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Southwark is home to over 1,300 registered charities that provide essential services to the community, especially to vulnerable groups. These services, which often go unnoticed, range from lunch clubs for older people to debt advice for families, holiday programs for disadvantaged children, and food banks. However, the rising cost of land and property in Southwark poses a significant threat to these charities, endangering both their operations and existence. 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 through a unique partnership. The project will introduce a matchmaking service to connect charities with available spaces within the borough from both public sector and private landlords , leveraging post-Covid opportunities to utilise unused or underutilised space. Furthermore, with the backing of the council, the project seeks to increase the supply of affordable spaces by influencing private developers and businesses to allocate space for the charity sector.

What sets this project apart is the cross-sector collaboration between Community Southwark, Southwark Council and United St Savour’s Charity. This partnership embodies a shared commitment to improving access, supply and availability of critical space for the charity sector to ensure essential community services can continue their important work.

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”.

Discussing the partnership, 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.”

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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