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Local partnership to help Southwark charities access affordable premises launches

Melanie May | 2 April 2024 | News

Community Southwark

Community Southwark, the umbrella body for Southwark’s voluntary sector, local funder United St Saviour’s Charity, and Southwark Council are partnering in a new project to help the area’s charities access affordable premises.  

Southwark is home to over 1,300 registered charities that provide essential services to the community, from lunch clubs for older people to debt advice for families, holiday programmes for disadvantaged children, and food banks. However, a 2023 survey conducted by Community Southwark highlighted that premises affordability is their biggest concern after funding, with 46% of respondents stating their current premises are unaffordable.  

The Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Premises Project aims to alleviate this challenge by introducing a matchmaking service to connect charities with available spaces within the borough from both public sector and private landlords, utilising that has become unused or underutilised since Covid. In addition, with the council’s backing, the project also seeks to increase the supply of affordable spaces by influencing private developers and businesses to allocate space for the charity sector. 

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Sarah Thurman, Head of Community Investment at United St Saviour’s Charity said:

“The skyrocketing value of land and property in Southwark is not only causing a housing crisis but it’s also a huge problem for charities who simply cannot afford to pay today’s commercial rates.  While we provide grants to charities and social enterprises across the borough, we can’t solve their premises challenges. This innovative project represents a collective effort to support the crucial work of local groups.”

The project is open to all types of voluntary and community sector groups, including charities and CICs, as long as they are Community Southwark members (which is free to join). Groups looking for space to carry out their activities, whether that is a long-term office lease, regular hall bookings for activities or a one-off event can fill in a form on the Community Southwark site.

Anood Al-Samerai, Chief Executive of Community Southwark said:

“We are delighted that funders and the council understand the challenges which charities and community groups face in finding affordable and suitable space. Working in partnership we hope to maximise and match the opportunities already out there, and improve decisions about VCS space for the future.”

Southwark Council’s Cllr Stephanie Cryan, Communities, Democracy and Finance, said:

“We are very proud to be part of this new partnership to drive up the supply of affordable space that meets the needs of our charities and local groups. Their work is invaluable and we want to make sure that we are making full use of Southwark’s buildings on their behalf and crucially, the people they support. This includes the council looking at our own portfolio, as well as working with developers and landlords.”

The project is led by Community Southwark and supported by Southwark Council and United St Saviour’s Charity. A dedicated team member from Community Southwark is working within the council’s Property and Planning Department. Bermondsey-based social enterprise consultants, PPL, are also providing pro-bono support to the initiative.

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