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Gillingham Street Angels set to move into new HQ at empty Argos store in Chatham High Street

An award-winning charity which has helped thousands of homeless and vulnerable people is getting a new roof over its head – the empty Argos superstore in Chatham.

Gillingham Street Angels is about to pick up the keys for the three-storey shop, its biggest venture since forming in an office above a garage in 2018.

Husband and wife team Neil and Tracy Charlick of Gillingham Street Angels
Husband and wife team Neil and Tracy Charlick of Gillingham Street Angels

The move to the High Street premises, owned by the Richard Watts charity, will mean it can expand and offer space for other groups to form a huge community hub.

The news comes in the same week that Chatham found itself as the subject of an article in the national press about the demise of once thriving town centre shopping areas.

Neil Charlick, Gillingham Street Angels chief executive, said: "It's very exciting. I have always believed we should be working together to support each other and not live in a bubble.

"And this gives us an amazing opportunity to do so.

"We will be providing much-needed space for people to train, work and get advice."

Among the groups Neil hopes to get on board are Nucleus Arts, Medway and Medway Pride Radio Pride and Luton-based Arches Local, as well as other organisations including a boxing club.

Argos in Chatham High Street closed earlier this year
Argos in Chatham High Street closed earlier this year

Neil, who runs the charity with wife Tracy, said: "I was approached by the Richard Watts charity and I thought there was no way we would be able to afford the rent.

"But we have been offered it for a crazy price, a fraction of what would be charged for a High Street premises. It's an offer we just couldn't turn down."

Neil, once homeless himself, started off above a garage in Sturdee Avenue, Gillingham, in 2018.

He then opened a charity shop in Skinner Street in 2019 which funded the soup kitchens and then the big storage warehouse in Jenkins Dale, Chatham was launched.

There is also a charity shop in King Street, Gillingham, and, in March this year, another shop was opened at the former Magees bed and breakfast at the Star Hill end of Rochester High Street.

There is also an allotment in Hazlemere Drive, Gillingham, where people seeking mental wellbeing and solace are welcome.

Last month alone, 12,500 meals were provided by a band of 80 volunteers.

A new second-hand school uniform service has proved popular with cash-strapped families and it has recently formed a partnership with social landlord mhs homes which is donating unwanted furniture left in vacated properties.

The charity will then re-use, re-purpose and recycle these items to help those in need.

The Watts Almshouses in Rochester.
The Watts Almshouses in Rochester.

It has big plans for the former Argos building.

The first floor will be mainly furniture, household items and there will also be a section selling sports equipment.

The top floor will be given over to community groups and there will also be offices for the charity's new headquarters.

The building became vacant in February when Argos, which is owned by Sainsbury's, did not renew its lease.

Over the years it has been home to Bates, Bentalls department stores and Sainsbury's before it relocated to the Pentagon when the centre was built in the 1970s as part of Chatham's regeneration.

Inside the store in Chatham High Street in 1963. The Sainsbury Archive, Museum of London Docklands
Inside the store in Chatham High Street in 1963. The Sainsbury Archive, Museum of London Docklands

A spokesman for the Rochester-based Watts charity confirmed that it was awaiting legal documents to be signed to finalise the deal.

He said "We are pleased to be giving back to the community and helping another charity."

Richard Watts, a distinguished businessman and former MP for Rochester, acquired the site in the 16th century.

Following his death in 1579, Richard Watts Charity was established and has been working with the people of Rochester for more than 400 years.

Five other local charities are now incorporated under the full title of Richard Watts and the City of Rochester Almshouse Charities.

Richard Watts Charities thrive today due to the generosity and vision of Mr Watts.

The charities provide assistance in times of need and enable people to live as independently as possible.

The current aims are to provide almshouse accommodation, provide grants to people, schools and organisations and provide home help services.

It's only allowed to give assistance to people living, or schools and organisations based within, the ME1 and ME2 postcode areas (Rochester and Chatham).

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