HRH The Countess of Wessex and Sir Richard Stilgoe help to celebrate 50 years of transforming lives

Transform Housing & Support’s Royal Patron Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex joined more than 160 guests recently to celebrate half a century of Transform providing accommodation and support for homeless and vulnerable individuals. 

On 24 November, Transform held its 50th anniversary gala evening at the RAC's opulent Woodcote Park venue in Epsom. The event raised more than £30,000 to enable Transform to support more people in the future to lead independent and fulfilling lives. 

A packed evening included a reception at which some of Transform’s clients and supporters had the chance to meet The Countess. There was also a three-course dinner, a raffle, silent and live auctions and musical entertainment. Stories about some of the 30,000 clients to date who have been able to turn their lives around with Transform’s support were woven throughout the evening.

During dinner, Transform Chair Mark Austen outlined some of the difficult and sometimes traumatic backgrounds that lead people to become homeless and needing support from Transform. Every individual had their own story, he reminded guests. He spoke about the clients whose lives have been touched by the supported housing provider since it was founded in 1972 – initially to provide accommodation for offenders to help them build a life away from crime. 

Sadly Mr Austen said, Transform’s services were needed as much now as they were then. “Following two and a half years surviving through the pandemic, many of the already most deprived in our society are now desperately struggling with the current cost-of-living increases,” he explained. Client stories featured on video during the evening included Christine – a domestic abuse survivor with former alcohol misuse issues who said about Transform: “Seriously, they saved my life. Transform staff are so, so special.” 

A photo of former Transform Chief Executive Paul Mitchell holding a copy of the Transform History which he wrote

Former Transform Chief Executive Paul Mitchell, who held the reins of the organisation from 1997-2018, detailed a few highlights from during these 21 years. Mr Mitchell has written a history of Transform which was available for guests on the night. 

Her Royal Highness cut a 50th anniversary celebration cake alongside Director of Client Services Adele Duncan and current client Marcus – whose Transform journey captured on video had moved many guests earlier in the evening. It had been an honour to meet The Countess, Marcus said. “She asked me about the support I’d received from Transform,” he added. When asked where he would be today without Transform Marcus said: “I could be in prison, or quite possibly I’d be dead.”

Patron and former Transform Chair David Hypher made the loyal toast. He thanked HRH for attending and for her support during the past 16 years since he had first asked her to be Transform’s Royal patron.

Following Her Royal Highness’s departure, a live auction was presided over by former Christie’s international fine art, classic car and charity auctioneer Hugh Edmeades.

Prizes donated to Transform included – laps around Goodwood motor racing circuit in a 1971 Alpine Renault A110 rally car (which was available for guests to see on the evening), a Hebridean Island cruise, a private gallery tour with BBC’s Philip Mould, sailing on the Solent, dinner at the House of Lords with Transform patron Baroness Virginia Bottomley, a private flight over London and a week in a holiday home in Wales.

Transform patron, composer and entertainer Sir Richard Stilgoe provided a surprise final auction lot when he sold a song he had written on the night created from a number of words supplied by guests. The words included windmill, tool, mazurka, donors, football's coming home, hammer, hope, bridge, rainbow, sunny, client, Transform's 50th anniversary and marzipan. The song he composed and performed raised in excess of £800 for Transform.

Attendees joining Transform to mark five decades of providing support across Surrey and surrounding areas included such civic representatives as the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey Michael More-Molyneux and The High Sheriff of Surrey, Christopher Critchlow (both of whom are Transform patrons). Helyn Clack, the Chair of Surrey County Council – which provides support funding for Transform – the Mayors of Woking and Elmbridge and Deputy Mayor of Guildford, plus partners, ambassadors, and trustees also supported the event.

A four-piece group – comprising of postgraduate music students Joel, Ben, Rose and Dibyo from Kingston University's PACE (Performing Arts and Community Engagement) – entertained guests with a selection of jazz and blues numbers.

Mark Austen summed up the event: “As Chair for Transform, I have been filled with pride at what has been accomplished since 1972. The Trustees and I would like to extend a huge ‘thank you’ to every individual and organisation who has joined us this evening and who has funded and supported us over the years – we could not have achieved what we have without you.”

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