New £2 million homeless hostel in Harrogate is launched

Harrogate’s provision for the homeless took a major step forward this week with the completion of a ground-breaking project costing more than £2 million.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 9:41 am
Updated Thursday, 15th April 2021, 9:45 am
Helping single homeless people - Fern House in Harrogate.

The opening of the two-storey Fern House hostel in Spa Lane in Starbeck was an occasion of some pride for Harrogate Borough Council who took the rare step of carrying out the development in-house, partly funded by a major grant from Homes England. It comes after a rise in the number of people accessing the council’s services for homelessness of 50 per cent since the beginning of the pandemic.

Coun Mike Chambers, Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for safer communities, said: “This new accommodation not only provides a temporary roof over the head of single people in need but also provides a safe and comfortable environment.

“It provides an opportunity for us to work with individual occupants to helping them off the street and into more permanent accommodation with all the necessary ongoing support.”

Boasting 19 self-contained bedrooms with bathroom and cooking area, the aim of keeping the project in-house was to ensure the new facility fully met the town’s specific needs in a way that safeguarded financial costs in the long run.

Jamie Sheffield, the council’s operations manager, said: “We used our own staff as much as we could on the build - plumbers, joiners and electricians - and only turned to contractors when we didn’t have the right skillsets.

“That allowed us to create a facility exactly the way we wanted it in a way that meets the needs of its residents and leaves the building more easily maintained with a flexibility for changes in the future.

“The people working on it understood what we were doing and why. It’s been a collaborative approach from the start.”

The end result of work which began in 2019 on a rough piece of land used as a car park is a facility which is a huge leap forward on the council’s previous single homeless accomodation in Robert Street which no longer met people’s needs.

Maggie Gibson, the council’s housing needs officer, said: “The Robert Street hostel only had 11 rooms and only two of them were self-contained.

“We would end up having to put people up in B&Bs, which is expensive for the council. Shared accommodation can also make it more difficult for individuals to deal with social and mental health issues and for us to help them.”

The idea behind Fern House is not to offer permanent accommodation for the homeless.

It’s to offer them a safe roof over their head while local agencies work to enable them to take their lives back in the right direction.

To this end, the new building also includes a sizeable community space for workshops with support agencies from the wider community.

Maggie Gibson said: “Fern House will never be anyone’s permanent home.

“We try to help not just single people who have already become homeless but people who fear they might be about to become so

“Homelessness has got worse in Harrogate during the pandemic for a variety of reasons.

“There’s been an increase in levels of domestic violence and people whose financial situation has changed.

“The beauty of Fern House is it allows us to move their lives on quickly by bringing in a support network of other local agencies.”

It is expected that the opening week of Fern House will see nine of the rooms occupied at first.

There is pride that this has been a team effort and a local effort. Even the architects, GSS Architecture, hail from Harrogate.

Madeleine Bell, the council’s head of housing and property, said: “We thought about the quality of the build and about its whole life costs because we will be the ones maintaining it.

“The end result has exceeded our wildest expectations.”

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