Project for homeless rises from ashes

Liz Coates One of Great Yarmouth's most important old buildings is looking to the future helping young people who are unable to live at home find hope and opportunity.

Liz Coates

One of Great Yarmouth's most important old buildings is looking to the future helping young people who are unable to live at home find hope and opportunity.

The pioneering scheme is being hailed a triumph and a first for Norfolk with the first teenage tenants, some of whom will be leaving care, getting the keys to the 17-bed managed home with training and educational guidance in January.

Meanwhile up to 30 builders are 18 months into the £3.1m project to transform the former Bretts furniture store on the corner of Market Row and Howard Street North.

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Borough conservation officer and project leader Stephen Earl said it was a fantastic reuse of a derelict building, parts of which dated to the 16th century.

But more than a decade after a massive blaze gutted the neighbouring Courts building its reinvention came in the nick of time with construction expert Paul Quinn estimating that without intervention the Grade II listed building was months away from collapse.

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Mr Earl said there was a problem with hidden homeless among the 16-25 age group with many young people staying with friends and sleeping on settees and floors.

And although the number of people homeless overall was falling, there had been little change in the numbers of young people presenting themselves as homeless - 76 out of a total of 170 in the borough, he added.

The site comprises the Bretts building, the remains of a 16th century cottage and the former Talbot pub which has been totally re-fronted and remodelled.

Bretts retains many handsome features from its days as the local Liberal Club, where local politics were played out beneath elaborate plaster ceilings which are being expertly restored.

Mr Earl added it was an exceptionally complicated scheme with 11 funding partners.

Technical difficulties included subsidence caused by hidden wells and culverts and the workmanship of Victorian “modernisers” who took out supporting walls.

Nevertheless Mr Earl stressed that despite the incredibly complicated work a quality scheme was being delivered on time and to budget.

Training facilities including a recording studio and bank of computers will be in the basement, with reception, “crash rooms”, en-suite bedrooms, kitchen and laundry in the next three floors with a top floor common room - all accessible via a lift.

Two support workers will be on site day and night.

The Bretts project follows the impressive new-build on the former Courts site which has reinstated the medieval shop frontage and added new homes.

Mr Earl described it as an innovative scheme which gave an important and listed building a re-use of great social importance. He added it would lead to a significant reduction in youth homelessness and encourage the borough-council referred tenants into education, employment or training.

Norfolk County Council is providing the annual budget to run the scheme. About 60 to 70 teenagers leave care each year and lack the support of a normal family.

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