Hero plumber James Anderson, 55, is determined to create a 24/7 community hub in Burnley to teach homeless people vital life skills, after he was picked up off the streets by kind strangers as a teen
Image: MEN MEDIA)
A man who was previously homeless is raising £250,000 for a 24/7 community hub to take people off the streets and teach them how to cook, clean, pay bills and work. James Anderson – also known as “Britain’s kindest plumber” – has helped hundreds of strangers struggling amid the cost of living crisis, fixing their boilers for free and offering out vital food packages.
Now he’s got big plans to expand DEPHER (Disabled and Elderly Heating Emergency Repairs) and build a centre to transform homelessness in Burnley, Lancashire. James, who was picked up off the street by strangers when he was a teen, knows exactly what it feels like to be “assaulted, spat at and beat up” – and is determined to give others that life-changing chance in return.
When James turned 18, he decided to leave his mum’s home in Liverpool and venture out to the capital city with a friend.
But his carefree and happy-go-lucky attitude soon found him living on the streets between London and Bristol for two years with no belongings and no address.
“It was a terrible experience. I got assaulted, spat at, beaten up and nearly raped. I would not wish anything like that to happen to anyone,” James told the Mirror.
“I got my second chance when two strangers offered to help me. A couple called Beryl and Gordon, who lived near Chipping Sodbury, converted their garage and got me a job in logistics.
Manchester Evening News)
“I lived with them for eight months. I was earning £300 a week packing palettes to go to supermarkets and I thought I was the king of England.”
In his twenties, James moved back up North to live with his mum, and later in life met his wife Barbara, 48, in a pub where it was “love at first sight”.
In 2013, the pair had a son called William, who tragically passed away at 16-weeks-old due to a birth heart defect.
James made a promise to William to be a “better man” in his memory and six years ago, he founded Community Interest Company, Depher, to provide boilers and plumbing repairs to the most vulnerable.
It started just in the Burnley area but soon expanded nationwide with dozens of subcontractors and thousands of volunteers now helping out.
Manchester Evening News)
Since lockdown, James has helped customers on the verge of bankruptcy with everything from gas and electric top ups to food parcels, funeral costs and even bailiff charges.
He has set up food banks, provided PPE to nursing homes and the NHS, and organised surprised parties for children whose parents had been furloughed or laid off.
Depher, which is largely supported by donations, has received national recognition and James has been awarded for providing £1.2 million of support to Brits in deprivation.
Last year, he was announced as the winner of a Pride of Manchester Special Recognition Award, for providing that vital support.
And actor Hugh Grant and his wife Anna Eberstein have donated more than £65,000 to James’s cause during the cost-of-living crisis.
James, who has daughter Annalise, 17, son Thomas, 15, and stepson Josh, 23, said: “I only take £168 a week because that’s all I need to live off.”
His next venture is the company’s biggest to date and he hopes it will transform the lives of 50 homeless people in Burnley every year.
James is planning to buy a large property – which was previously a self-contained retail outlet – and convert it.
The building will sleep 10 homeless people for three months at a time, run a charity shop to raise money and have a training facility inside, as well as offices to rent.
It will offer long-term support to the homeless community and provide a steady income for the company.
James, who has raised £300,000 so far, said: “We have tradesmen who will work free of charge but we still need £250,000 to buy it and do it up.
“It would mean a new life for so many people. We wouldn’t just give them a bed, but support them with opportunities, education and a chance at qualifications.
“The training centre would teach them the basics of home economics including how to cook, clean, pay bills and DIY maintenance. It’s a stepping stone for a new life.”
If you’d like to support James’ 24/7 homeless hub, you can donate via his fundraising page.
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