50 Backpacks in Wisbech to close

Simon Crowson, leader of 50 Backpacks Vision in Wisbech.

Simon Crowson, known to all as Spike, has announced 50 Backpacks Vision in Wisbech will close. Picture; HARRY RUTTER - Credit: Archant

The leader of 50 Backpacks Vision, which supports the homeless in Wisbech, has announced the service will discontinue.

Simon Crowson, known locally as Spike, claims he has faced “yet another onslaught from a select few local councillors” and is “tired of the constant battles”.

A post on the 50 Backpacks Facebook page said: “After yet another onslaught from a select few local councillors, it is with huge regret that I have to announce that I will be stepping away from 50 Backpacks and closing the doors.

“I am tired of the constant battles and defamation of character. I have absolutely nothing to hide and have always spoken openly about my past but it would appear that no matter how well we have done, it will never be enough for some.”

It continued: “50 Backpacks does not deserve to have its name continuously tarnished by these ignorant vile people and as a result 100's of people will not get the help they desperately need.”

Mr Crowson believes the “onslaught” against him has been started by local Conservative councillors fearful that he might stand as a candidate for the county council elections in May 2021.

“On that I have no comment to make,” he said. “Though I must confess the thought has crossed my mind.”

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He later said he had been left feeling “low and deflated” by the comments of some local councillors but “I am a tough character; I will bounce back”.

However, he said the name of 50 Backpacks “has been tarnished by some local councillors, where others have been very supportive”.

Over the next three months, 50 Backpacks will continue helping its existing client base but will not take on anyone new. The exact date the service will discontinue has not been revealed.

The Facebook post explains any assets, including funds from any future sales, will be passed to another charity within regulations.

It said: “It is quite evident that we will never gain the support of local councils and that makes it almost impossible for us to continue in the name of 50 Backpacks without regular funding.

“I will however continue with campaigning to highlight the way millions of pounds are being spent on some of the same people year after year and the false, positive results that are claimed.

“50 Backpacks has been an amazing asset to our town and has shown that by taking a different approach, sustainable results can be achieved.”

Volunteers at 50 Backpacks Vision in Wisbech

Volunteers hard at work supporting the community during the first coronavirus lockdown. Picture: BACKPACKS - Credit: Archant

Earlier this month, Cllr Will Sutton asked fellow Fenland District Council members whether some of the “vast amounts” of Government money to support the homeless could be passed to 50 Backpacks Vision, which relies heavily on public donations.

Cllr Samantha Hoy, Fenland District Council’s portfolio holder for housing, said in a statement: “As I said at the FDC council meeting, the council will work with any group but they must be registered and have DBS checks in place because taxpayers’ money and vulnerable people are involved.

“I have only been critical of the man in charge of 50 backpacks and not the organisation itself, in fact your own editor expressed misgivings (I can provide the evidence) saying the organisation should continue but without Spike.”

She added: “I am nothing to do with their organisation and their decisions are nothing to do with me.”

Mr Crowson has declined to speculate on his own future plans but said he had been “absolutely inspired” by the outpouring of support from people – many he didn’t know – who have urged him to continue to tackle the housing crisis in Wisbech and the Fens.

“If anything has lifted my spirits back to where they were it has been that support from local people,” he said.

On Christmas Day, Mr Crowson slept rough on the streets of Wisbech to raise awareness of the plight faced by the town’s homeless.

As well as supporting the homeless, the enterprise also delivered 4,396 food parcels to the elderly and vulnerable in and around Wisbech during the first coronavirus lockdown.

Their volunteers’ efforts helped them win respect and praise from across community. 

Wisbech Town Council has previously donated £1,000 to 50 Backpacks.