A charity is celebrating a Lottery windfall of almost £500,000 to help more homeless people into work.
The cash has been awarded to Bedford-based Bedfordshire Housing Link (BHL) for its Stepping Stones education, training and employment project, which will be expanded and will see another outreach worker employed for the Central Beds area.
The job club project in Bedford will be used as a formula for setting up new clubs, the first in Sandy, where new accommodation is to be found, with further projects proposed for other towns in the district.
The grant of £495,000 by The Big Lottery Fund is awarded for work over the next five years when the charity forecasts to help up to 600 people.
BHL’s development officer Sandra Rome said one of the most exciting aspects of the Lottery award was that service users had helped to win the funding, by telling how they had seen their situation improved.
She said: “Our service users gave first hand accounts of how they have been helped and what works for them, which made the bid real and it’s been very exciting to have their input.
“Our service users in Sandy have said that getting to Bedford is really difficult and could they have a club there. So our first priority is to identify a new site.
“They have also said they can help people to come into the service by using their on-the-street network.”
The new project, which will begin next month, will also help more people acquire basic skills, such as using a computer to access training and job opportunities.
The Lottery bid was started in March and won support from the Charities Evaluation Service which recommended that the charity expand.
Bedfordshire Housing Link chief executive officer Janet Prince said: ‘I am extremely pleased that The Big Lottery Fund has recognised the value of this highly successful and unique project.”
BHL, which started in 1974 and is based in Prebend Street, currently provides supported accommodation for 60 single homeless people in Bedford and Sandy.
Service user, Sharon, said: ‘Terrific news, I always knew we could do it!’
Marka added: “Stepping Stones creates support when there is no hope.”