IT was built for Bevin Boys, but now a housing complex dating back to the 1940s is to be demolished in a £1.8m hostel project for the homeless.
Despite opposition from residents living close to the green belt site, councillors voted unanimously to back the scheme proposed by charity the Cyrenians.
Based near Chester-le-Street the complex was originally constructed as a home for Bevin Boys, the Second World War’s forgotten heroes conscripted to work in the collieries.
Thousands of men from all over the country were drafted in to replace the miners who had gone into the armed forces and, without a King’s uniform, faced being mistaken for conscientious objectors of the war.
In later years the accommodation, surrounded by countryside in the County Durham village of Plawsworth, was used as a police training centre and a reception centre before being taken over by the charity in 2009.
With plans to modernise its accommodation to better suit the needs of the vulnerable and homeless, some nearby residents have spoken out about concerns the project’s location “devalues residential property” and would have a “negative visual effect on the village.” Anti-social behaviour and excessive lighting were also flagged up as concerns.
Known as The Fells, the scheme, just off the A167, was the Cyrenians’ first supported housing project in County Durham.
Stephen Bell, chief executive of the charity, said: “The Cyrenians is a provider of emergency accommodation in County Durham, and as such and with latest statistics showing a worrying and growing need, we know it is essential The Fells develops and continues to be an effective ‘place of change’.
“We plan to bring the success of our other projects, where we have developed a successful programme for tackling addictions and dependency, combined with practical life and employability skills training to help get people into work, to The Fells.”
Now in its fourth year the charity hopes to better support homeless people by helping them “move forward with lives and change their future.” It has already spent £1.1m on the site with funding of £1.8m paying for phase two of its modernisation plan.
Although on green belt land, usually protected from development, the application has been given the go-ahead as the charity only wants to replace existing accommodation.
Demolishing the current 10 four and five-bedroomed bungalows, deemed to have “significant structural problems” after an independent survey, the charity will create a new 45-bed hostel. As the county’s only provider of emergency accommodation, the hostel will provide a three-tier level of support in a bid to help those who are vulnerable.
There would be a 17-bed assessment centre offering high level support. In the ‘recovery’ tier there will be 20 beds with residents becoming more independent and finally eight beds allocated in bungalows for independent living.
Residents will stay for a maximum of six months.
In 2011 the charity, alongside building partners the Esh Group, was handed the £1.8m by the Government’s Homeless ness Change Programme making it one of the largest grants to be made outside of London.