Newsmaker: Public contracts? No thanks

Tim Page, director of Emmaus UK, says other charities could follow his charity's model of independence.

Tim Page. Photo: Newscast
Tim Page. Photo: Newscast

Tim Page has big plans for Emmaus UK, the charity that provides accommodation and employment for homeless people: he'd like to see an Emmaus community in every town and city in the country. But he's clear that those plans don't involve doing deals with public bodies.

"We do not need to tie ourselves to public service delivery contracts because we do not need revenue funding," says Page, the organisation's director. "It threatens our independence and puts us in a position that could distort our priorities."

The charity operates a model centred on establishing 'communities' - groups of homeless people and staff working together to run businesses, typically involving refurbishing or recycling unwanted goods.

The residents, or 'companions' as the charity calls them, have their basic needs provided for, including food, accommodation and clothing, and get a weekly allowance of about £35.

Communities are set up only when a group of supporters in an area has raised sufficient funds to get it off the ground, which takes about five years and costs in the region of £2m.

"We have proved beyond doubt that these communities are a very cost-effective way of providing support to homeless people," Page says. "Once communities are established, they do not cost anyone anything. In fact, they save taxpayers money."

A study carried out by Cambridge University, published in 2004, estimated that the Cambridge operation saved the public purse more than £600,000 a year.

Page is brimming with zeal for the Emmaus way of working and says other charities could benefit from copying the model rather than relying on public-sector funding. "Charities that can would be well advised to incorporate income from enterprise into their funding models, rather than pursue pots of revenue funding that cause them to chase money and change their core priorities," he says.

"We would hesitate to enter contracts that promise, say, a certain number of bed spaces to a local authority over a certain period of time, because we cannot make that commitment. It might be that, when there is a vacancy, we want to decide who moves in, rather than being dictated to by the contract."

This philosophy stems from Emmaus's principle that, once accommodated, residents can stay with a community for as long as they like. The charity does not want to become bogged down in measuring performance according to an arbitrary public body scale, adds Page. "We'd like a bigger contribution from the Government to the capital development cost of establishing individual communities," he says.

As for the charity's expansion plans, Page has set his sights high. "Our ambition is to establish an Emmaus community wherever it is needed," he says. "For every person we accommodate, we have to turn another person away."

Emmaus establishes one new community a year, on average. "But we are looking to double that rate of growth," says Page. "One of the reasons why it is possible for us to talk about expanding is that our supporters recognise that giving money to Emmaus is an investment in something sustainable."

But staying true to the original ideology will become a challenge, admits Page. "Emmaus is a small organisation at the moment - as it grows, however, maintaining the integrity of our approach is tremendously important to us," he says.

"A large part of our work is making sure people new to the organisation are grounded and understand how an Emmaus community should run."

Page CV

2002: Chief executive, Emmaus UK
2000: Head of army marketing, British Army
1999: Chief of operations, Nato international stabilisation force HQ, Bosnia
1998: Middle East defence specialist, Ministry of Defence
1996: Commander, Old College, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
1993: Commanding officer, 1st Battalion, 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment

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