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Long-runing soup kitchen is denied funds
A VOLUNTEER who was awarded an MBE for running a soup kitchen for the homeless was refused funding – because her work “encourages rough sleeping’”.
Icolyn ‘Ma’ Smith, 81, has been giving up her own time for others for nearly a quarter of a century.
She started a soup kitchen for the homeless 22 years ago from the Asian Cultural Centre in Manzil Way, where it is still run today.
Every Wednesday she provides a roast dinner for about 50 homeless people and is widely praised for her work.
In 1998 Mrs Smith was made an Member of the British Empire in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List, for services to disadvantaged people in Cowley.
And just last week her work featured in The Secret Millionaire television programme, in which wealthy business people meet charities and volunteers to support their good deeds.
Yet while Oxford City Council previously helped her with funding, the last time she applied she was refused.
Spokeswoman Louisa Dean said: “We have funded this project in the past. In the 2010/11 grants process they applied for £8,000 to contribute towards their costs to provide hot meals to homeless people.
“Their application was declined because research has shown that this kind of facility encourages rough sleeping.
“Monitoring information rec-eived from this project showed that many of their users access hostels and shelters, which we fund through the commissioning programme where hot meals are already provided.
“Monitoring information also told us that a high percentage of their users have their ‘own place’”.
Since then Curry Lounge boss Arfan Razak – who met Mrs Smith on The Secret Millionaire – has reached into his own pocket and provide the kitchen with a lifelife.
Mrs Smith, of Kelburne Road in Cowley, said Mr Razak had recognised the work her team was doing by donating £11,500. “That should keep us going for about two years and I’m delighted that he wanted to help,” she added.
Before the rejection the council had given the project £5,000 every year for four years.
Mum-of-five Mrs Smith, a former care worker, said: “I think it’s a shabby excuse to say that what we are doing encourages rough sleeping. Once homeless people have had a hot meal they are in a better position to try to rebuild their lives.
“Two young men who had been coming to us for a couple of months came in one day and told us they had been given places to study at Ruskin College and I cried for joy.
“I think the council is slightly embarrassed by the work we do – we also give people clothes – because we are doing some of the work the council should be doing for the community.
“When I didn’t get the grant I didn’t bother applying again because I thought it would be a waste of time.
“The council can send me the grant forms if it wants to but I’m not going to beg them.”
Mrs Smith pays monthly rent of £300 to £400 to the Asian Cultural Centre, and will keep taking donations to cover running costs and the cost of providing food.
Gordon Wilson, 46, of Gordon Street, regularly used the kitchen when he was homeless in Oxford for four years.
He found a home eight years ago but said he could not have got his life back together without help from people like Ma Smith.
He said: “I think it’s disgraceful.People are in hard times and how else are they going to survive if they don’t get help from people like her?”
Green city councillor Craig Simmons, who represents St Mary’s ward: “I think it’s outrageous to suggest that Mrs Smith’s kitchen is encouraging rough sleeping.
“She is clearly serving a very useful purpose by helping such a vulnerable section of society.
“I think this illustrates the inadequacy of the council’s grants system and the council should review its decision on this.”