Gosport’s award-winning charity urgently needs new home

Photo: AOK volunteers sorting and packing emergency parcels at St Matthew’s Church

 Chief Correspondent Rob Thomas

LAST week – as reported in The Globe – came the announcement that Acts of Kindness is to receive the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service for its work during the pandemic.

THIS week the charity is urgently seeking new premises because it has been asked to leave its current base at St Matthew’s Church in Bridgemary, Gosport by the end of August.

The Rev Richard England – team rector for North Gosport – told The Globe that during the pandemic, “The church wasn’t being used for worship so it felt right to use it as a venue from which local people could be helped.

“The initial agreement ran out in May 2021, and we agreed that [AOK] could continue to rent the space until August 2021. We now have plans to use the church building as a church again from September.”

Finding a new home for the charity will not be easy. It requires extensive storage space for the food, clothing, furniture and electrical equipment it holds ready to step in quickly to help those in need after AOK expanded its operations swiftly at the beginning of the first lockdown in March last year.

Fiona Cooke – who is in charge of the charity’s administration and daily activities – told The Globe: “When the Food Bank and Jacobs Well closed at the beginning of the pandemic, we collected tonnes of food and other things, and with the help of [Fareham Borough Council’s Executive Leader] Seán Woodward, used one of the hangars at Daedalus.”

The scaling up of AOK’s activities saw volunteers provide 7,000 people with enough food for seven days, and other essentials during the crisis.

The rent for the hangar proved too expensive for AOK and it welcomed the offer of accommodation at St Matthew’s Church, moving in at the end of October.

It has proved to be an ideal base in terms of facilities and location – in north Gosport and, therefore, able to deliver to those in need in Fareham as well.

Fiona said the church’s main hall gives, “space to operate Covid safe”, and there are separate rooms for offices.

Despite the opening up from lockdown as the pandemic recedes, the phones keep ringing with urgent requests for deliveries of food and furniture to homeless people who have just been found accommodation.

Even out-of-hours, the charity can respond quickly to urgent requests because some volunteers have emergency food parcels at their homes.

So, the demand for support remains – AOK is still delivering food to about 200 people a week – and the race is on to find a new base.

Storage space is crucial and Fiona feels it would be good, “to be in the community because we want to serve the community. Also, we would like to be more ‘hands on’, supporting people with courses and classes.”

The charity can pay rent, though as Fiona points out, there are limits. The 2018-19 accounts of Acts of Kindness Community (Solent) show total revenue was £21,711.27. Various grants were received for their operations during the pandemic lockdowns with the money spent on services as none of the 70 active volunteers are paid.

And it is very reliant on donations, both regularly from organisations like the Rotarians and supermarkets, and in response to urgent appeals on Facebook. It has built up a network of donation points in shops and supermarkets in Gosport, central Fareham, Stubbington, Titchfield, Locks Heath and Warsash, plus its base at St Matthew’s Church.

Further details of AOK’s work can be found at: www.aok.community. Anyone in need of support can phone 07726 577 761. And it is the same number if someone wants to make a donation or, given the urgency, if they have suitable premises to re-house the charity by the end of August.