership cake’ to celebrate the launch, with ingredients provided by the Quakers’ Alison Ruff.

The creation, decorated with the Quakers’ logo ‘Live Adventurously’, was cut by resident Conner Barker at the ceremony at the Meeting House on April 21. 

‘It’s like bed-blocking in the NHS, if someone
else comes in who needs
our support’

“Our clients may be ready to move on after six months but at the moment they have nowhere to go,” Mr Marsh added. “It’s like bed-blocking in the NHS, if someone else comes in who needs our support.

“Having somewhere to go will also help to avoid them regressing when they are ready to move out of the YMCA. It’s frustrating for staff too, when they have done everything they can.”

SLICE OF GOOD FORTUNE YMCA resident Conner Barker cut the cake with YMCA Housing staff member and baker Nadine Geehan PHOTO: Rose Bainbridge

The Quakers first put forward the idea 10 years ago. “They’ve really taken the project to heart and we’re very emotional about it,” said Mr Marsh.

“It shows great generosity, trust and friendship. Their motto is ‘live adventurously’ and they are certainly doing that.”

The Meeting House is tall enough to stack up two storeys of flats above those on the ground floor. These consist of studio apartments with shared bathroom facilities. There will also be rooms to offer counselling services, and a smaller meeting area for the Quakers.

The scheme has been heavily supported by the Bishop of Rochester, Rt Rev James Langstaff. A patron of the West Kent YMCA, he is passionate about homelessness and was present at the launch.