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Changing lives in Kingston

A torrent of filthy rainwater crashes through the ceiling, interrupting Matt Hatton in mid-sentence. He’d been explaining how the group he runs helps homeless people across Kingston, south west London. Now he’s jumping out of his broken office chair to check the photocopier hasn’t been fatally drenched.

Matt is director of Kingston Churches Action on Homelessness (KCAH). The charity occupies the ground floor of a four-storey building owned by retailer Marks & Spencer. A 2012 fire gutted the floors above and burned holes in the roof. When it rains, water percolates through the building, pooling along the way, until it gushes down into the KCAH office.

“It’s one reason we'd like to move,” says Matt. But he and his team face these periodic floods with stoic acceptance. In many ways, the building they occupy is a metaphor for the people they try to help: damaged and in need of repair; trying to get by in the meantime.

Matt’s team works with people who are sleeping rough and those who are homeless, or at risk of becoming so. They run a drop-in service between 10am and 1pm on weekdays, where people can access advice on housing and welfare benefits. Regular clients can book appointments outside those hours.

Occasionally KCAH can find a rare bed in a hostel or night shelter. More typically, they’ll help someone to write an action plan to start tackling their housing problems.  Sometimes they’ll offer a tin of baked beans, a sleeping bag, or some clothes – or just a sympathetic ear. Whatever helps.

Matt Hatton

Matt Hatton

The need for this kind of service is growing. KCAH dealt with 1,524 clients last year, more than double the year before. The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames is one of the wealthiest parts of the capital. Yet some of its housing estates rank among the most deprived 2% in England. And the income gap between its richest and poorest residents is one of the widest in London. People here need help.

The London Community Foundation launched its Love Kingston campaign in 2012 to address deprivation in the borough. The central aim of the campaign, formed in partnership with Kingston Voluntary Action, is to raise money for local groups. In just two years it has generated over £250,000.

LCF has invested half the money in a legacy fund, which attracts 50% matched funding from the government. It will use the interest generated to help local projects for years to come. The other half is going to local projects. There are five receiving support until October 2015, when LCF expects to choose five more.

KCAH is one of the first wave. The others are Oxygen, a youth project; Kingston Foodbank; Hestia, a women’s shelter; and Kingston Savers, a credit union.

“These five projects were chosen because they each represent a pathway out of poverty for a wide range of people across our community,” says lead fundraiser, Elaine Miller. Indeed, Love Kingston is about more than raising money.

“The essence of the campaign is to create an exciting charitable venture that engages everyone who lives or works in the borough,” Elaine explains. “We want to build a strong, generous community where residents, businesses, local groups and government work together to build a fair society.”

That idea has galvanised the local community. The annual Love Kingston Day, held each year on February 14 (Valentine’s Day), has become a platform for a huge range of fundraising activities. The campaign has impressive support from businesses, local people, media and politicians – Kingston MP and government minister Ed Davey is a patron.

Love Kingston Day on its own generated almost £44,000 in 2014. The target for 2015 is £100,000. It’s an ambitious increase, but Elaine is confident. “I’ve always believed that if you’ve got a great product, people will support it, and this is a great product,” she says. “All the money is raised locally and given locally.”

Property developer CNM Estates is one of the founding backers of the campaign. Chief executive Wahid Samady says he’s proud of the energy and focus it has generated. “The work they have done has inspired the generosity of our community and demonstrates what we can achieve. It’s brilliant.”

Involvement in the campaign has helped local law firm Colemans-ctts “make a difference,” says senior partner Janet Tilley. “We’ve had an office in Kingston for over 25 years. We wanted to show our support for justice and people’s rights in this borough. Love Kingston has given us that opportunity.”

This kind of support is priceless for a charity like KCAH, says Matt. “The whole Love Kingston campaign has raised awareness in the local community about the work we do and the fact we exist,” he says. “People know about us now and that’s largely happened since Love Kingston. Even if we don’t receive money from LCF in future, the benefits of the higher profile will help us for years to come.”

The five groups funded in the first wave of the campaign often work together, sharing information and ideas, says Matt, and referring clients to each other’s services. Housing advice from KCAH could give a woman in the Hestia shelter the confidence to leave an abusive partner. A fair loan from the credit union, or help from the food bank, could mean the difference between a family paying their rent and ending up homeless. The Oxygen youth project could guide a teenager away from drug and alcohol abuse, a big cause of homelessness.

“Love Kingston and the support from the LCF has really helped us all to join stuff up,” Matt explains. “Everyone is speaking together now, and together we can make a bigger difference.”

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