Yarmouth charity reports itself to regulators amid £30,000 of debt
PUBLISHED: 06:30 06 October 2017 | UPDATED: 16:52 07 October 2017
Archant © 2017
An award-winning charity which houses vulnerable young people in Great Yarmouth is in £30,000 of debt and has reported itself to regulators.
Colin Lang, who was appointed director of business development at the Anchorage Trust in July, has pledged to rebuild the charity after its founder and chief executive Ben Stone left in August.
Mr Lang, who joined the charity from East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH), said he had uncovered a range of problems at the Anchorage Trust and six of the seven trustees on the board had left since Mr Stone’s departure.
He has passed his concerns on to the Charity Commission which regulates the industry.
Mr Stone, meanwhile, said he “strongly refutes the claims made”.
The charity houses and trains young people in the Yarmouth area who would otherwise be homeless. It is looking after almost 40 people at the moment.
Former policeman Mr Lang said he found soon after joining that the charity was not being run as he would expect and raised a series of concerns.
The former chief executive of charities Nelson’s Journey and Nansa said he discovered the Anchorage Trust was in £30,000 of debt with just £3,500 left in the bank account
“Within 48 hours it was obvious to me it was not being run as a charity should be run,” he said. “I’ve been involved in charities for many years.
“There were no financial procedures in place.”
The Charity Commission confirmed it had received a “serious incident report” from the Anchorage Trust about “various administrative concerns… including financial concerns”.
“The trustees have followed the correct procedure by informing us, and we are currently assessing the report to decide what, if any, regulatory action is required,” a commission spokesman said.
Mr Lang said he found staff members had been at the charity for two years without a contract, staff paid charity costs with their own money and claimed it back at the end of month and there were no purchase orders for things bought by the charity.
There is no suggestion of any financial wrongdoing by anyone linked to the charity.
The charity finds homes for young tenants who might otherwise be homeless but Mr Lang said he was informed of problems with three homes.
Three landlords came forward to the charity who said they had Anchorage Trust people staying in their properties who the charity trustees did not know about and the charity had no record of.
The Anchorage Trust had not received any benefit money to house the tenants as would normally be the case.
The charity is overseen by a board of trustees but six of the seven board members who were in place when Mr Lang joined have left after discovering the issues at the charity in August and September.
Mr Lang said Mr Stone was asked to stand down when the issues were brought to light and he later resigned.
In response to the problems Mr Lang said he found, Mr Stone said: “I started the charity from nothing in 2015 and recruited a board of trustees to offer expertise and governance. They held overall responsibility for management of the charity and I was an employee.
“I have never had access to any bank accounts nor was I able to make payments.
“I strongly refute the claims made and this is being pursued legally.
“There has been no investigation by any official body.”
Mr Lang said in order to rebuild the charity he cancelled a forthcoming fundraiser with a Foo Fighters tribute band, carried out an internal audit and rewrote the charity’s budget.
He said without two grants of £5,000 from two Norfolk bodies, the charity could have closed.
He also met with the creditors. He believes it will take 12 months to pay off the £30,000 debt.
Mr Lang now wants to rebrand the charity and find a different fundraising system.
He also needs new trustees to replace those who have left, particularly a HR expert and a solicitor.
Meanwhile, the charity is continuing to house and train young people.
One of those being helped, Justin Burgess, 27, had been homeless and lived in hostels before finding the Anchorage Trust. “I wish there had been something like this where I’m from in Leicester,” he said.
Chloe-Louise Goouch, 18, who has been with the Anchorage Trust since February, said: “When I joined I had no confidence. They have helped me come out of my shell.”
•The charity’s work
The Trust was founded in March 2015 by Ben Stone, a former YMCA worker.
Since its formation, the charity has helped house and train young people.
It has also won an award at the Spirit of Enterprise Awards in 2016.
Mr Lang said he now wanted to put the problems behind them and move on with rebuilding the charity.
“The staff are doing what they can in very difficult circumstances,” he said. “The team we have are so passionate about what they do.
“This service is desperately needed in Great Yarmouth. We are asking for the support of the town and major businesses.”
Operations manager Gail Hodds said the Anchorage Trust would continue helping vulnerable young people find safe accommodation and train them for work.
“The landlords have been fantastic to us through everything that has been going on,” she said.
“We are going to continue trying to get young people into employment.”