In December 2015 the Virgin Money Foundation, the independent charitable foundation launched by Virgin Money, announced that it had awarded its first round of individual grants to 25 charitable organisations across the North East region with a total of £1m being donated.
Cornerstone is a small but growing initiative based in Willington County Durham. Cornerstone’s aim is to provide support to people suffering from multiple problems, most of whom are homeless or at risk of becoming so, enabling them to live independently in the community. Willington, where Cornerstone is based, is an industrial ex-mining town of 7,000 people in a semi-rural setting. Willington’s economy was largely based on coal mining and the closure of the colliery in 1967 hit the town hard, a blow that Willington has struggled to recover from.
Cornerstone started life in 2010 by local residents in response to the large number of individuals who were homeless or at risk of becoming so in the area. Most were unemployed, many were involved in alcohol and drugs abuse and too many with the police, particularly in relation to anti-social activities.
Cornerstone has an innovative approach in that it offers holistic support to users of its services, based on providing housing and workshop based work experience. Cornerstone manages and supports 8 emergency beds and 2 “crash pads” for new referrals, who then move on to one of their 12 semi-independent flats followed by fully independent living. Cornerstone has provided emergency accommodation to 84 individuals over the past year.
The grant money received by Cornerstone will allow them to develop an initiative in a deprived area of Hartlepool which provides housing, together with training, support and access to employment for homeless young people. It will also develop a furniture production workshop structured to accommodate service users with different levels of skills., with a retail outlet within the workshop.
Virgin Money HQ were lucky enough to be visited by Cornerstone who came to sell some of the items made in their workshop. Heather Lee, a volunteer for Cornerstone, said
I can’t believe how well we’ve done, we have two more market stalls to run this week I’m worried we won’t have the stock!”