Save First Step: Hornchurch charity raises £130,000 in a year to avoid closure but still needs your help
- Credit: Archant
A beloved charity which provides vital support to youngsters with special needs and disabilities said it has made significant steps towards avoiding closure but “isn’t out of the woods yet”.
A year after First Step announced it was at risk of closure due to lack of funds, the chief executive Mark Halls had some positive news to share with the charity's many supporters.
Speaking at a meeting on Wednesday, March 11, he said the charity had finally secured permission from Havering Council to make changes to its lease.
This will allow First Step to start its social enterprise project of building a mainstream nursery on its grounds in Tangmere Crescent, Hornchurch.
Mark said: 'The changes with the lease mean that we can operate the full-day mainstream nursery.
'Under the new terms of the lease we can also offer services outside of Havering which is really nice to be able to officially to do.
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'A lot of our fundraisers are now keener - they like the idea of providing services across the borough boundaries.
'That's something that we're going to have to do cautiously and selectively because we could quickly become overrun with requests.'
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In 2017 First Step lost funding from the local authority and since then it has had to draw on its charity reserves.
Despite losing the funding the charity was determined to keep providing the same level of services.
'We can also now hire out our facilities to other groups which makes us much more of a community facility,' said Mark.
'We have actually managed on that basis to get a significant amount of funding.'
By maximising its income and reducing expenditure, First Step is no longer on a trajectory of having to close this month.
However it still need funds to meet the £200,000 target for the nursery.
Speaking about the year it took to agree terms of the new lease, Mark said: 'The delay has been costly for us.
'A grant was awarded to us in June last year but we're still bouncing back and forwards with the regulator.
'We're about 70 per cent of the way and still need to fund about £63,000 for the nursery.'
In total First Step is looking to fill a £170,000 gap for the nursery and the basic costs it needs to keep running.
After announcing the charity might have to close last year, First Step received an outpouring of support from volunteers and parents who had benefited from its services.
The charity managed to run its annual Golf Day in September last year despite no longer having a fundraising manager.
A staff member came up with the idea of including stories of the First Step children at each hole.
Mark said: 'During this year we have raised over £139,000 through our fundraising to support the work of First Step. That's the real life-blood of how First Step manages to survive.
'Our staff and our volunteers and supporters have been absolutely amazing.
'It was the first time we were going to be organising our Golf Day predominantly with voluntary labour.
'It was an absolute tribute to all of the staff and volunteers.
'It was really quite incredible to see the connection that was built up on that day between the golfers and the story of First Step.'
He added that staff had set up standing orders to donate to the charity and had refused pay rises as they are so determined to keep the charity going.
Supporters at the meeting shared the creative ways they had been raising money.
By speaking to a friend about the charity, one woman had connected First Step to an insurance company which made significant donations.
Liz Preston became known as 'bucket lady' for never being without her collection bucket for First Step.
'We're not out of the woods yet as we've still got some way to go to secure the future of First Step,' said Mark.
Visit First Step's website to find out how you can support the charity.