In 2008 Changing Lives was asked to support a struggling housing provider in County Durham. They had a great site, but the accommodation was dilapidated and the previous owners didn’t have any funds to refurbish.

The accommodation was spread across a number of small, 4 and 5 bedroom chalets dispersed across the entire site. Although there were 65 rooms on site, only 45 were in use. The remaining 20 were uninhabitable.

It should have been a short-term service but some residents had been living there for decades. We know that moving between accommodation and rough sleeping is difficult for our clients and offering them somewhere safe and secure to live enables them to address any issues stopping them from living an independent and happy life.

In 2009, after discussion with the provider and residents, Changing Lives bought the site and took over the running of the service to see if we could update the accommodation and the service.

We could really see the potential of the 4.2 hectare rural site and were excited about the prospect of turning this service around. We had already completed a number of major developments and learnt a lot along the way, including designing for engagement and employing service users on the build. This was a great opportunity for residents, enabling them to build up their self-esteem and life skills.

Our first step was to involve the residents already living there to find out what changes would make most difference to their lives. We then started to draw up plans based on this. We knew that to redesign and renovate the whole site would take major capital investment and could involve disrupting the service so we opted for a staged approach.

We could see straight away that there was a major issue on site with substance misuse. We prioritized renovating one of the houses on site to operate as an abstinence house and treatment rooms using investment from the NTA to support our residents through the recovery process.

Our journey continued after being awarded £500k from Places for Change to build a new welcoming reception, dining room, gym and training space. This was completed in 2011 and involved employing another two residents from the site on the build which was a great achievement.

Clients started to engage much more with us, becoming more motivated and working towards their set goals and targets. The need for more meaningful activities on site was clear. Positive activities encourage our residents to adopt a healthy lifestyle. The gym was a popular activity and residents wanted to have more outdoor activities to take part in. We invested some of our own reserves to build a multi-use games area for residents, increasing well-being.

By now we were already seeing a significant improvement in the outcomes for our clients and all of the long-term residents had moved into their own or more suitable accommodation, gaining more independence to move forward with their lives.

The final part of the jigsaw fell into place in 2011 when we secured £1.8m from the HCA to rethink, redesign and rebuild the accommodation. A further three service users were employed on this phase. This enormous funding and refurbishment opportunity was part of an overall bid made by our development partner, Esh Group, who worked on the building and refurbishment of the service.

The service you see today has come a long way from the run down site we inherited 6 years ago. We now have state of the art 3-tiered accommodation with an exceptional staff team. We believe that everyone is valued as an individual and all deserve a safe environment to live in, an environment which our clients tell us makes a massive difference to their lives.