Porchlight - 50 years of changing lives together

Everybody deserves to have someone on their side when life gets tough

50 years ago, in 1974, Tom Gifford and his wife Brigid, founded the charity that would become Porchlight. Having experienced the devastating effects of homelessness himself, he wanted to create a fairer future for others in the same position.

Originally known as National Cyrenians, and locally as Canterbury Cyrenians, Porchlight drew inspiration from the ground-breaking model of the Simon Community, pioneered by former probation officer Anton Wallich-Clifford in 1963. Anton’s vision was to provide a community-led alternative to the bleak night shelters and harsh institutional care prevalent at the time. He encouraged people to take control of their situations, build healthy relationships, and rebuild their lives with the support of those around them.

A chance encounter

Tom and Anton’s paths crossed in a London hostel, and Tom was immediately inspired by Anton’s revolutionary approach to tackling homelessness and his dedication to improving the lives of people who had nowhere left to turn. Their chance encounter ignited a spark of inspiration that would shape the future of homelessness support in the UK.

In 1970, Tom and his wife Brigid established National Cyrenians, breathing new life into the Simon Community concept by creating safe havens where volunteers and residents could collaborate and thrive. This communal living approach proved successful, and the organisation quickly outgrew its humble premises and relocated to Canterbury City Centre in 1972.

Two years later, in 1974, they founded the Canterbury Cyrenians, later growing in 2002 to become the East Kent Cyrenians, and in 2008 - Porchlight.


Half a century later

Since then, everything we have achieved has been thanks to countless people like Tom sharing the same desire to make a positive difference – volunteers, supporters and staff all pulling together to be there when people need us most.

Fifty years ago, Tom couldn’t have imagined that despite his lifesaving legacy, more people than ever would need our help today.


Homelessness, poverty, and inequality are rising across the UK. They are complex problems affecting millions of lives. They are also avoidable. We are proud that, together, we’ve been able to help so many people. We hope we won’t be needed in another 50 years. However, with funding cuts hitting us during the cost-of-living crisis, our services have never been more vital.

Join us as we mark our 50th year with a promise to continue to fight for a safe home, better life and fairer future for everyone.


There are many different ways you can get involved during our anniversary year. From taking part in one of our fundraising events, to donating in a loved one's memory or sleeping out under the stars for a night.

Email our friendly team to find out more - getinvolved@porchlight.org.uk.