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Breaking the homelessness cycle: YMCA building 39 modular flats in Romford

The open plan living space in the flats (credit: YMCA Thames Gateway)

Work is underway to build 39 flats at the YMCA in Romford to help its residents make their first step to move out of its hostel.

The modular flats are built off-site by construction company AECOM, then lifted into place using a crane.

The three-storey structure is due to be completed in October, with some of the hostel’s 148 residents then able to begin renting the flats as they continue their journey of getting their lives back on track.

“Many people come to us off the streets or from family breakdowns … and they have problems visualising what their future looks like,” said Brian Cook, the director of housing at YMCA Thames Gateway. “The first stage in our hostel is to help them visualise a future and start putting a plan in place.”

Residents are able to stay at the hostel, in Rush Green Road, for up to two years.

There, they can get advice and support on things like employment, education, and benefits.

Many then go on to stay at the YMCA’s ‘move-on’ accommodation across Havering, and the new modular flats take the number of those properties in the borough to 59.

The site of the new build in Rush Green Road, Romford (credit: YMCA Thames Gateway)

Rents at the flats are much lower than the market price.

Brian said: “Some people are able to move on quite quickly from our hostel, some people need a lot more time but this gives them a really good starting point; an affordable starting point.

The residents can stay in the move-on flats for up to five years and, unlike in the hostel, can live with a partner.

“By having a partner, you’ve then got two incomes and it’s easier for them to build a deposit for their next step,” Brian says. “We have a lot of our residents move on to shared ownership or help-to-buy schemes.

“This gives them an opportunity to save up those deposits that a lot of young people struggle to do when they want to buy their own home.”

The partnership with AECOM and the use of modular flats means the design has been tailored to meet the residents’ needs.

Brian tells Time 107.5FM: “We’ve spent a lot of time with AECOM, sitting down, going through the design of the building, continuously re-tuning and refining because it has to meet our residents’ expectations as well as our own.

“We’ve used our residents’ feedback on what they would like from a home, what bits they miss (while living in the hostel) and we’ve incorporated that into the design of this building.

“Our customers have fed into what their home might look like in the future. In any other circumstance, we would always choose the home we want. Our residents don’t have the same luxury but this allows them to influence what their home looks like.”

The bedroom of the flats (credit: YMCA Thames Gateway)

Those staying at the YMCA can apply for the flats but there is a stringent set of criteria.

“These properties are being built specifically for move-on accommodation for residents in our main hostel,” Brian says. “They have to be in the hostel for at least six months (beforehand) because we need to work with them to ensure they’re able to sustain a tenancy.

“We try and break the cycle of homelessness and we need to make sure people aren’t going to fail.”

Other factors which will be used to decide which residents will go into the modular flats include:

• Their ability to maintain a tenancy by keeping up with rent payments
• How well they’ve engaged with the YMCA’s support services
• How they respond to their support plans

The bathroom of the new flats (credit: YMCA Thames Gateway)

“39 units to us is a big number for the YMCA,” Brian says. “(But) for the wider housing challenge, it’s a drop in the ocean. We don’t want to be saying ‘this is it, we’ve done our part,’ we’ve got a number of other sites we’re looking at developing on. We’re looking at what partnerships out there we can get involved with to create homes for people.”

Brian also says the YMCA’s main building, which dominates the skyline near Roneo Corner, is nearly 50-years-old and needs to be redeveloped.

For more on this story, and the latest on our other local and national news, listen to Time 107.5FM

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