The transformation was incredible. In a house that had been empty for years, in rooms that had been filled with rubbish, overrun with rats and even without a floor in some cases, everything was freshly painted and fitted out, ready to let.
Touring the newly refurbished home, several people remarked that it was finished to a much higher standard than they were expecting. As one of the members of Goldthorpe and Bolton on Dearne Big Local explained, ‘We wanted to make a home where a family will want to stay and see their kids grow up in’.
The new carpets, blinds and ironwork had been purchased from local businesses. And all the work from start to finish had been completed by a local team, including 7 new apprentices taken on because of this project.
John Healey, Shadow Housing Minister and local MP attended the opening and recognised the unique results of the resident-led housing project:
‘It’s not just a renovation; it’s not just a project providing someone with a decent home; it’s giving young people skills and experience. 14 are now in full time employment. It’s a great example of what can be done – no one should underestimate the effort behind this!’
Local solutions to local challenges
Affordable homes for rent, fewer empty homes standing derelict and more training and employment opportunities for the area. That was the vision of the residents of Goldthorpe and Bolton on Dearne Big Local near Barnsley, who wanted to use the area’s £1m of Big Local funding to tackle the biggest needs of their community.
In this former industrial area, unemployment is a key challenge, and many people have moved away. But with support from Big Local, it has become clear that the residents are the area’s greatest asset, and that they are able to solve the issues that matter most to their community.
The residents agreed to purchase and refurbish 4 empty properties, creating new construction apprenticeships in the process. The first home has now been completed and the impact so far is only the beginning:
14 people who have worked on the project have been successful in gaining full time employment.
70 on site NVQ assessments have been completed (all NVQ assessments must now be done on ‘live’ projects and cannot be completed in a college environment).
348 Apprenticeship training and skills development days completed on site.
2 full time construction supervisor’s jobs created by the project.
8 work experience places created by the project.
1 new home available for a family to live at an affordable rent, and 3 more ready soon.
To run a project of this kind, the Big Local residents had to set up a constituted non-profit organisation called ‘Dearne Community Housing’. All its directors are residents from Goldthorpe and Bolton on Dearne Big Local. Other challenges included the difficulty of tracking down a landlord to buy from and the discovery of the extent of the disrepair in the homes, one of which had been empty for 14 years. There’s more about the early days of the project in this blog.
As Mark, one of the Big Local residents and a director of Dearne Community Housing, says:
‘It has been a long and sometimes difficult journey to achieve our first milestone of having a property ready to rent but the rewards are amazing and far exceeded what we expected to achieve.’
Ripple effects and national recognition
Part of the group’s success lies in strong collaborations with Berneslai Homes, who will let the properties, and with Barnsley Community Build (BCB), who have completed the construction and offered the training opportunities.
Goldthorpe and Bolton on Dearne Big Local also had a new unexpected partner come forward after an article about the project in the Guardian attracted the attention of local company, Royston Glass. Royston Glass came forward to donate glass splashbacks for each home, train the BCB apprentices to install them and give them an educational tour of their factory. It’s clear that this project is sending positive ripple effects across the community, and attracting local pride.
The remaining three properties will soon be completed, and the income generated from the rent will be invested back into Dearne Community Housing to provide further good quality rented housing for the community, and further employment and skills opportunities.
It’s impressive – and it’s inspiring. People from other Big Local areas attended the opening, asking questions to see how they could adapt the same approach for the needs of their communities. The group have also been named as one of NESTA 50 New Radicals 2016, in recognition of their innovation and the way their project responds to some of the UK’s biggest social issues. In Goldthorpe and beyond, this project is starting a very exciting Big Local legacy.