Work commences on ground-breaking new housing scheme

Development of a specialist housing scheme for the over 55’s in the centre of Chester-le-Street has got underway.

Representatives from local housing provider, Cestria Community Housing and their partners attended a ground-breaking ceremony to mark the start of development of The Elms, which will consist of 57 new homes.

Also in attendance to officially cut the first sod was local resident, Jean Laws, a former warden of 24 years who lived and worked at Chester-le-Street Lawson Court where The Elms is being developed.

The £6.5m development, which lies south west of the town centre on the Garden Farm Estate, will consist of 47 two-bedroom apartments, 4 one-bedroom apartments, 2 two-bedroom detached bungalows and 4 two-bedroom semi-detached bungalows available for rent, or sale on a leasehold or shared ownership basis.

When complete, the scheme will also include a range of communal residential and support spaces within the main block and facilities that can be used by residents and the wider community including a beauty/treatment room, IT suite, internet café, laundry, community allotment and office/community exhibition space.

The Elms, which has also received £1.76 million of funding from the Department of Health’s (DoH) Care and Support Specialised Housing Fund, responds to the recommendations set out in ‘The HAPPI Report’ – a Government report which aims to encourage a healthy and active lifestyle for people aged 55 and over.

To ensure the homes meet the changing needs of residents, all units within the scheme will be built to comply with a number of design standards, including the Habinteg Wheelchair Design Guide, Lifetime Homes and Design Quality Standards, and are expected to achieve BREEAM Very Good rating for its low carbon design.

Features including maximised natural light, adaptable communal spaces and access to outdoor space such as gardens and allotments have all been designed with residents’ wellbeing in mind.

The bathrooms have been designed with flush floor showers and can be adapted to meet each resident’s needs, while the kitchens will be fully fitted with a separate oven and hob and spaces for washer, drier/dishwasher and fridge freezer.

In addition to the communal gardens and allotment area, individual apartments and bungalows will have their own outside space such as a patio, balcony area or garden.

Paul Fiddaman, Chief Executive of Cestria Community Housing, said:

“This is a significant milestone for the association and to see construction works get underway on what will become a revolutionary development is really exciting.

“The design concept behind The Elms will not only change the general perception of older people’s housing, but also the lifestyle and wellbeing of this demographic in the future. Locally, there is a severe shortage of high-quality housing for the over 55s, and The Elms will go some way to meeting that strategic housing need.”

Lee Francis, Area Director from national housing and regeneration specialists, Keepmoat who were appointed to develop the scheme, said:

“We are pleased to commence works on this development which will help people to live independently by giving them high quality housing that meets their needs now and in the future.

“The Elms will not only benefit local people in Chester-le-Street but also people right across the region and we are delighted to be involved in the delivery of this flagship scheme. I am sure The Elms will make a positive difference to people aged 55 and over in the area.”

Jean Laws, 67 commented:

“I really appreciate being invited along to start construction on what will become an exciting new development. I was sad to see Lawson Court demolished after working and living there for so long but I am looking forward to seeing how development of the Elms progresses over time – so much so that I have even put my name down to be considered to live there.”

Karen Anderson, Area manager at the Homes and Communities Agency said:

“Cestria have managed to create a development that takes into account different peoples’ needs and using the natural landscape to build into a slope to provide different levels of support is a brilliant idea. The Elms is in a fantastic location to ensure that residents continue to be part of the wider community, and for the wider community to use some of the facilities in The Elms. The £1.7m investment from the Care and Support Specialised Housing Fund has made a real difference to the quality of life for residents.”

Cllr Eddie Tomlinson, Cabinet member for housing with Durham County Council, said:

“This is an exciting new development which will benefit lots of people, helping them to live independently.”

The architect for The Elms is JDDK and Cestria will work in partnership with Durham County Council, Keepmoat, health and social care professionals and service users to develop the scheme, which is expected to be completed by Spring 2015.