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Municipal Charities of Plymouth

Update from Vanessa Steer


Many of you know that I have worked almost 12 years for the Municipal Charities of Plymouth, an amalgamation of several different charities, and who have been relieving poverty in the Plymouth area since 1584.  We own and manage 16 almshouses, The Rawlin Homes and The John Gayer Homes, as well as offering financial assistance in the form of uniform grants for the transition from Year 6 to Year 7, through the Orphans Aid Fund, and occasionally help with transport costs or apprenticeships to those who would not be able to take up their place without some help. 

There are many references in the Bible about looking after widows and orphans and I have felt very challenged by some of these passages, which I feel give me a greater responsibility and incentive to  carry out my work with integrity, compassion and love.  I pray that for the most part I do this, with the help of our Board of Trustees. 

The main part of the charity’s work, and a benefit to Plymouth and Plymouth City Council, is our 16 almshouses, which allow single ladies over 60 years of age to live close to all amenities within Plymouth City Centre and local shops and businesses.  There is a growing need for safe, low-cost housing for ladies of this age and status, who otherwise may not be able to rent in the private sector or who may struggle financially in retirement.  Half of these lovely ladies are younger than I but still look to me for advice and support!  More almshouses are being built now than have been for many years.  The Almshouse Association says it has seen the biggest spike in development of housing run by charities since the Victorian era, with around 1,000 being built in the last 10 years and more planned.


After many, many years of discussion and as an answer to prayer, we have been “gifted” the freehold of the land on which our almshouses sit, for the princely amount of £1.00.  This will ensure our place in the city and in future years will enable us to raise funds to improve the flats, some of which were built in the 1960s and are now looking 'tired' and need renovating and enlarging.


We have been involved with many primary schools in the Plymouth PL1 catchment area as well as the Uniform Pop-Up shop, run by Plymouth Vineyard and the Redeemer Churches, with help from Plymouth City Council.  The churches’ vision and initiative are to offer assistance to families needing school uniform for the September term and we have been pleased to play our part. 

Annually we give Shekinah Mission, again a local charity, also supported by us here at St Pancras, and one which we have supported for many years, initially through the Soup Run a donation of £500 towards their work.    A couple of years ago we met with the staff at Shekinah to present the cheque in person.

As a charity, we feel we have a strong pastoral duty to these vulnerable ladies and seek to ensure that they are happy and secure, and confident in our ability as trustees to deliver this service.  Pre-covid either the Clerk or one of the trustees would visit the ladies each month to maintain our links and to demonstrate our pastoral commitment to them.  Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, we have given the ladies hand sanitisers, hand gel and masks to enable them to live and shop safely and several of the trustees pledged to contact the ladies who may have found the enforced solitude difficult.


As a charity we currently have a Chair, a Clerk/Treasurer and 7 trustees; 3 of whom are co-opted by Plymouth City Council for a period of 3 years, and who often commit to staying on the Board once their 3 years are up, and others who have voluntarily been on the Board for many years and all of whom have given freely and willingly of their time.  As the members are all becoming older, we are now looking to recruit more trustees, particularly someone with legal or financial skills, and would ask you to consider if you may be interested in joining us.  We meet 6 times a year in January, March, May, July, September and November, for approximately two hours, and occasionally more on an ad-hoc, emergency basis.  No particular skills are needed; age is not a barrier to becoming a trustee, just a willingness to be part of this ancient charity, our city and a desire to help those less fortunate in today's society.  


The Board is blessed to have 2 Christians as trustees, Mark Parkman who worships at Emmanuel Church and our own lovely Kerrie Willmott, as well as myself. 


We also currently have a vacancy in our almshouses, so if you know of anyone who would like to live in one of our almshouses, or if you yourself are interested, or if you would consider becoming a trustee, then please contact us via Can you spare 12 hours a year – we hope so and we’d love to hear from you!


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Photo: L to R:

  • Mark Parkman – Vice Chair

  • Richard Brown – Chair

  • Vanessa Steer – Clerk/Treasurer

  • Marcus Ashley – Shekinah

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