Updated: Monday, 9th December 2019 @ 10:20am

'We are determined not to shut': Manchester homeless charity The Mustard Tree faces uncertain future

'We are determined not to shut': Manchester homeless charity The Mustard Tree faces uncertain future

By Sam Ruffe

An award-winning Ancoats charity is facing an uncertain future as its funding fails to keep up with Manchester’s ever-increasing poverty problems.

The Mustard Tree, based on Oldham Road, focuses on helping the over 11,000 marginalised or vulnerable people in the Greater Manchester area.

Accepting referrals from various health authorities, the charity aims to provide all of life’s basic needs with the end game being to rehabilitate and re-introduce people back into the working world.

However, the organisation’s future is now looking unclear as a sharp increase in the amount of people requiring their help has yet to be matched by the amount of funding they receive.

“The demands on us are increasing all the time,” said Operations Manager Jim Kielty.

“Like anybody who is running anything at the moment they are seeing cost going up and at the same time our income is staying flat.

“The combination of that isn’t something that you can sustain so what we are doing at the moment is trying to protect all the services we are offering but we are having to make really tough decisions in terms of what we do here and are having to cut our costs.

“Longer-term I suspect we will end up having to ration the help that we can provide to people, those are the tough decision that we are having to go through at the minute.”

Established in 1994, The Mustard Tree started life under Dave and Shona Smith as they spent time feeding and listening to the homeless people of Greater Manchester.

Since its infancy, the organisation has grown considerably and is now a well recognised, award-winning charity working from a 21,000ft2 warehouse in Ancoats.

Interacting with over 3,000 people every year, the centre provides a canteen for up to 100 people on Friday nights, while various classes including art, drama and I.T, help The Mustard Tree’s clients gain valuable skills as they look to move back into society.

But the organisation is now facing a tough set of challenges as it looks to successfully navigate one of the hardest financial periods in its 19-year existence.

According to a recent Poverty Commission report, 270,000 Greater Manchester residents are jobless with incomes dependent on state benefits and it estimates 91,000 children in the area live in severe poverty.

With ever-increasing statistics such as these, The Mustard Tree has to come up with cost-cutting strategies to offset the amount of money needed to keep up with their growing number of clients.

And although it still receives various grants totalling just over £100,000, Jim says that cuts to services, job losses or even closure are becoming a more likely prospect.

“We realised in November 2012 that this was our position, that the demands on us were going up, the costs on us were going up, our income was staying flat and we were eating into our reserves,“ explained Jim, who has been at The Mustard Tree since a move from banking in 2009.

“Currently we are almost working on a month-by-month basis of saying, right how close are we to a point where we might have to shut?

“We don’t want to get to a position where people can’t access us, so we’ll do everything we can to protect that.”

A walking advert for the incredible work The Mustard Tree does is their Creative Projects Manager, Graham Hudson.

A difficult upbringing on some of Manchester’s most notorious housing estates led the talented artist down a troubled path.

Having spent close to ten years behind bars and almost three years on the streets, Graham has turned his life around and says he found salvation in the work the centre does.

“It was amazing for me,” said Graham, who now runs The Mustard Tree’s art classes.

“I turned up at the door here in an absolute mess and pretty soon from the day I landed here I realised that this place could save my life.

“I felt as though I belonged straight away and was given the opportunity to work in the warehouse, and in the shop and in the offices on the phones so it was building my confidence up as a man.

“I had never been to a place where people cared on mass, I had been in and out of jails, I had been a criminal since I was eight years old, and it was all dog-eat-dog for me.

“It took a place like this [The Mustard Tree] to show me that that was not actually the way, but it was a long struggle.”

Although The Mustard Tree’s current situation looks bleak, the charity does everything it can to keep itself afloat.

Fundraisers and furniture sales along with revenue from the sale of Graham’s artwork provide much needed streams of income.

Initiatives such as Poverty and Homelessness Action Week, taking place January 26 until February 3, aim to give the general public a better understanding of the problems surrounding poverty.

And although Jim says he regards every week at The Mustard Tree as poverty and homelessness week, he believes schemes like this are a fantastic way to highlight the current difficulties.

He said: “I hope that it will make more people conscious of the issues that some people are facing, and if people are aware of that they’ll be a little more sympathetic of the people running into difficulties.

However, as the numbers of people facing poverty in Manchester continues to grow, new initiatives, fundraisers and action weeks alone may not save The Mustard Tree.

And while a large injection of money is needed and their future is far from clear, Jim and his team remain defiant, believing no matter how hard things become, the charity’s door will always stay open.

“We are probably going to have to cut some staff and what we are looking it is what non-core services are we going to be able to cut,” he added.

“But we will keep the overall operation at The Mustard Tree going for as long as we can. We are determined not to shut.”

To get involved with Poverty and Homelessness Action Week simply send a text saying ‘ROCK13‘ followed by £1, £3, £5 or whatever you are able to afford to the number 70070. For example, sending 'ROCK13 £5' would result in a £5 donation to Mustard Tree”

Or alternatively to donate directly or find out how you can help at the Mustard Tree visit www.mustardtree.org.uk or call 0161 228 7331.

Picture courtesy of Deadly Sirius, with thanks

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