‘A win-win situation’: Town’s ‘poor lands trust’ takes a new approach to charity

Phil Harris, chairman of the Cromer Poor Land Trust. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

Phil Harris, chairman of the Cromer Poor Land Trust. Picture: STUART ANDERSON - Credit: Archant

It was a concept designed to ensure that the poorest rural residents had a source of food, but times have mostly overtaken the country's 'poor lands trusts'.

Now the Cromer Poor Lands Trust is transforming itself with a radical new vision of how it can continue to support those in need long into the future, by offering low-cost loans of up to £500, with only half that amount to be paid back.

Phil Harris, chairman of the Cromer charity, said hundreds such trusts were set up after the Enclosure Act of 1811, which directed landowners to provide plots where the poor could either grow their own food or draw a small income.

Mr Harris said: 'Norfolk had many of these trusts because it is such a rural county.'

Over the years the trust's contribution to Comer changed and steadily decreased, and in 2017 they only gave out £5, and only to every widow in the town.

Mr Harris said the trust came to the conclusion this did not serve its original goal, and the charity was re-constituted 18 months ago.

He said: 'It wasn't fulfilling the objectives of helping people who were living in poverty.

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'We sold our parcels of land, which were to the east of Cromer. Now we have got the money invested and the rate of return is better than what we were getting from the land.'

The trust then joined forces with the West Norwich Credit Union to start a loan scheme, where people in need could apply for loans of up to £500 to pay for essentials such as a cooker, fridge, or school uniforms.

Mr Harris said: 'Once they have paid off half of the loan, the poor lands trust will then pay off the other 50pc for them in the form of a grant.

'It's a win-win situation, and it will not just be at Christmas, it means we will be able to help people whenever they need it.'

Mr Harris said, if successful, the concept could be used by other poor lands trusts across the country if they found themselves using a similarly outdated model.

He said forms people could use to apply for grants would soon be available at the Cromer's town hall office, the Methodist church as well as other locations.

Mr Harris said trustees defined anyone in need as being in receipt of state welfare benefits.

He added: 'It is good to work with a credit union to help residents in Cromer who are struggling financially to replace domestic appliances with more energy efficient models or require other financial help in difficult times.'