Calls to help vulnerable residents

Christine Phillips (right) and Jackie Kemp (both from His Provision) at Hoyle House.
Christine Phillips (right) and Jackie Kemp (both from His Provision) at Hoyle House.
Have your say

Bosses at a church group bidding to provide a major new facility to help Blackpool’s most vulnerable people today warned council bosses they were “letting down the people of the town” after the plans were blocked.

His Provision, which is part of Fylde Coast Churches Alive, wants to take over the now defunct Hoyle House on Grange Park to provide what they say is a “vital” residential centre for people down on their luck.

It would provide lodgings, personal support and skills training to help people get back into work.

But Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn has rejected the plan, saying he would not want such a facility “close to one of our most deprived areas.”

Christine Phillips, a trustee of Fylde Coast Churches Alive based on Raikes Parade, said the service was first proposed a year ago and the group had come close to an agreement to lease Hoyle House at a cost of £25,000 a year – only for the council to change its mind.

Today she said: “They’re letting down the people of Blackpool. People desperately need this to move forward.

“We are going to get more people on the streets without this.

“For the last 18 months we have been running a food bank, and then we decided to set up a skills bank. A lot of these people are living in squalid accommodation.

“We spoke to Coun Simon Blackburn about having Hoyle House, and in September a lease was drawn up.

“We wanted to use the building as a residential training centre offering advice on basic self care, budget 
management and healthy eating, as well as skills such as plastering and decorating, so they can get a job.

“But then we were told by the council Hoyle House was not suitable.

“This is the only place we can find to fit our needs, and so we feel very let down that the project cannot go ahead.”

Hoyle House, on Argosy Avenue, which closed around 12 months ago as a victim of cuts, had around 20 beds providing respite care for people including elderly residents leaving hospital.

Ms Phillips said His Provision already has the £50,000 it needs for the first year of operating the proposed centre, from fund-raising, with other grants in the pipeline.

Ms Phillips said the centre would work within Blackpool Council’s criteria in that it would only take in people who are already residents of Blackpool and in receipt of housing benefit.

She said while there, the centre would run courses on hygiene, cooking and other life skills to enable people to better look after themselves and “break the cycle” of people 
remaining down on their luck by helping to improve their lives and get back to work.

They also planned to benefit the Grange Park area by opening up a community cafe where people can come and meet socially.

Coun Blackburn said the decision had “not been taken lightly” but was the right one for the long-term future.

He said: “We want to move Blackpool away from being a place which attracts people in need of refuge that bring with them problems and the need for public subsidy in the form of housing benefit and other things.

“Where we do provide support services for our residents in need, we aim to provide the best service possible.

“To that end, we are currently in the midst of a commissioning process with a range of potential providers.

“It would therefore be inappropriate and unfair to step outside that process at the request of a single organisation.

“We would also not be keen on siting such a facility close to one of our most deprived areas. As such, and despite understanding the undoubtedly positive aims of Fylde Coast Churches Alive, we were not keen to let Hoyle House for this purpose.”

The project has been backed by Blackpool Council’s Tory group leader Coun Tony Williams.

He said: “This building is ideal. I don’t see the council having any plans for it and it is just being vandalised. These people run a wonderful service and are financially sound.

“It would seem the council is trying to make all the right noises about helping vulnerable people, but not taking the right actions.”

Ms Phillips described the need for the facility as “vital”, saying they had up to 90 people at their existing food bank soup kitchen on Fridays, and those attending their skills bank were staying off drink and drugs.

She said two other buildings – including a 77-room seafront former care home – had been looked at but were unsuitable.

She said if Hoyle House did not go ahead, His Provision would continue with the food and skills banks, but would not be able to “break the cycle” of dependency by helping people become self-sufficient.

Coun Blackburn said the council was looking at alternative options for the future of Hoyle House.

Follow us on twitter @The_Gazette and like our page on facebook to keep up with all the latest news.