Homes brought back to life thanks to Norwich’s homeless

Make a house a home. St Martins Housing Trust in partnership with Norwich City Council, Norwich Leap

Make a house a home. St Martins Housing Trust in partnership with Norwich City Council, Norwich Leap, Building Futures in Norwich and CTS marking the training of homeless people in construction skills by giving certificates. Shaun Newton with his certificate.Photo: Steve Adams

A project that sees homeless people learning construction skills as they refurbish empty homes and bring them back into use has completed its first flat.

The Make A House A Home scheme is run by St Martin's Housing Trust in partnership with Norwich City Council, Norwich Leap, Building Futures in Norwich, and CTS (Construction Training Specialists).

It is aiming to bring 10 homes which have been empty for at least six months back into use by April 2015.

Work on the homes is carried out by homeless city people, supported by St Martin's Housing Trust and Norwich Leap, who are keen to develop new skills, move forward with their lives, and gain a recognised qualification.

Yesterday, the keys for the first refurbished flat were handed over by CTS to St Martin's Housing Trust, who will now find someone in need of a home to take on the tenancy.

Each construction trainee who has worked on a property will get the chance to bid for it and become the tenant.

Brenda Arthur, Norwich City Council leader, said: 'This is an ideal path to help people who want to learn the skills to go on and access jobs and it also frees up and makes available more properties to live in. It's an amazing piece of work.

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'It's funded through the government's empty homes fund and there are 50 or 60 projects being funded around the country. Ours is unique in that we are using trainees to do the work and we are also offering them the opportunity to bid for the property.'

The construction trainees complete a six-week training course where they are taught a range of skills including brickwork, carpentry, joinery, painting, plastering, plumbing and wall-papering, as well as gaining an understanding of health and safety issues.

At the end of that course, they head into the property for some real hands-on experience.

Derek Player, general manager at St Martin's Housing Trust, said: 'This first property had been empty for 10 years. It needed new central heating, new windows and doors, some electrics, a new kitchen and a new bathroom. There were a lot of skills for them to deploy.

'Over the course of the 10 properties, we hope to work with over 50 trainees.

'The building industry is still a very good area to get into but you can't just start as a labourer on site any more.

'You have to come with something to offer your employer.'

Shaun Newton hopes the skills he picked up during the eight-week refurbishment will lead to a job.

Yesterday, he joined the project's partners at CTS' base at White Lodge Business Park in Norwich to collect a certificate acknowledging his hard work and the entry-level qualification he has gained.

Together with five other homeless people, he has helped to get the first flat in Mile Cross ready for a new tenant.

Mr Newton, 42, had been living in a hostel when he first got involved with the project.

By the age of 28, both his parents had died and he was struggling to cope. He fell behind on rent payments and became homeless.

Mr Newton got involved with Norwich Leap – a scheme run jointly by St Martin's Housing Trust and the city council to help homeless young people access education, training and jobs – because he was keen to improve his prospects.

Barry Allard, Leap project manager, said Make A House A Home had had an obvious effect on Mr Newton.

He said: 'You can see with Sean, he's been able to move forward, gain confidence and belief in himself that he can get a job in the future.'