On the Ground: ATD Fourth World

Francois Le Goff

Scheme: Frimhurst Family House, Frimley, Surrey

Funding: Around £1m raised through local supporters and an international foundation that wished to remain anonymous

Objective: To renovate the building and give more space and independence to families who come for respite

International charity ATD Fourth World was founded in 1957 in France to help families who are experiencing long-term poverty. It now has branches in 28 countries, including the UK.

Based in Surrey, the Frimhurst Family House has been open to individuals and families from London and the South East for 47 years, and is the charity's principal project.

The Frimhurst Family House focuses on three main projects. It offers family respite stays, generally during school holidays, creative respite weekends and seminars with individuals and organisations working on family rights and exclusion issues.

The house has the capacity for four or five families at a time.

Seamus Neville has been a member of the charity for 18 years and first visited the house in 1986. He returned to the site on 12 June as the charity was celebrating the house's reopening after nearly four years of renovation.

"As soon as you walk through the doors, it's like walking from the past to the future," he said.

The building, which had only been slightly renovated in 1973, needed a complete overhaul. The aim was also to redesign and modernise it, with the bedrooms having previously been all on the same floor. The space has been divided into individual studios to give families more privacy. Although there was no activity during the refurbishment, ATD Fourth World continued to provide family support and visits, and families were involved during the renovation process.

The official reopening celebrations were attended by actress Penelope Keith and the Mayor of Surrey Heath, Paul Ilnicki. The day included a variety of creative workshops in activities such as face-painting and lantern-making, as well as live entertainment and art exhibits. "I hope that everyone who comes to this Surrey oasis finds the support they need," said Keith.

The first respite day since the closure of the house was held at Easter, and the next one will take place at the end of July during the school holidays.

A 40-mile cycle ride from London to Frimhurst will take place in July to raise extra funds to support the renovation. The cycling event also aims to enable young people to take part in an international work camp in Switzerland this summer.

Participants can seek sponsorship through online fundraising service JustGiving.com, which will enable ATD Fourth World to receive money tax-free if donors are UK tax-payers.

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