A state-of-the-art temporary housing site to help homeless families remain in Wokingham borough has been shortlisted for an industry award as it nears completion.
The 23 modular timber-clad units at Grovelands Park in Winnersh will provide comfortable and dignified surroundings as their occupants await more permanent accommodation. They will offer a high standard of energy efficiency, helping Wokingham Borough Council honour its climate emergency pledge to do everything it can to make the borough a net-zero carbon producer by 2030.
Funding comes from money already earmarked for improving housing stock and, as the authority grapples with spiralling costs like inflation and energy bills, is expected to save hundreds of thousands of pounds a year on more expensive bed and breakfast places. Despite the financial challenges it faces, the council has affirmed its commitment to protecting essential services for vulnerable residents.
Cllr Stephen Conway, the authority’s deputy leader and executive member for housing, said: “Given the rising cost of living and our announcements about the need for savings, we know many residents may be feeling anxious about the future.
"We hope this investment, which will more than pay off in the long run, shows we’re still here to protect them and keep families together at times of adversity.”
Progress to be proud of as completion nears
Installation at Grovelands Park started this spring and now 20 units are in place, and are being furnished ready for occupation next year, when construction finishes. They are modular, meaning they’re built offsite and craned into place – which saves time, reduces disruption and is better for the environment.
The 50 sq m, double-stacked homes each have their own toilet and bathroom plus open-plan lounge, dining room and kitchen. One will remain single-storey and will be adapted for households including members with disabilities.
They replace 12 old prefabricated mobile units, which had reached the end of their natural life and were no longer economical to repair, and should last for more than 50 years.
The site was recently visited by the members of the council’s Tenant and Landlord Improvement Panel, which works to ensure continuous improvement within its housing service. The group, which included Cllr Conway, were shown inside a completed unit and were impressed by the standard of living which the finished scheme will offer.
Meanwhile Rollalong, a modular construction specialist which is one of three partners in this project, has just been named a finalist in the Off-Site Innovation of the Year category of this year’s London Construction Awards.
The council is pleased to have supported the firm’s nomination as it recognises the importance of building to modern and eco-friendly standards while caring for its residents. Its other two partners are architect Edgington Spink + Hyne and procurement specialists LHC.
Investing to improve lives - and save money
Cllr Conway said: “I’m delighted that this project has received external recognition, which Rollalong thoroughly deserved – but, of course, its purpose is to serve residents rather than pursue awards.
“As well as being good for the planet and cutting unnecessary costs, providing high-quality temporary housing will help homeless local families to feel safe and well at an uncertain and distressing time. It will reduce our reliance on expensive bed and breakfasts, saving money at a time of unprecedented financial pressure and allowing people to remain closer to their schools, jobs, friends and relatives.
“People usually become homeless through circumstances outside their control and they shouldn’t become isolated from these important support networks as a result.”
The new homes have modern, reliable heating and are highly insulated with double glazing to reduce energy costs. They also have misting systems, an advanced type of sprinkler which can target the exact location of a fire, on the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s advice.
There are rooftop solar panels, which can store energy in large batteries on site to further reduce electricity costs, as part of the council’s ongoing drive to improve energy efficiency across its properties.
Some homes will also trial air source heat pumps, an environmentally friendly heating system that draws warmth from outside into the home. Grovelands Park itself will be upgraded with improved parking and drainage as well as two electric vehicle charging points.
Always here for those in need
The council is committed to finding long-term, sustainable solutions to the problems of homelessness and rough sleeping. Earlier this year, it launched its first permanent Housing First service for former rough sleepers by purchasing four flats with Government funding which are now let.
This new housing and support service offers a stable base for people to rebuild their lives with intensive support from the Two Saints outreach service and the council would like to expand it in future.
Following the global coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, the council placed 100 people who were sleeping on the streets, or in danger of doing so, in temporary accommodation. It continued to do so long after its obligations under the Government’s “Everyone In” emergency measures ended.
The work is part of a wider homelessness and rough sleeping strategy, which aims to fight the problem at its roots through measures like early intervention, affordable housing and job opportunities.
Anyone in the borough who is at risk of becoming homeless, or who knows someone who is, can seek support on the council's website.
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