Almshouses play an important role in social housing provision
23 Jul 2019
The severe shortage of affordable rental accommodation in the UK means that almshouses are more important than ever in providing low cost housing for families and the over 55s. Today more than 35,000 people live in almshouses, supported by charities and not paid for by the taxpayer. In our own Village, Girton Town Charity funds ten almshouses, with more in the pipeline to meet the growing demand for housing provision in the future.
Girton enjoys a long history of providing almshouses which goes back to the start of the 19thcentury when homes were located at Camping Close in Cambridge Road and between the Old Rectory (now the Cambridge Academy of English) and St Andrew's Church. The first of the current almshouses were built in the 1930s on land owned by the Charity in the High Street and four more in Michael's Close were added in the 1960s.
GTC Chairman Dr Robin Hiley says: “As an almshouse charity, we provide 100% of the funding to build new homes and do not rely on support from the taxpayer. We currently have seven GTC almshouses at Centenary Court in Wellbrook Way and one each in Girton Road, St Vincent’s Close and Fairway. All these two and three bedroom unfurnished homes are made available to those with a Girton connection.
“As they are let as almshouses, they are subject to different legal arrangements from private, council or housing association tenancies. Residents are ‘appointees’, not ‘tenants’, live in the house under licence and pay a maintenance contribution, not rent. As they are almshouses there is no ‘right-to-buy’ or opportunity for shared equity
“We advertise vacancies locally for which residents can apply and be interviewed. Decisions are made after careful consideration on the basis of a wide range of criteria.”
With GTC almshouses, residency is limited to a maximum of three years except for those over the age of 55 or in the case of disability.
In addition to the homes at Centenary Court which havegreen features and energy efficient insulation and heating systems, there are two projects in the pipeline to expand the portfolio of almshouses to meet future demand for housing.
On the former WI Site, work is due to start shortly on building three terraced almshouses. Called Suffolk Terrace as the hut was originally used by the Suffolk Regiment, these two and three bedroom homes will be accessed directly from the High Street and include one parking space per house and a private garden with its own amenity area incorporating recycling bin storage. All include high levels of insulation and energy efficient heating systems.
The development is two storey in keeping with the other residential properties surrounding the site. Great care has been taken to ensure the materials used will be complementary to the existing character and colour palette of the area, with the exteriors featuring red brick and render with Tuscan clay tiles.
The second major almshouse project is on High Street where proposed plans to provide 14-16 homes for over 55s are being developed for submission to South Cambridgeshire District Council.
Each property has been designed to meet the future needs of the elderly to allow for extended independent living, with easy wheelchair access and bathrooms equipped as wet rooms.
Parking spaces are proposed, including two for the GTC office.
The gardens are designed to be the centre of this community with small individual areas for ground floor homes and communal spaces. Neighbouring gardens will be screened with hedging and trees.
The new project replaces six bungalows in Michael's Close, in addition to the current GTC office, which were all built in the 1930s and 1960s and no longer provide adequate accommodation, in terms of comfort, energy-efficiency and modern facilities.
21st century living
The Almshouse Association is a charity that supports almshouse providers in their task to provide suitable accommodation for their appointees. It says: “Almshouse charities today have to invest heavily in the modernisation and updating of almshouse dwellings to provide 21st century living, either in building new, contemporary, purpose-built flats and bungalows or by refurbishing buildings.
“Standards of accommodation are continually rising, with technology playing an increasing part in making life easier. Disabled access, internet connection, electronic doors and sophisticated alarms all contribute towards enabling residents to remain independent in their homes for as long as possible.”
GTC’s provision of almshouses is welcomed by members of both South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council.
Councillor Hazel Smith, Lead Cabinet Member for Housing, Member for Milton and Waterbeach Ward, South Cambridgeshire District Council says: “All forms of affordable housing are very important to allow people to live fulfilling lives in their own homes, in this area where housing is so expensive. Girton Town Charity has the means to provide homes for local people in a unique way, and can make a valuable contribution to the provision of housing that is affordable for local people in Girton to live in. Housing suitable for older people moving on from family homes is particularly needed. South Cambridgeshire District Council is committed to encouraging community-led development in our villages and we are looking forward to working with them on their plans.”
Cambridgeshire County Councillor Lynda Harford adds: “GTC’s almshouses play a very important role in providing homes for those with a connection to Girton. South Cambridgeshire District Council’s housing register currently shows eight applicants over 55 with connections to Girton who need age-appropriate affordable accommodation. The new projects to increase the number of almshouses will help meet this growing demand.”
GTC is inviting Girton residents to get in touch if they or members of their family think they would benefit from living in almshouse accommodation. The Trustees would also welcome the support of Village residents who share its ambition to provide affordable housing to meet future housing needs.