Big Lottery grant for Saffron Walden Almshouses

A SAFFRON Walden charity has received a New Year boost after finding out that it has been awarded a substantial Big Lottery grant.

The Almshouses and Gibson Trust discovered on Wednesday that it has been given �10,000 to spruce up the communal area at the historic Abbey Lane premises.

The cash will predominantly be used to build a new kitchen area in the main hall of the grade-II listed building – The Chapel – but, as part of that, toilet and disabled access facilities will also be improved.

Trustee Mike Hibbs, who is chairman of the kitchen sub-committee, was delighted with the news.

“The Almshouses is one of those special things that the town has managed to keep and this is the icing on the cake,” he said. “It is a very good start to the New Year.”

The Almshouses has been in existence since The Trinity Guild set it up in the year 1400.

Its purpose now is to provide accommodation for those living in the ‘old borough of Saffron Walden’ who are ‘poor’ and of ‘good standing’ in the community.

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It currently has 46 areas of accommodation administered by eight volunteer Trustees and one part-time clerk.

The main drive behind applying for the Big Lottery funding was to “build a sense of community” between the residents and the town – alongside offering a new communal area for the residents it is hoped that the new area itself will make the Almhouses more capable of catering for larger, community events.

“There is a strong sense of community in Saffron Walden, which is quite rare these days, and the Almshouses is very much part of that,” said Mr Hibbs. “In the past, 20 years ago or so, that was very much the case although things have changed.

“I was a Trustee in the 1980s and we were told that it would take a lot of money to transform the area for community purposes. A decision was taken then not to proceed as, at the time, it was not viable.

“But it does need work. The kitchen is small, it doesn’t even have a cooker, and currently there is very little we can do. During my time as mayor [in 2008/09] for example, we had a May Day celebration but had to have tents put up around the grounds which was far from ideal.

“Hopefully now we can organise bigger events for residents.

“There is a strong community ethos here and as Trustees we want to reflect that in the way we administer the Almshouses.

“It seems to me to be what this funding is all about.”

The Trust must gain listed building consent before commencing any refurbishment work.

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