Stonewood steps in to put a roof over head of charity for homeless

HOMELESS charity Doorway is moving into one of Chippenham’s most iconic and historic buildings thanks to the support of contractor Stonewood Builders.

The Castle Combe company has pledged to convert the 118-year-old Citadel Hall in Bath Road into a perfect base for the charity, which supports hundreds of people who are sleeping rough or who have been recently housed.

Many of those it helps have mental health issues or drug and alcohol addiction and as well as food and emotional support, the charity’s staff provide housing and benefit guidance, and help connect guests to health and advice services.

Chief executive Joanna Kitching said the move will allow Doorway, currently based at the Salvation Army Hall in Foghamshire, to expand its services, open for longer and help more people.

Mrs Kitching said: “The move gives us a massive opportunity to do more of what we need to do and bring everything that is scattered about the town into one place.

“All of our food is in two private garages in the town, our offices are on Station Hill and we have drop-in and clothes storage at the Salvation Army Hall so having everything in one place is going to be transformational.”

Stonewood will be working at cost to replace all the ground floor flooring, build a new kitchen and install a disabled toilet and shower as well as redecorating throughout.

Mrs Kitching added: “I have known about Stonewood for years through my involvement in the property world and they are the best contractor around. They have been really enthusiastic about this project and it is an enormous weight off my shoulders that I have got Stonewood who are utterly dependable, looking after the building.”

Staff are busy planning the move, which should be complete by the beginning of July. Having more space will allow it to expand its opening days from its present two to four by the end of the year, growing to five by next year. Partners such as Wiltshire Council’s rough sleeper outreach worker and Turning Point addiction advisors will have their own private consultation spaces.

“We have had some ideas about addiction recovery groups and some more literacy work,” said Mrs Kitching. “We also want to be able to get our guests more involved in our work. We have some particularly talented musicians and writers who could be running a group or at least helping run it.”

She said the group will also be able to extend work with care leavers and looked after young people. “We can work with Kandu Arts more and work with the young people separately,” she said. “At the moment they have to be with the main group and that can be very intimidating and not necessarily appropriate.”

The additional financial burden of the rent and running a larger operation will mean even more fundraising for the group. “We will be looking for funders in the town to help us,” said Mrs Kitching. “The top floor is a big open room with a dance floor where we can hold fundraising sales – and we’ll be able to let it out to get extra income.”

She said having such a prestigious new home is important for Doorway’s guests. “In a sense it is like bringing Doorway into the open and out of the shadows,” she said. “In the past we have wanted to give people a really safe place which was kind of invisible but really this is something the community needs to know about and understand better. There’s no reason why we can’t be seen to be in the middle of the town and our guests need to feel that they deserve better.”

The Citadel was built by the Salvation Army in 1903 but it was found to be too small and prone to flooding so the owners moved to the former Co-op hall in Foghamshire in 1970. Since then it has been owned by North Wiltshire District Council and used as a Tourist Information Centre, before most recently being used as a mail-drop centre for Mailboxes Etc.

Mrs Kitching said: “There was no question that The Citadel is brilliant for us and not just because of the space but because of the name of it as well, it is perfect. We are so grateful to Stonewood for its support and we know they will do what’s right for the building.”

Stonewood Builders managing director Matt Aitkenhead said the 45-year-old family firm, which specialises in refurbishing and developing older buildings, is pleased to be supporting the charity.

“We are extremely community-minded and helping a group like Doorway, that does such a fantastic job in helping rough sleepers find somewhere to live and then stay there, does feel appropriate for us,” he said. “We want to see Doorway thrive and we are very proud to be playing a part in that.”