Joy as work starts on Homes for Wells’ redevelopment of town’s former school

PUBLISHED: 09:49 20 March 2014 | UPDATED: 17:38 20 March 2014

The official start ot the Homes for Wells building work has started. Chairman Anne Phillips (front) with Pentaco Contacts Manager Geoff Lane, with the digger ready to go. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The official start ot the Homes for Wells building work has started. Chairman Anne Phillips (front) with Pentaco Contacts Manager Geoff Lane, with the digger ready to go. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2014

A “historic day” for Wells was celebrated when work started on redeveloping a 19th Century former school to provide 11 affordable homes for local people.

The £500,000 project, widely supported by people in the town, starts in earnest in the next few days.

Homes for Wells board members were joined at the site on Polka Road on Wednesday by dignitaries including Wells Town Council chairman Allen Frary, North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) leader Tom FitzPatrick, district councillors Jonathan Savory and Peter Terrington, who is also a Homes for Wells board member, and county councillor Dr Marie Strong, along with workers for Pentaco Construction which is carrying out the redevelopment.

The Grade II listed building was built in 1838 as Wells’s first school and its exterior will remain the same.

It was more recently used as an operations base for offshore wind company Scira and, before that, as the nationally-acclaimed Wells Field Studies Centre.

Homes for Wells board member Carol Jennings, a former headteacher at Wells Primary School, said: “This really is an historic day for Wells.

“This is an iconic building for the town and when it was announced the field studies centre would close everybody was very sad.

“It was thought this would be turned into luxury apartments which would become second homes and only add to the housing problems in Wells so it is fantastic that we have managed to save it for the town.

“At the public consultation so many people shared this view and backed our plans.”

This is the biggest project Homes for Wells has been involved in since the charity was established in 2006 to help tackle a chronic shortage of affordable houses in the town.

It was set up on the back of a survey carried out by Wells Area Partnership which revealed more than 100 families were in immediate need of housing in Wells, where the average terraced house costs £253,750 but more than half of households had a joint income below £20,000.

Homes for Wells rents out properties, with the owner’s permission, at intermediate rates for people who do not qualify for social housing, yet cannot afford high commercial rents.

Thirty families are on the waiting list for places at the new development and an NNDC-approved allocation process will be carried out.

Priority will be given to key workers and volunteers whose work make a significant contribution to the local community and its economy.

Applications have come in from teaching assistants, fishermen, carers and child care providers, among others.

Dr Strong said: “Homes for Wells really went into battle to keep this building for Wells and have done a fantastic job.”

Homes for Wells was officially named as registered providers of social housing by the Homes and Communities Agency in January, which resulted in a £410,000 grant towards the conversion work.

Chairman Anne Phillips said: “Providing affordable homes here is a big issue and we are trying hard to find a solution.

“Being officially registered puts on a par with other social housing providers and will make things a lot easier in future projects.

“We are looking at another site after this but things are at a very early stage and I can’t go into further details.”

Homes for Wells also received £150,000 from NNDC’s Big Society Enabling Fund, which uses council tax from second homes.

The redevelopment is due to be completed by February 2015.

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