Edward Alleyn's Foundation, granted Letters Patent in 1619, was established not only as an educational charity (with a college for twelve poor orphans) but also to provide almshouses for sixe poor brethren and sisters. The foundation stone was laid in 1613 when six almshouses were built on either side of Christ's Chapel. The present almshouses, Edward Alleyn House, which are all on the east side of the Chapel, facing Dulwich Park, date from reconstruction in 1739 and enlargement in 1866.

Until 1995 the almshouses were administered by the Estates' Governors as part of Alleyn's College of God's Gift at Dulwich. Following a restructuring of the Foundation, the former Eleemosynary branch became The Dulwich Almshouse Charity, a separate charity in its own right, whose objects are to relieve beneficiaries in cases of need, hardship or distress by the provision and maintenance of almshouses and otherwise as the Trustees think fit.

The Dulwich Almshouse Charity, as a beneficiary, retains very close links with The Dulwich Estate, which funds its operations as well as providing administrative support.

Edward Alleyn had decreed that the almshouse residents should be drawn from the parishes in which he had lived and worked. The original "colledgiantes" from 1616 were chosen from the parishes of St Giles', Cripplegate (the site of the Fortune Playhouse), St Botolph's, Bishopsgate (the Founder's birthplace), St Saviour's, Southwark (where the Founder lived for many years) and Camberwell (in which his Manor lay). These parishes largely correspond to the "area of benefit" under the Charity Commission Scheme establishing the new Charity in 1995 and it is still a requirement that prospective almshouse residents are inhabitants of the area of benefit. Four of the Charity's Trustees are appointed from these parishes and The Dulwich Estate appoints two.

The almshouses today comprise fourteen flats and two bed-sitting rooms and the Charity is careful to ensure that they are maintained and steadily improved to meet the changing needs of the residents, providing comfortable homes. Walk-in baths have been provided (reflecting the residents' wishes) and consideration is now being given to installing stair lifts.

To qualify as a resident, and in addition to being an inhabitant of the area of benefit, an applicant must be at least 60 years of age and in "need, hardship or distress", and of modest financial means. Residents must be able to look after themselves; the Warden makes daily calls on each resident and a home help service is offered, but the Charity does not offer medical assistance or other forms of care. A number of residents have care packages provided by the local authority.

Applications can be made through the nominating bodies (the parishes) or direct to the Estate Office. A home visit will be arranged followed by an interview with two of the Trustees, after which, a decision will be made on whether the applicant meets the requirements of the charity.

Residents pay a weekly maintenance contribution which, (since 1996) is related to the "fair rent" and a share of the costs of the services provided by the Charity. This maintenance contribution qualifies for Housing and Social Security Benefit.

The Charity also offers assistance to other local residents in their houses through visits by the Warden, Carol Wilson, under its Outreach Scheme. Mrs Wilson also arranges monthly coffee mornings and regular outings, which from time to time are attended by the outreach beneficiaries. In this way the Charity is extending its work in areas where there is a clear need for help, such as St Botolph's, Bishopsgate, where parts of the parish are characterised by acute deprivation.

Further information can be obtained from The Dulwich Estate's Office (Mrs Veronica Edwards, telephone 020 8299 1000

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