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Future of Sunflower House charity, which runs Folkestone Town Sprucer, uncertain


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Two 'vital' community projects are at risk of shutting down if a new leader is not found to take over.

The Sunflower House charity runs the Town Sprucer project - which sees a dedicated team clear litter, mess and graffiti from the streets of Folkestone - and Sunflower House, a community centre in Foord Road.

Alex MacLaren, current chair of the Sunflower House charity, which is at risk of winding down. Picture: Igor Emmerich
Alex MacLaren, current chair of the Sunflower House charity, which is at risk of winding down. Picture: Igor Emmerich

The charity was founded by David Taylor in 2013, but has been led by Alex MacLaren since Mr Taylor passed away in 2017.

But Mr MacLaren has announced he is stepping down as chair of trustees in May next year, and is now hoping someone will step up to take on the role.

If they don't, it could see the end of both projects.

Mr MacLaren said: "For personal reasons I need to step down at the end of May.

"This role, and all the other trustee posts, are voluntary roles, so a leadership change makes both projects vulnerable.

The Folkestone Town Sprucer team clearing the subway under the M20. The team describe it as a drinking den with litter and broken glass. Picture: Peter Phillips
The Folkestone Town Sprucer team clearing the subway under the M20. The team describe it as a drinking den with litter and broken glass. Picture: Peter Phillips

"Between now and January the trustees will be making some fundamental choices about the future of the charity.

"Option one would be to wind up both projects and close down the charity when I step down.

"That would mean the end of the Sprucer Project, and it would mean the closure and return to the freeholder of our Foord Road premises before the end of our 10-year lease.

"Option two would be for a new candidate for chairperson to present themselves, be elected and take the projects forward; and candidates from outside the current trustee body are urgently needed."

Peter Phillips, lead Sprucer, is now worried for his job, which sees him lead a team of volunteers as they tidy parts of Folkestone.

The Sunflower House community centre in Foord Road, Folkestone, is used by groups and for local events
The Sunflower House community centre in Foord Road, Folkestone, is used by groups and for local events

He said: "The Sprucer project is vitally important in Folkestone.

"We're doing a lot of work that the council doesn't do. We clear away mess, pick up broken glass, empty bottles, drugs...it all helps make Folkestone look more presentable for residents and visitors. It makes people feel safer too."

Areas which the team have cleared over the past weeks include the subway under the M20, and the grounds around St Mary & St Eanswythe.

Mr Phillips added: "We also help our volunteers get back into work and get experience."

Both the community centre and Sprucer project have funding available until 2023 - so another option would be for someone to take on the role of chair for 12 months only.

But ideally the future candidate would be willing to take over with the view of prolonging them.

Mr MacLaren said the new chair would need experience in management and handling budgets, and also a lot of time to dedicate to the charity.

Folkestone Town Sprucer Peter Phillips
Folkestone Town Sprucer Peter Phillips

Following the announcement of both projects being at risk, members of the community took to Facebook to share their hope that they continue to run.

Town councillor Mary Lawes said: "We need the Sprucer team and the fabulous Sunflower House to survive. We especially need them to survive because of what it means to East Folkestone, Harbour Ward and the wider community.

"I sincerely hope someone can commit to this role for 12 months at least so that someone can come forward on a more permanent time scale."

Another comment said: "The loss of the Sprucers would be unthinkable for the town.

"I sincerely hope that a wonderful candidate steps forward to continue this amazing charity."

Mr MacLaren added: "Folkestone benefits hugely from our projects, and with an effective chairperson they both have a bright future."

Anyone interested in taking on the role should email Mr MacLaren at alex@the-spontaneity-shop.com

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