Empty homes to veterans’ village in a matter of weeks…
When Manchester City Council's Jude Millet first heard about an opportunity to support veterans by bringing empty homes back into use, she knew it was something she needed to find out more about.
Back in October 2014, Walking with the Wounded (WWTW) chief executive Ed Parker met with Nick Knowles from BBC's DIY SOS and developed an idea to bring a couple of empty homes back in to use, but once we showed them 25 'empties' on two streets, their original plan evolved into a full veterans’ village.
Manchester’s housing section took the lead by acting as a client, drawing together relevant council services – highways, planning, building control, regeneration, and Manchester Equipment and Adaptations Partnership – and bringing on board construction partners willing to work for free.
Kier, Wates, ISG, Wilmott Dixon, Arcus Consulting, BTP architects, Rowlinson, Keepmoat and Mears worked with the council, DIY SOS, WWTW and Haig Housing to develop and manage the build, and contribute supplies and labour.
Before the filming even began, a huge amount of free works were undertaken, including water pipe replacements by United Utilities (we weren’t expecting that!), new gas pipes to properties, rubbish clearance, and fumigation to deter vermin.
The discovery of miniscule amounts of asbestos in the mortar almost derailed the scheme – probably the result of an historical repointing job. The solution was to enclose it in white render, which gives the streets their distinctive look!
The two weeks when the BBC filmed were hectic but tremendous fun! Hundreds of smaller companies and one-man-bands were enlisted free of charge to support the larger contractors and the DIY SOS team to get through the huge amount of work.
There was a media frenzy, particularly the day Prince William and Prince Harry came to site! But nothing could beat the feeling of being part of a 'can do' team from all walks of life, helping veterans who had put everything on the line for their country.
The village hasn’t only provided homes for veterans within an existing community and a North West base for Walking with the Wounded with a shared house for veteran training, but also the face-lifting of all 62 properties and improvements to the street scene.
The veterans have settled in well and are really supporting each other. We have just received MoD Covenant funding to create alleyway gardens, which existing residents and the new veteran residents will create together and enjoy together. This is the real value of the village model - it helps veterans help and support each other within an established community.
Residents are now looking forward to more veterans and their families moving into the street this autumn to occupy a further 14 empties being refurbished by Kier on behalf of Haig Housing, who now own the properties.
And guess what? The DIY SOS team is back in September to refurbish the last two properties and create one larger adapted property. The programme will also feature other veteran projects around the country - so get in touch if there’s anything in your area that could be included.