Tendring Eldercare director, 28, spends £25,000 keeping charity afloat

By Michael Buchanan
Social affairs correspondent, BBC News

  • Published
Edward Bell
Image caption,
Edward Bell has ploughed nearly £25,000 of his own money into the charity

A 28-year-old man has spent almost £25,000 of his own money to help the elderly. Edward Bell is the unlikely chairman of Tendring Eldercare, a charity which supports older people in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex.

He became involved with the charity nearly four years ago, and now, before he even turns 30, he is the driving force behind ambitious plans that would allow it to either thrive, or go under.

There is both pride and anxiety in his voice as he talks me through his plans for the shell of a building we are standing in. The walls are stripped back, floorboards have been pulled up, an old fireplace has been revealed, and stuck on one wall are the plans for a large kitchen. "Unfortunately I don't have the money to install it at the moment," he says.

'Somewhere to go'

The success of the charity is personal to Edward, who has a background in digital marketing. He has ploughed nearly £25,000 of his own money into the venture, including taking out a £8,000 personal loan, and has explored getting a logbook loan, borrowing money against the value of his car.

"I get on very well with the older generation. Some of them are incredibly funny and cheeky. They're just like us, only older.

"But there are people who are desperately lonely that just need somewhere to go and someone to care for them. My great-uncle had lots of family but he was lonely and he was depressed because his wife that he was married to for over 70 years had passed away.

Image caption,
Tendring Eldercare has run a day centre and luncheon club for nearly 40 years

"One day he came to see me and my sister, and he just cried his eyes out because he was so lonely. And it's heartbreaking to see a man you've always looked up to break down because he was heartbroken. That's why it's so important for me to keep this going - it's my family, who are no longer with me, that keep it alive in my heart."

Tendring Eldercare has run a day centre and luncheon club on the Essex coast for nearly 40 years. When lockdown happened, much of its income disappeared.

It initially transformed its services into providing food parcels for residents who were shielding. Hundreds of parcels were delivered, but as the lockdown has eased, the charity has shifted its focus to preventing loneliness. It has embarked on a pen-pal service, encouraging people to write to elderly residents in the area via the charity.

Financial difficulties

More than 40% of the local population is over 65 years old, one of the highest proportions in Europe. Many of the people who retire to the area come from elsewhere, so their families are often far away and loneliness is a constant danger.

Edward believes that renovating the charity's building is their only hope, despite the current financial difficulties. Social distancing rules meant they would not have been viable once allowed to reopen, so reorganising the former 11-bed care home that they moved into last year will allow them to welcome people into separate rooms in smaller groups - as well as letting them open for longer.

Image caption,
Edward believes that renovating their building is their only hope, despite the current financial difficulties

"The need is massive," Edward says. "I'm getting calls right, left and centre asking when are we going to reopen."

The problem is financing the project. Essex County Council has continued to pay its fees despite the centre being closed, but much of that is used to pay monthly costs.

The charity has furloughed 10 members of staff, and as the scheme's rules changed in August, it has to make increasing contributions, which it will currently struggle to fund.

The charity's trustees applied for a government bounce-back loan three months ago. But while they believe they qualify, delays in processing their application means they have not received a penny yet. Edward is regularly chasing up the application, spending hours on the phone, so far to no avail.

They are hopeful of getting £45,000, which would allow them to complete the building work and usher in a new future for the charity.

"It's a lot of pressure, it does keep me awake at night. But I am confident this is going to work."

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