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Saturday, 27 February 2021

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Bristol charity building up to create eco-home community on city centre roof

A Bristol-based charity is building up to create 15 new low-carbon, affordable eco-homes on the roof of its city centre office.

The proposal by homelessness charity Emmaus Bristol, which has been met with support by the community in St Pauls during a consultation, is expected to receive a decision on its planning application in mid-February.

By utilising free land – the air space – on the roof of the charity’s office and retail space at Backfields House, Emmaus Bristol is hoping to create a new rooftop community. This will include 11 one-bedroom two-storey homes, 3 two-bedroom single storey homes, 1 one-bedroom single-story home, and food growing and shared amenity space.

Emmaus Bristol supports people who have been homeless or socially excluded. The charity provides up to 30 people at a time with a home for as long as they need it within a communal setting, as well as providing self-contained family homes and shared move-on accommodation.

The main motivation behind the initiative is to provide affordable homes for people who are ready to move out of the charity’s supported housing.

Chief Executive, Jessica Hodge, explains:

“We offer more than just a bed for the night. When someone joins our Emmaus Bristol community, they work full-time in our shops to gain new skills and build up their CV, and receive daily support, mentoring and training so they can rebuild their life. There is no time limit on the support we provide, and people can stay with us for as long as they need, whether that is a few months or years.

“Some of the people we support eventually and understandably want their own home and their own independence, but then struggle to find affordable rented homes to move into or meet significant barriers to private rented accommodation such as cost, competition, credit ratings and references. The aim of our rooftop development will give people the option to live independently when they are ready to, but still, keep them connected to Emmaus Bristol and the support we can provide if they need it.”

The charity believes that community-led housing within the city of Bristol is vital in helping people recover from homelessness, as well as combat loneliness and isolation.

Jessica added:

“A healthy and sustainable community is knowing your neighbours and being connected to those around you. It is important that the move-on accommodation we provide has a sense of community even with independent living space. We have seen people leave Emmaus Bristol for more affordable areas only to really struggle in a new area, with no job and no community around them.”

At least 50% of the homes will be for rent at Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, with the rest available at market rents. The homes will be available to people moving on from Emmaus as well as others, some through referrals and some through the open market. Each home will have its own private space but will be well connected to a shared landscaped courtyard and rooftop garden allotment for both communal and private use by residents.

The layout and design, developed by Agile Homes, aims to make the most out of Emmaus Bristol’s current land resource and will have a light carbon footprint, making them cheap to run with energy use up to 90% lower than a conventionally built home.

Craig White, CEO at Agile Homes, said:

“Working with Emmaus Bristol, we are pleased to have come up with a unique way to deliver low-carbon, affordable homes. Unlocking a land supply hidden in plain sight, in the heart of the City, on the rooftop of Backfields House, means we will be helping a new community come together in a place that will be beautiful, affordable and resilient.”

Engagement with current residents at the Emmaus Bristol community throughout the design process was vital for the charity to determine what people would want when moving on to independent living. Responses guided the design of the development to include having a sense of community whilst also being independent, not feeling isolated, and having the option to join in with the Emmaus Bristol community if needed.

Dave, 62, is currently living at Emmaus Bristol after struggling with depression for many years and spending one month homeless, sleeping in a tent. Dave believes that the companionship Emmaus offers within its communal building is a real safety net to everyone that is supported by the charity.

Dave said:

“Hearing that I had been accepted at the Emmaus Bristol community was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, I wouldn’t have lasted much longer out in the cold. Not only has Emmaus Bristol given me a place to live, but I have the companionship of all the other people living in the community too. Before I got evicted from my flat, I was on my own and depressed with no self-esteem.

“I didn’t really care that much about myself. I have now been anti-depressant free for more than a year and I know that when I need to be in company, all I’ve got to do is go downstairs and there will be somebody to chat to. When the new rooftop homes are built, they will hopefully provide the opportunity for people at Emmaus Bristol to take the next step in life, and that same feeling of community when someone needs it.”

Emmaus Bristol and Agile Homes have received confirmation that a decision is expected in mid-February. The charity will then move to the next stage of development, including securing capital funding, appointing contractors and completing technical design work. Revenue funding for the project has already been provided by Homes England’s Community Housing Fund.

A virtual tour of the homes can be seen at: www.emmausbristol.org.uk/bristol-projects

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