Winchester Churches Nightshelter last week (10th August) celebrated the formal opening of Ben’s House, it’s new rental property for independent living, which will become home to four former Nightshelter residents later this summer.

The supported housing project has been dedicated to the memory of local man Ben Blyth, an ex-Nightshelter resident who sadly died in 2010 at the age of just 33. Ben suffered from a complex and incurable mental health condition and spent many months living homeless in Winchester, during which time he received support from local agencies including the Nightshelter.

Ben’s House has been funded by a donation from the military charity the DEFLOG VQ Trust. The Trust, founded by Ben’s father, Brigadier Tom Blyth, was wound down after twenty years of providing qualifications to military personnel across the world and, as a result, a £1 million bequest was given to Winchester’s two homelessness charities, the Nightshelter and Trinity Winchester, to aid their work supporting those who are at risk of becoming socially excluded in the way that Ben was.

The new project will enable residents who are ready to move on from the Nightshelter’s 17-bed premises on Jewry Street the chance to access affordable rental accommodation, but with the added safety net and continuity of support from the charity, who will provide assistance on site.

Michele Price, the Nightshelter’s Manager, commented: “Our new rental home for independent living has only been made possible by the incredible generosity of the DEFLOG VQ Trust. At a time of funding cuts to the homelessness sector, it’s more important than ever for charities like ours to provide an effective pathway out of homelessness for the vulnerable and socially excluded people we work with. Our support doesn’t stop when people leave the Nightshelter – in some ways, that’s when the real challenges begin for many of our residents, so by extending our services to offer supported move-on accommodation, we can prevent more people slipping back into homelessness.”

The Nightshelter now provides two rental homes for independent living, bringing the total number of move-on bed spaces the charity offers to eight, in addition to the 17 beds based at the Nightshelter itself.

Mrs Price continued: “We felt that it was important to honour Ben’s memory when we set up the project. Our aim as a charity is to give those who have struggled to overcome homelessness a home – a place where they are safe, secure and happy. Something which, tragically, Ben was never able to find for himself later in his life.”

Nightshelter staff and supporters, including Ben’s parents Brigadier Blyth, his wife Sylvie and son Alex, gathered at the house, located outside Winchester, to unveil a plaque that reads: Welcome to Ben’s House. Dedicated to the memory of Ben Blyth (1977 – 2010), who has helped provide a home for others. The timing of the event was to commemorate eight years almost exactly to the day that Ben died.

Also present were representatives from the national charity CRASH, which assists homelessness and hospice charities with construction projects, and which has kindly supported the Nightshelter with their latest housing project by providing buildings expertise and materials.

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