Report: why St George’s Crypt and Leeds City Council are building a new future for Leeds’ homeless

St George’s Crypt has been supporting the homeless in Leeds for almost 90 years.

The charity calculates that since 1930 they’ve has been able to offer almost 250,000 beds for the night at their base on Great George Street.

The Crypt and their work are so well known that if you ask most people about the homeless in Leeds and they’ll mention them.

Now they’re embarking on the biggest project in their history; building purpose-built accommodation for homeless people on the final stage of recovery from alcohol addiction.

‘Our vision is to break the cycle of dependency,’ says Martin Patterson, new projects director at The Crypt.

‘One of our issues is we see is people go away, we see them come back, then they go away, and come back – it’s like a revolving door,’ he adds.

‘That’s not satisfactory because what we want is people to move towards independence.

‘It’s like when your children move away; we wish them the best and hope they make their own way in life.’

A joined-up approach

Demolition of the previous building

In 2015, the charity formed their own housing development company and in March 2018 they began demolishing the old building, a hostel for people with major alcohol issues.

Replacing it will eventually be a brand new complex called Regent Lodge, featuring 14 affordable apartments with staff facilities, an office and a training room.

The Crypt hopes that compared to the previous building it will provide a much more effective solution for those suffering from addiction and give them a better platform to move on with their lives.

‘That was it, they lived there, existed there and they died there,’ said Martin.

‘That’s not what we want with this,’ he adds.

‘We are all about trying to find creative ways forward for people.’

Leeds City Council is funding 30% of the project from the Right to Buy replacement scheme and The Crypt have also they secured 40% on a low-cost loan from LATCH (Leeds Action to Create Homes), payable back over 30 years.

They hope the experience of self-reliance in their own flat, coupled with the onsite member of staff to support and help in any way they can, will make it easier for the residents to cope with life in their own tenancy once they are ready to move on.

Cllr Debra Coupar, cabinet member for communities, told NewStart: ‘Through the scheme with the Crypt we are able to provide affordable housing in a different way.

‘We’re proud of it,’ she added.

As the commissioner, the council will have nomination rights and decide who is allocated a tenancy which Cllr Coupar says is crucial for the city if it is to get a grip on its growing homelessness crisis.

In 2017/18, the council dealt with 11,229 cases where people were either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

‘Ultimately there’s a real need in the city for this type of joined-up thinking,’ says Martin.

Big plans

First and foremost, Martin believes the accommodation at Regent Lodge will equip its residents with the tools to conquer addiction.

‘If you don’t address addiction the likelihood of it spiralling out of control is very high,’ he says.

‘They need health and wellbeing support and good quality housing.

‘These things lead to employability.’

Already in place at the Crypt are occupational therapists, physiotherapists, opticians as well as volunteering opportunities, which are all services they will offer at Regent Lodge.

It’s what they’ve done well for decades, but the next challenge is ensuring the new building is going to be financially sustainable.

‘We don’t want to get to the stage where there’s three or four of these schemes in development and an increasingly big burden of fundraising,’ he says.

‘So we’ll work with Leeds City Council to ensure the rent that we set is sustainable from the get-go,

‘It has to be done on a basis that we continue to understand and recognise the momentum that we can create but not overstretching ourselves,

‘In an ideal world, our development company will want to work with the trustees of the Crypt, so we can replicate this scheme fairly quickly.’

Cllr Coupar shares Martin’s aspirations and hopes the scheme could act as a trojan horse for similar projects in the city.

‘We hope this is the start of a new way of delivering different, affordable and supportive housing in the city,

‘We also hope other schemes will come forward, whether that’s through the Crypt or through other organisations so we could seriously look at the issue of not having enough housing for the people in the UK.’

Building blocks

Hilary Benn MP lays the foundation stone at Regent Lodge.

Last month building work got underway with a view to a 2019 opening.

The foundation stone was laid by local MP Hilary Benn, who called the work of St George’s Crypt ‘inspirational,’

‘Not only does the Crypt provide practical help at the moment when needed, but it also assists clients to move on in their lives through initiatives such as Regent Lodge,’ he added.

A second project is in development in New Wortley, which will be built in the shadow of Armley Prison, a place that has unfortunately housed many of their clients.

Their plans in New Wortley are even more ambitious. They hope to build 24 units of accommodation, including flats for those with children and couples.

It will also be located nearby to the New Wortley Community Centre, which is regarded as one of the best community hubs in Leeds and already offers a range of initiatives and training engagements.

‘When St George’s Crypt looks to develop in such a way, it’s not sensible for us to try to do everything ourselves,’ says Martin.

‘We need to plug in and partner up with people doing things already, such as the council, corporate sector or other interests.

‘St Georges Crypt cannot do this on their own,’ he says.

As figures produced by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed this week, a lack of housing is increasingly becoming a matter of life and death for many. They reported that in the last twelve months, 449 homeless people died on the UK’s streets.

‘The danger they are in is enormous,’ says Martin.

‘Common dignity says that one of the first things people can say about themselves is “I’ve got a place of my own”.’

Thomas Barrett

Journalist - follow him on Twitter

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