Charity aims to step up aid with £1.5m home plan

Secret Millionaire Simrin Choudhrie, 29
Secret Millionaire Simrin Choudhrie, 29
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A SHEFFIELD charity that helps homeless and other vulnerable people is planning a £1.5m expansion – with a little help from its ‘Secret Millionaire’.

The St Wilfrid’s Centre in Queens Road wants to add a residential complex for about 50 people to help them get their lives back on track.

The St Wilfrid's Centre celebrates its Secret Millionaire cash windfall

The St Wilfrid's Centre celebrates its Secret Millionaire cash windfall

Land has been donated by the Roman Catholic diocese of Hallam – and fundraising is starting with a view to the living accommodation being ready within three to for years.

Already St Wilfrid’s has an influential friend in Simrin Choudhrie, a London-based interior designer who gave the charity a six-figure sum over five years after working with it earlier this year as part of Channel 4 programme Secret Millionaire.

“We have got the land and now we have to raise the money,” said centre director Kevin Bradley.

“We have got some but there is a long way to go. We are working on various fundraising events and I think we’ll get there eventually.

“Plans are afoot with various people, including Simmi, who is now a good friend of the centre.”

With homelessness a growing problem in Sheffield, St Wilfrid’s runs a day centre for up to 80 vulnerable and socially excluded people every day, helping them with training and education and basic needs such as learning to cook a meal in the hope that they can go on to live independently.

One of the main difficulties, though, is that up to 90% of homeless people suffer, or have suffered, from mental health problems.

The proposed residential centre is designed to offer them a place to live while going to the day centre across the road instead of travelling to and from accommodation where they cannot cope.

“I have worked here for 20 years and one of the problems with the homeless is that they are just given a key to their flat,” said Kevin. “If they have a mental health problem or learning difficulty, they tend to last a few weeks and then disappear.

“We are asking how we can help break the cycle of homelessness and we have come up with a residential centre for 50 people. They can live there for up to two years and attend the day centre Monday to Friday.

“They would learn new skills, take part in education and literacy courses and learn how to cook, so they could ultimately live independently.”

Kevin believes the twin approach of support and accommodation could become a model for the rest of society, helping to address the consequences of mental health issues that “the politicians don’t want to know about”.

Plans have been submitted to the council for a four-storey building on the site of a car wash surrounded by Queens Road, Shoreham Street and Alderson Road. There would be 37 dormitory-style rooms and 16 one-bed apartments, plus a common room and administrative rooms.

St Wilfrid’s was one of three Sheffield charities highlighted in Secret Millionaire and Simrin Choudhrie, who was pregnant at the time of filming, was so impressed by the work of staff and volunteers and the response of clients that she gave her baby a middle name of Wilfrid.

She has kept in frequent contact with Kevin, and is expected to attend the centre’s Christmas party on December 22, along with Sheffield United manager Danny Wilson and some players, and the Lord Mayor.

The day centre raises some money from the manufacture of football-themed clocks and receives £50,000 from the council’s mental health budget and £11,000 from the National Health Service, but has to find the rest to meet annual running costs of £300,000 a year. It can be contacted on 2555720.