“People had been getting far too much done for them and I wanted to change that,” says Sacha Bedding, chief executive of Wharton Trust. “We said, ‘you’re going to do things differently, it’s not about us, it’s about you’. To make someone’s first thought be: how can I do it? Rather than: how can somebody else do it for me?”
Operating from the Annexe, a community and resource centre in Dyke House, Hartlepool, Wharton Trust is in the top 2% of deprived wards in the UK. Much of their work counters accompanying issues such as high levels of unemployment and health inequalities, and low levels of educational attainment. They support people with access to employment and training advice, promoting healthier lifestyles, engaging young people in positive activities, improving literacy and developing IT skills.
The organisation, which is also in partnership with Big Local to provide grants to community groups and organisations, is a keen proponent for integrating social action into its ethos. This is also factored into the foundations of the organisation’s evolution into taking on properties. “Housing is a major issue in our community,” Sacha points out.
“For us to become a landlord, and for our tenants to commit to social action as part of that process, means we’re going to be in a position where we’ll include that into the fabric of the homes. A lot of private landlords live overseas, so that’s money that leaks out of our community. Being able to identify that gap and do something about that gives power to the community.
“If we get enough properties the idea is to have a home on every street and have a community organiser in every home. If you train those people in community organising and social action, suddenly they are your funders and they have all the power. That accountability to your community is massive.”
“Some of the ideas Sacha has around social housing, and around having shops that are run by community organisers, is exactly where we should be as a society”
They’ve also been supporting other community organisations. “Becoming part of Power to Change’s Empowering Places created a whole set of new opportunities which we would never have had without them,” Sacha says. One of which is Minds for Men and Wellness for Women, a mental health support group started by Martin Connelly.
“Sacha put me in touch with Power to Change and that gave us the catalyst to become a community business,” says Martin. The need for the group became immediately apparent. “We started as a group of 11 but that soon became 16 and now we have 24 regulars,” Martin says. “A brotherhood emerged from it. We’ve been through a lot together and it’s a very close community.
They were also able to continue to help people during lockdown, a time of crisis for many. “Sacha was instrumental in helping find legislation around providing mental health support,” says Martin. “So we were able to continue throughout lockdown and our group actually grew in size during this period.”
Their demographic shifted too. “We were generally dealing with over 30s but since Covid it’s shifted more into the 19-25 bracket,” he says. The work they’ve done has been so central to the community they’ve been used by emergency services. “The police called me to a potentially fatal situation to intervene,” Martin says. We’ve had three physical interventions where we’ve been to talk people off the edge. I could give this all up tomorrow knowing that I’ve saved those three dads, brothers and sons.”
Deputy leader of the council, Mike Young, has also benefited from their work personally. “I had some mental health issues and I messaged Sacha to access some services,” he says. “He came around my house straight away to help.” Mike is also a passionate advocate in a professional capacity.
“I’m very happy with the way that Wharton Trust does things,” he says. “We’re looking at ways to replicate that across the town, such as looking at buildings in the Manor ward, which is a really deprived area, and looking to base one of their key staff there to roll out programmes. The organisation will only continue to make a massive impact. Some of the ideas Sacha has around social housing, and around having shops that are run by community organisers, is exactly where we should be as a society. I only see good things between the local authority and Wharton Trust going forward.”