Milton Keynes recycling project that provides help to homeless in danger of closing due to massive rent rise

One of city’s most eco-friendly and charitable projects may be forced to close because its rent subsidy has been withdrawn by the “cash rich” MK Community Foundation.

By Sally Murrer
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 3:24 pm
Updated Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 3:57 pm

The Reuse community project had hoped to get more help because it was struggling after the Covid pandemic. But instead, the community foundation reacted by DOUBLING its rent to £60,000 a year.

Reuse collects unwanted furniture and household items from homes and businesses all over MK and donates it to people in need who are struggling to set up a home.

It has been running for 19 years and has been hailed a “godsend” by other organisations such as the Bus Shelter project, which helps find homes for homeless people and rough sleepers.

Reuse has been told to pay £60,000 a year in rent for these premises at Kiln Farm

Leading figures at MK Council have also endorsed its work as ‘ticking all the boxes for helping the needy as well as encouraging eco-friendly recycling and reducing waste’.

Last year, MP for MK South, Iain Stewart, visited Reuse and publicly praised its work.

The project is based in a warehouse at Burners Lane on Kiln Farm, where the public can visit and buy goods at affordable prices to boost the project’s income.

The premises is owned by MK Community Foundation, the city’s leading grant-making charity. The charity receives millions of pounds in donations and funds to redistribute to other local help groups.

John Mann in his Reuse premises

Until now, Reuse has received a significant rent subsidy from the community foundation, allowing it to plough more cash into helping others. Each year it has to submit an annual projected turnover based on the previous year’s accounts in order to claim this subsidy.

Reuse boss John Mann said this year’s projection was lower than usual due to the impact of the Covid pandemic over the past two years.

He said: "We currently pay £2,487 a month rent to the community foundation. But now they’ve said we can’t have any subsidy at all and we will have to pay the full £60,000 a year… It’s just not viable and it could mean we have to close down.

"Basically the community foundation is saying ‘We don’t think you can afford to rent from us, so we are going to make it is impossible for you to do so’. It’s just not what you expect.

MP Iain Stewart visited Reuse last year and thoroughly approved of what he saw

"Yes, we had a bad time during the pandemic, but we still paid their rent every single month. Our goal is to provided free and affordable furniture and household goods to help those in need, not to make a ton of money to pay our rent.”

The Citizen has contacted MK Community Foundation for an explanation but a spokesman refused to comment about the decision.

The charity gives out substantial sums each year in grants and advertises itself as “dedicated to making a difference and improving the lives of people”.

Its website states: “With so many vulnerable, isolated and disadvantaged people in Milton Keynes, we’re proud to be leading the way in supporting community projects and charitable activities to help create a fairer more connected community.”

The latest balance sheets show the foundation had nearly £8.2m (£8,180,000) in “total unrestricted funds” last year.

In an email to Reuse, the foundation’s Philanthropy Director, Ranjit Singh, wrote: “It remains for you to decide if you want to revert to a full lease at a rent of £60,000 pa... or we terminate the tenancy and agree dilapidations.”

The decision not to help Reuse has been slammed by the project’s customers as well as local officials.

"The Community Foundation seems quite cash rich and certainly healthy. Reuse obviously do a great job. It’s a strange decision,” said one member of the public.

Mk Council leader Pete Marland said: “"It's vital that community organisations like Reuse are able to rent affordable premises. The Community Foundation was gifted land and premises in order to be able to provide local groups with cheap for the benefit the community. The tenants seem to now be concerned this provision is being reduced and rents are increasing, so it's important that Community Foundation are clear on what is happening and why as many of these organisations provide people with a lifeline when they most need it."

And local Conservative councillor Alex Walker said: “I will be looking at this urgently. The Re-Use Community Project is a unique community-led approach helping people in need. At a time when the cost-of-living crisis is hitting families hard, it is even more important to support projects like this continue the work they are doing.”

He added: “I’d hope MK Community Foundation will support them, not withdraw funding for the project. I am sure between the different partners we can help them, we just need to use some common sense.”

Meanwhile the city Bus Shelter homeless charity says it is “sad and rather angry” to hear Reuse may be forced to close due to the rent hike.

The charity operations manager Helen Wilson said: "We are a charity in Milton Keynes helping former homeless individuals back into their own long term accommodation, this may be people released from prison, out of care, long term rough sleepers, sofa surfers, people experiencing relationship breakdowns, job losses and all other manner of life's difficulties.

“Our end goal with each guest is to help them settle into sustainable longer term accommodation - for many this will be the first time they have been safe in many, many years. To help our guests we often need to furnish a one bedroom property or at least provide them with the basic to make them comfortable. John Mann and his team have been instrumental in this - they have helped us to acquire furniture and white goods very quickly and at prices we as a charity can afford.

"There is no way that we could go to a high street store to purchase the items and often we only get notified within a couple of days that we need the items so we need a quick, stress free turn around. John and his team are respectful, helpful and help a part of our community that desperately needs it. Their desire to work with other community based projects really shows that they do this because they care!

“Without ReUse MK, our service would be impacted significantly which is a worrying prospect. I cannot praise the service, the hard work and the care that ReUse MK put into what they do.”