The roots of the project go back to 1989 when three local church leaders, Revd Peter Larkin of St Matthias Church, Capt Jim McKnight, Torquay Salvation Army Commander and Revd Mike Blunsum, chaplain at Brunel Manor began praying about how the local Christian community could respond to a growing crisis on the streets. In the autumn of 1990 Rev Mike Blunsum persuaded the Woodland House of Prayer Trust to back a homeless project in Torquay with money and resources. A small ad hoc committee began visiting homeless centres around the Westcountry to gather information.
Separately Leonard Stocks, a member of St John’s Church in Torquay was deeply moved one day when he saw a woman begging and holding a sign which read: “I am homeless please help me.”. He raised the issue at the next meeting of the Deanery Synod. Leonard was put in contact with Rev Blunsum and his committee which led to a meeting in October 1990 attended by representatives of 40 South Devon churches together with 20 local agencies looking for a community response to the homelessness crisis.
These agencies included the CAB, Youth with a Mission, Social Services, WRVS, Shelter and officers from Torbay council, notable among them Head of Estates, Paul Lucas, himself a committed Christian
Funding from the Woodland House of Prayer Trust, a considerable personal contribution from Leonard Stocks and the redeployment of builders involved in restoration work at St John’s at short notice saw the hostel open on Christmas Eve 1990. The original lease was for just three months but such was the need it has never been able to close.
The hostel was initially run with the help of another Christian homeless trust in Margate but in 1995, a separate, locally based charitable trust was formed to run it drawing trustees from the church community in Torbay – the Torbay Churches Homeless Trust. Rev Mike Blunsum and Leonard Stocks were founding trustees.
The project expanded steadily. Bequests and donations allowed the Trust to purchase and refurbish three nearby properties – Northhaven, Christopher House and The Copse. This provided move on accommodation for those who wanted to move to more independent living. Further expansion came with the launch of the Government’s Supporting People programme which allowed TCHT to take on the lease of properties in the community. By 2001, the Trust was looking after 70 men and women in both Factory Row and community houses.
The Torbay Churches Homeless Trust decided to merge with the Langley House Trust in 2003 when it became clear that the project could benefit from the robust management systems and training provision which Langley provided. TCHT trustees were attracted by the strong Christian ethos of Langley and the decentralised nature of the organisation. The two trusts formally merged in October 2005 and a trustee of TCHT joined the Langley board to ensure close ties continued.
The bedrock of its support remains the Christian community across South Devon. Factory Row was born in prayer and is sustained by it.
It may be a long way from the inner cities but Torbay’s social problems are as acute as anywhere.
Torbay has the highest unemployment among single men of working age in the South West. 35 % of all drug related arrests in Devon and Cornwall Constabulary in 2002 were made in Torbay.