The departing chief executive of Smartmove has praised the generosity of the Calderdale public after retiring from his role.
His departure coincides with that of general manager Ken Lockett, who who travels from Derbyshire to Halifax has been at SmartMove for seven years.
“If I go to a Calderdale company or community group and ask for help, the answer is invariably yes,” said Stuart, 57.
“I can’t sing the praises of Calderdale people enough, it’s absolutely fabulous what they give us.”
But what Smartmove has given Calderdale is equally commendable.
They assist 160 individuals or families at any one time, with a waiting list of 38. Around 20-25 people attend their drop-in service every day, 10-12 people attend their running club twice a week, and 15 people attend their allotment every week.
Last year, their team of around 30 volunteers supported 460 individuals and families into accommodation.
“The problem of homelessness has increased substantially,” says Stuart. “The financial crisis caused a lot of issues. We had to deal with big council cut-backs, and the advent of universal credit has been a real challenge. We’ve been more like a food bank at times, doing emergency work, helping out people at weekends with sleeping bags and waterproofs. Compared to when I started, there is an increasing amount of debt too.
“Housing support alone doesn’t work, because we give people a key to a door, and they have no possessions and nothing to do. So we’ve tried to put a purpose in their day with classes, job clubs and allotments.
“Ten of our clients will take part in the Great North Run in September on the back of our running club, which is great.
“The other way it’s evolved is the relationship we have with schools. Last October Ken undertook over 30 homelessness prevention workshops so that children learn about family relationships, social relationships, write about what they’ve found out, and they provide foods and toiletries we put into our starter and emergency packs.”
Stuart added: “It’s really sad to be leaving because the charity does fantastic work. It looks after the most vulnerable across Calderdale. But I’m pleased to have appointed two guys that will carry on our good work.
Ken, 60, has two children, six grand-children and is also a great-granddad, so plans to spend more time with his wife and family.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” he says. “But me and Stuart have had the easy job.
“A major part of our success story is our volunteers. We couldn’t operate without them.
“People want to help, whether they have one hour or one day spare.
“We’re so grateful to them. The staff who look after our clients are amazing.”
Meanwhile, the new management duo at Smartmove say they want to build on the success of the charity, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
Chief Executive Chris Walker, husband of Halifax MP Holly Lynch, and deputy chief executive Dom Furby, station commander at Halifax and Illingworth Fire and Rescue Service, are excited at taking the helm of Smartmove.
Chris, 39, from Northowram, said: “I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been involved with them for a few years so I understand how it works.
“I know the staff are amazing and the service they deliver is amazing.
“I want to build on the solid base that Stuart and Ken have built, and to potentially expand our service further.
“Homelessness is an increasing problem, so there’s always going to be requirements for us.
“We will help wherever we possibly can. Our core service is one-to-one housing support, but we provide add-on services that we fund through donations and fundraising, such as smart skills courses where we educate our clients and provide support about budgeting, growing your own food and how to manage a tenancy. Being able to provide them with a home-starter kit of pots and pans and some food and cleaning products, and sometimes a bed, is such a massive thing to do.”
Dom, 50, who lives in Holmfield, said: “I’ve worked for the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, based in Calderdale for 11 years.
“I’ve dealt with Smartmove before, but my background has involved a lot of fundraising and charity work.
“We’ve got to make what we do for our clients as good or even better than what we do now. We welcome people to come and find out about us. We’re happy to talk to people about what we do, why we do it and how we support people.”