The Duke of Cambridge is looking into using Duchy of Cornwall properties to house the homeless, as he seeks to provide practical help as well as royal patronage.
The Duke, who will one day inherit the Duchy from his father the Prince of Wales, has asked staff to explore how buildings could be used to help people who have fallen on misfortune.
The idea could see some of the estate’s urban buildings converted for use by charities, decades after the Duke first visited a homeless shelter with his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.
The Duchy currently owns 52,660 hectares of land across 20 counties, with 2,980 existing tenancy agreements and £314 million of commercial property.
Much of the estate is currently made up of farms and long-term lets, with the Prince of Wales famously focusing on rural areas and preserving traditional ways of life.
His elder son is already involved in the running of the estate, attending Duchy meetings and visiting its staff at work in the West Country.
Alleviate the homelessness situation
A Royal source said the idea was at an investigative stage, with numerous logistical obstacles to overcome before a plan could be put in place to make it a reality.
But they confirmed: “The Duke is interested in finding ways to help alleviate the homelessness situation in any way he can.”
The young Prince William first visited homeless shelter The Passage with his brother Prince Harry and their late mother in 1993.
He is now patron of the charity, which helps up to 200 people a day as London’s largest voluntary sector resource centre for the homeless and vulnerable, and of Centrepoint, which provides shelter and support for the young.
“The visits I made as a child to this place left a deep and lasting impression upon me,” he has said previously. “About how important it is to ensure that everyone in our society, especially the poorest, are treated with respect, dignity and kindness, and are given the opportunities to fulfill their potential in life.”
The Duchy of Cornwall was created by Edward III in 1337, and is now a private estate that provides income to the Duke of Cornwall – currently Prince Charles – and his family including the Cambridges.
When his father becomes King, Prince William will automatically inherit the estate.
While under Prince Charles it has become best-known for its rural and agricultural projects, while it also owns land in London.
Historically, the estate built residential and commercial properties in Kennington, selling off some sites in the 1920s and 30s to the armed forces. In 1990, the majority of the residential stock was sold to a housing association and the Duchy currently owns 16 flats and 23 houses.
It also owns the Oval, and a commercial portfolio of 18 properties which is valued at £124 million.
Members of the Royal Family regularly face criticism for being patrons of charities and delivering well-intentioned speeches about social issues and the environment, while living in large palaces with inherited fortunes.
Prince William is understood to have been considering how to build on his father’s legacy to make use of the Duchy’s buildings for several years, and has become particularly concerned about the problems facing homeless people during the Covid-19 pandemic.
During lockdown, he held a meeting with Robert Jenrick MP, then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and Dame Louise Casey, chairman of HM Government’s Covid-19 Rough Sleeping Response Taskforce, as well as speaking to young people helped by Centrepoint.
In September, he delivered a speech at a celebration of the 40th anniversary of The Passage, saying: “The last 18 months of the pandemic have shown us how much we rely on each other to get by – and just how strong our communities can be when we work together to get things done.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, we now need to continue that collaboration to prevent and end homelessness.”
Charity Shelter has estimated that, pre-pandemic, there were 280,000 people in England who were homeless or in temporary housing.
A report for Crisis recommended a “Housing First” policy as the most effective route to tackling homelessness, prioritising getting people into stable homes quickly and seeking help for other problems such as alcohol and drug dependency or mental health problems later.