AN ILSINGTON man is showing you’re never too old to take on a new challenge as he creates accommodation for young people leaving the care system.
Michael Page, 92, has just bought the now closed Brimley Post Office in Bovey Tracey, and is presently converting the premises into flats for up to six people aged between 18 and 26.
He explained the reason behind the social enterprise: ‘This is to ensure some young people leaving the care system aren’t just thrown on the scrap heap. Having somewhere to live will give them the chance to stand on their own two feet.’
‘These will be kids who have been chucked out of their home, or lived in abusive environments, or simply been fostered and are now moving on.
‘I have always had a sneaking respect for true justice. And some of these kids leaving care have been dealt a very raw deal. We should be ashamed.’
Retired Royal Navy captain Michael has been liaising with Young Devon, a charity which helps people find somewhere to live and learn new skills.
The upstairs flat only needs minimal work doing to it as it was the post master’s accommodation and will house three people.
Downstairs, however, needs a total conversion to turn the former shop into two flats – one single bed and one two-bed flat. Walls and shelving have been removed and the whole area, including the double garage has been gutted. The contractors have now started in earnest and Michael’s verdict was; ‘Nigel Webber and his team are fantastic!’
Michael envisions the upstairs premises will soon be occupied, and when the ground floor is completed – hopefully within six months – those occupants will relocate downstairs, freeing up the top floor for a single family or group of friends to move in. The residents will pay rent, which will go back to Young Devon.
Should Young Devon be unable to find a suitable match for the self-contained upstairs flat, he is considering offering it to a refugee family if the Ukraine crisis continues.
Purchase and building is costing in excess of £300k, a considerable sum, but for Michael it’s not about the cash. He explained: ‘I have never been in favour of drip feeding money to lots of disparate charities so I have stopped all our money that was going in small direct debits there. Now I am committing most of my savings to this project.’
Young Devon’s chief executive Andy Moreman said: ‘This is the first time in my career I’ve come across such philanthropy.
‘Government support ends at 18 and they may not be looked after by the local authorities.
‘Young people coming out of care find it almost impossible to get housed. Being thrown out of their home they’re most likely on their own and already 10 steps behind everyone else when it comes to getting accommodation.
‘It’s hugely generous and quite remarkable what Michael is doing.’
The new tenants will be able to stay there for up to three years before they move on, giving them enough time to forge a new life for themselves.
They won’t be left untended, however.
Michael said: ‘I will be keeping an eye on them on a daily basis as a project manager, and several of my fellow parishioners in Ilsington have agreed to act as proxy parents.
The plan is to hand over running of the flats to Young Devon, and Michael is currently setting up a charity to source long term funding and charitable grants.
‘The building will be known as Kyn’s Corner. It’s named after my late wife’s childhood nickname, ‘ he said.
Michael’s wife died last year and just before she passed away she and Michael discussed the plan.
He recalled: ‘I was driving past the post office and saw the postmaster, a despondent Mr Mills. He was selling up and had just lowered the price as he couldn’t find a buyer. I had an inspiration and said I’d buy it.
‘I got the idea from my son who is a trustee of a Home Counties charity – Andrew’s Charitable Trust – which does similar work.
‘When I told Kyn my plans she said I must do it. Primarily, it is a tribute to Kyn...she was so enthusiastic about it.’