‘The whole idea is about building self-esteem’

On the Reception Desk - (left to right) Trainees Steven Reay (32), Rhys Newman (36), and Miles Lister (23)
On the Reception Desk - (left to right) Trainees Steven Reay (32), Rhys Newman (36), and Miles Lister (23)
Picture: Shutterstock

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From the outside, it looks just like any other ordinary warehouse.

Sitting in the shadow of Fratton Park and nestled between a garage and an assortment of small manufacturing businesses, there are just two small clues that hint at what’s really going on inside.

If it wasn’t for the painted fascia boards and trolley full of plants out front, you might not guess that this warehouse is a little bit different from all the rest.

Step inside and you’ll find a treasure trove of craft items. But it’s what this assortment of scrap paper, rolls of card and bottle lids is used to achieve that’s really the jewel in this crown.

The warehouse in Anson Road, Fratton, Portsmouth is home to the Beneficial Foundation and walking through the doors reveals a hive of activity.

As well as a cafe, offices and an arts and craft shop, it houses the foundation’s materials bank and it is this cavernous scrap store that acts as a kind of linchpin for the rest of the charity’s work.

Set up in 1979, the Beneficial Foundation provides training and education for people who are in need, particularly those with learning difficulties and other disabilities.

The materials bank works like a factory, with the foundation’s trainees sorting through scrap and transforming rolls of silver and gold card into cut-out shapes that can then be sold on for 50p a time.

More than 1,000 community members use the bank, ranging from child minders and local schools, through to universities and scout troops.

Yearly membership packages cost from between £16 and £373 and that allows customers to return to the bank and pick up what they need whenever they want.

Old oil drums line the aisles and each one is stuffed full of used packaging materials, scraps of carpet or polystyrene. Wall-to-ceiling shelving units contain old folders, donated from an office that closed down, and boxes full of assorted junk.

It’s like a mini paradise for the crafty. Those who might need everything from vast quantities of paper and card to turn into a Chinese-style dragon, or some off-cuts of material for a school T-shirt task, will be at home here.

And the bank also gives trainees jobs and a chance to establish their confidence and skills in a safe place where they can learn and flourish.

‘What the warehouse does is give people work experience where they are supported,’ explains Beneficial Foundation chief executive Jennie Brent.

‘It’s a proper factory, but if we sent our trainees out into a factory environment with no support they would fail.

‘This is a vehicle to help these people move on. It’s not about sitting in a classroom, it’s giving them a practical experience so the more products that come in, the better.

‘The factory is the nucleus of what we’re doing.’

At the moment the foundation desperately needs more stock to keep its members happy. If the stash doesn’t get replenished, the customers won’t renew their annual membership and they will lose a regular source of income, plus the chance to give the trainees their valuable work experience.

‘If we can’t get more stuff into the materials bank, people won’t use it,’ adds Jennie.

‘We need more stuff. We need more of everything, from everyone, from private individuals to big corporate companies.’

One of the companies that currently supports the materials bank is Chesapeake. The packaging firm has a factory in Hilsea and makes the lining for cigarette packets there.

But the way the machines work means there’s always some spare card on the end of each roll – and it’s these giant rolls that the foundation uses to make its gold and silver cut-outs. Trainees man the production line, punching squares of the card into stars, hearts and circles. There’s a plan to turn the shapes into gift tags as an extra way of making money.

All the trainees are referred to the foundation from social services and come from a variety of backgrounds.

‘We started off with 12 people and we’ve got 76 now,’ says Jennie.

‘I don’t like putting labels on anybody anyway, but these are people who can’t fit into a box.

‘They are aged from 16 upwards and they’ve all got various needs, it could be social needs, or a disorder of some sort.

‘The whole idea is about building their self-esteem, giving them an experience and getting them into work. The great thing about the warehouse and shop is it gives them that experience.’

The foundation also has its own nursery, with polytunnels on land next door to Fratton Park, where plants, flowers and vegetables are lovingly grown and then sold on.

Through the Steps to Success training programme, Jennie and her team work on creating personal plans for each trainee.

They are given the chance to develop key skills, such as basic literacy and numeracy, before they gain practical experience in the shop, materials bank, cafe or nursery.

Jennie’s a passionate believer in the Beneficial Foundation’s work and talks with pride about what they are trying to achieve.

Over the years they’ve received great support from the Portsmouth community. Pompey and Linvoy Primus in particular have been faithful friends and the foundation now wants to get more people involved in the life-changing schemes.

‘We’re looking for volunteers and people who’ve got something to offer, as well as clients who have got social enterprises of their own and might be looking for space to sell them, because we can do that for them in our shop,’ says Jennie.

‘I love listening to people’s ideas and we’re keen to get involved in more fundraising so if people are doing an event and would like to support us, that would be great.

‘We’re a local charity, we were formed in Portsmouth in 1979, so if anyone wants to help they can come and see what we do.

‘You’ve really got to see it for yourself.’