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Minister launches ‘Ending Homelessness Action Plan’ with new funding for private rented sector to play their part

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The Welsh Government say their commitment to end homelessness will be made clear in the Senedd later today as Climate Change Minister Julie James launches the Ending Homelessness Action Plan.

The Minister, who says that when homelessness occurs it should be ‘rare, brief and unrepeated’, will also announce a new £30million funding pot over five years for local authorities. 

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Under the Private Rented Sector Leasing Scheme, private property owners will be encouraged to lease their properties to local authorities in return for a rent guarantee and additional funding to improve the condition of their property.

Local authorities can then use these properties to provide affordable and good quality homes for people who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

Tenants will benefit from the security of long-term tenures of between five to 20 years and help to maintain their stay in a long-term home, such as mental health support or debt and money management advice.

This sits alongside the Welsh Government’s ambitious plan to build 20,000 low carbon, good quality and affordable homes for rent over the next five years.

The Homelessness Action Plan builds on the unprecedented work undertaken by local authorities, social landlords, public services and third sector partners, who have provided accommodation and support for more than 15,000 people experiencing or threatened with homelessness during the pandemic.

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The Plan has been shaped by the recommendations of the independent expert Homelessness Action Group, reflecting the changes required to prevent homelessness and make the shift to rapid rehousing so that people are in temporary accommodation for the shortest possible time.

The plan makes clear the need to prevent the problems that lead to homelessness from happening in the first place so homelessness can finally be ended in Wales.

The causes of homelessness extend well beyond access and availability of affordable homes. Ending homelessness is a cross-sector, cross-government priority relevant to health, social services, education, criminal justice, community services and our wider economy.

All this is recognised within the Action Plan, as is the need for wide-reaching legislative and policy reform.

Yesterday the Minister met Jonathan Lewis, 42, from Swansea. Jonathan has overcome huge challenges throughout his childhood, teenage and adult life and has finally been able to find and thrive in a secure home.

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As an adult, Jonathan found himself sofa surfing or sleeping in his car for extended periods of his life.

After receiving a network of support, Jonathan now lives in a good quality and affordable one bedroom home rented to him by Caredig, and works full-time for the Wallich, helping homeless people like he once was, into supported housing.

Jonathan says: “The last few years have been the hardest and most rewarding I have ever had.

“I’ve never had a house, I’ve never had my own property – it’s given me the push I needed – it’s given me something I don’t want to lose. Someone has put that trust in me, that I’m worthy enough to have something decent in life.

“I pinch myself that I’ve come from a bedsit to something so beautiful. I used to sofa surf or sleep in my car, but now I have my own home. And I pay for this with the money I earn. It makes me really proud. I keep it spotless!

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“In my new job I support people in the situation that I’ve also been in, to show them that life can be different and here’s how to make it better. I just want to help people like I’ve been helped.”

Minister for Climate Change Julie James said: “Meeting Jonathan today – who really is an inspiration – just shows the importance to every-one of a decent, affordable and stable home. As well as all the hard work Jonathan has put in, services have worked together to give him the support he needs. This means Jonathan is now in a good position to provide this support to others facing hardship and potential homelessness.

“I want to say thank you again for the extraordinary work of those working in homelessness and housing support services across local authorities, registered social landlords and the third sector. Each and every day they work to help and support those without a home.  They transform lives, they offer hope and they have undoubtedly saved many lives throughout this pandemic. They should be proud of all they have done and continue to do. My priority now is to build on our successes to prevent homelessness and ensure that when it does, it is rare, brief and unrepeated”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “It was a privilege to meet Jonathan today and hear how after being supported into his own home, he has truly flourished. Everyone should have that same opportunity, so we welcome this bold and vital plan to end homelessness in Wales. 

“The Welsh Government-led response to the pandemic has not only delivered decisive action to prevent and reduce homelessness during the public health emergency but has laid strong foundations for ensuring the long-lasting, positive impact of the progress made over recent years.  

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“This plan rightly recognises that the work done to ensure no one is left out of support must continue, as must the joined-up approach across services in ending homelessness as a public health issue. It shows how we can put the measures in place to prevent homelessness wherever possible and respond as quickly as possible when people lose their homes. We look forward to working with the Welsh Government, councils, health services and other charities in putting it into action.”

Liz Green, Consultant in Public Health, Policy and International Health at Public Health Wales, and co-author of new Health Impact Assessment report, ‘No place like home?’, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic, and measures to reduce transmission of the virus, has had many wide-ranging impacts on the population of Wales, and has led to many people spending more time in their homes, highlighting the importance of good quality, affordable and secure housing.

“The need for security in relation to having, and keeping, a home and being surrounded by a safe and consistent home environment, and its impact on both physical and mental health and well-being has long been recognised. During times of uncertainty, such as in the COVID-19 pandemic, a home can provide a secure and stable base for individuals and households in order to help them live and work through and ultimately recover from the pandemic and its effects.

“The action plan will be timely for tackling inequalities, particularly those exacerbated by the pandemic.”

Jonathan’s Story

Jonathan Lewis, 42

Jonathan had a shaky start in life. His much-loved ‘Nana’, who he lived with alone, sadly passed away when Jonathan was just seven. He then experienced domestic violence within his family home at a young age.

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He was exposed to shoplifting and petty crime in his day-to-day life growing up. Jonathan’s step-dad even used to take him on outings to break into cars at night. Though he says he has fond memories [aged eight] of eating beans on toast in the police station with his brother after his step-dad had been arrested, he ponders over how it all felt ‘completely normal’ to him at the time.

Jonathan put himself into care at 12 years old when home became ‘too much to handle’. As a result of this early trauma, he started using drugs.

At aged 15, Jonathan was sent to a young offenders’ institute for the first time.

Though Jonathan had briefly settled at aged 20 to have children, without support to address his early trauma he continued to use drugs to numb the pain of his past.

His mental ill health resulting from his past trauma were further compounded by homelessness, as he found himself sofa surfing and sleeping in his car. He was at an all-time low aged 30. Jonathan turned to heroin to self-medicate, resulting in further offending- for which Jonathan is very remorseful- and a longer spell in prison.

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In prison, Jonathan worked hard, with access to support, to turn his life around. He signed up to a twelve-step drugs recovery programme and soon gained qualifications after taking part in cookery and other courses that were offered to him.

On leaving prison, Jonathan was helped to access supported housing for people dealing with past trauma and mental ill health, and picked up work here and there in kitchens and on building sites.

In 2018, Jonathan was given the keys to his new home. A one-bedroom property leased to him by Caredig.

Thanks to his determination, access to stable housing and support to address his early trauma, he’s been able to turn his life around.

Now, Jonathan works full-time for The Wallich, where he helps people experiencing homelessness, just like he did, into a permanent home, with the support they need to fulfil their potential.

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Jonathan says: “The last few years have been the hardest of my life as I’ve had to mentally adjust. I don’t have drugs to numb the pain anymore so I have to face head on what has happened to me and the impact I have had on others too. They’ve been the hardest but the most rewarding I have ever had.

“I’ve never had a home, I’ve never had my own property – it’s given me the push I needed – it’s given me something I don’t want to lose. Someone has put that trust in me, that I’m worthy enough to have something decent in life.

“I pinch myself that I’ve come from a bedsit to something so beautiful. I used to sofa surf or sleep in my car, but now I have my own home. And I pay for this with the money I earn. It makes me really proud. I keep it spotless!

“In my new job I support people in the situation that I’ve also been in, to show them that life can be different and here’s how to make it better. I have so much thanks for all the people that have given me a chance, trusted and enabled me to turn my life around. Now I just want to help people like I’ve been helped.”

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Construction

Towering crane shows progress at the Palace

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Swansea has a new tall crane on the cityscape, showing that progress is being made on the transformation of the historic Palace Theatre building.

The temporary new landmark is part of work by South Wales-based contractor R&M Williams Ltd on behalf of Swansea Council.

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The 134-year-old grade two listed building is being transformed sensitively into a home to tech, start-up and creative businesses.

The six-storey flatiron-shaped structure was acquired by the council from private owners around two years ago; it had fallen into disrepair and was in danger of being lost.

Work began on site in the autumn and the building could reopen next year. The project is being assisted with funding from the Welsh Government’s Transforming Towns programme.

The council has appointed Tramshed Tech as the lead tenant to run the building.

Council leader Rob Stewart said: “It’s great to see another towering crane on Swansea’s skyline – it shows that regeneration here is moving at pace, making Swansea a place where business, families and individuals want to be.

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“This excellent council project will bring new life to one of the city’s most iconic buildings.”

Palace Theatre prior to the start of renovation work starting (Image: Swansea Council)
Artist’s impression of what the interior of the Palace will look like (Image: Swansea Council)

Cabinet member Robert Francis-Davies said: “I’m delighted that work on prestigious project is progressing well.”

As a theatre, the Palace staged performances with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Sir Anthony Hopkins.

However, under private ownership, it fell into disuse; it became derelict.

It is being transformed sensitively by R&M Williams Ltd who have a track record of working with heritage buildings, including £4m refurbishment projects at the grade two listed Penarth Pier Pavilion and Empire House, an iconic 1920s Cardiff landmark.

Early work being assisted by the crane includes installing a temporary roof.

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This will enable the removal of the existing, dilapidated roof and, in due course, the installation of a new roof. 

The temporary roof will provide protection to the building once the existing roof is removed.

The crane is also assisting with lifting materials to high levels due to the restricted access around the site.

(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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Construction

Social Housing provider given go-ahead for two new developments in Margam and Neath

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Tai Tarian has unveiled plans for two major housing developments. 

The Neath Port Talbot-based social housing provider has had the go-ahead to build a total of 77 new homes across two sites. 25 properties will be built at Pant Celydd in Margam whilst a further 52 will be built off Meadow Road in Neath. 

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The Margam development will see a variety of property types built including flats, and family homes. Local builders, CJ Construction will build the properties with work due to start in the spring and expected to take around 18 months to complete. 

At Eaglesbush Valley, just off Meadow Road in Neath, Tai Tarian and their partners Jones Brothers will build a total of 52 new properties, in what is one of the organisation’s biggest developments to date. Once again, the project will consist of a variety of properties, including flats, large family homes and bungalows. 

As with all recent Tai Tarian builds, the new properties will be environmentally friendly, containing features such as high levels of insulation, highly efficient heating systems and integrated solar panels. They will also feature extra ventilation and LED lighting. 

As well as starting work on these two new projects, work is also continuing at five other sites. 

At Sandfields in Port Talbot, a major refurbishment is underway of the County Flats on Aberavon seafront. This landmark project is seeing the housing provider build 55 new flats and completely renovate a further 72. The project will use innovative technology and cutting-edge construction methods to create some of the most sustainable homes in Wales. 

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Elsewhere, work is continuing at Cae Nant Terrace in Skewen and Windsor Road in Neath, whilst developments at Melin Close in Melin and Llys Wern in Caewern are nearing completion.  

Speaking about the new developments, Tai Tarian Chief Executive, Linda Whittaker said: “Building new, sustainable homes for rent is a big part of what we do. Over the past few years, we have built almost 100 homes and I am delighted to see that our programme will be continuing in 2022 with these two new developments. 

“There is a demand for affordable, energy efficient homes and by building a range of houses, flats and bungalows we can ensure that the needs of the people in our communities are met. 

“We are also pleased that local construction companies CJ Construction and Jones Brothers are undertaking these projects. This ensures that as much of our investment as possible remains in the local economy and benefits our communities.  We also know the homes they build will be of the highest quality.” 

(Lead image: Tai Tarian)

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Construction

Foundation works start at major new Kingsway office scheme

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Foundations are now being laid for a landmark new net-zero office development that will provide space for 600 jobs at the former Oceana nightclub site in Swansea city centre.

The work will help pave the way for the start of constructing the building’s concrete frame in the coming months as The Kingsway’s transformation takes another step forward.

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Swansea Council is leading on the scheme, with Bouygues UK as main contractor.

Due for completion in the summer of 2023, the five-storey scheme will be carbon zero in operation and worth £32.6 million a year to Swansea’s economy when finished. It will include 114,000 square feet of commercial floor space with flexible co-working and office opportunities for businesses in sectors like tech, digital and the creative industries.

A roof terrace, a new link between The Kingsway and Oxford Street, public access and balconies overlooking the city centre and Swansea Bay will also feature.

The development is part of the Swansea City and Waterfront Digital District project being part-funded by the £1.3 billion Swansea Bay City Deal. It is also supported by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.

To enable the arrival of concrete on site, traffic management will be in place on part of The Kingsway for the next fortnight or so. This will not impact on any of the environmental enhancements introduced there in recent years as part of a major improvement project.

Artist’s impression of the new office building (Image; Swansea Council)

Cllr Rob Stewart, Swansea Council Leader, said: “This work shows yet another artist’s impression in Swansea will soon be transformed into reality, following-on from a major improvement of The Kingsway that’s created a greener, more pleasant area for business and investment.

“Despite Covid and the trend towards more home working it’s led to, we know there’s still a major demand for high-quality office space of this kind in Swansea – a working environment that’s fit for modern times by combining co-working opportunities and flexibility with the kind of digital connectivity businesses need to thrive.

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“We also know businesses in sectors like digital and tech have had to leave Swansea in the past to find the office space they need, so this development will help address that in future while also creating more footfall and spending for our city centre businesses.”

An online event was also held last month, giving local businesses the opportunity to find out more about work packages forming part of the development in areas like tiling, flooring, masonry, landscaping and specialist joinery.

Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Investment, Regeneration and Tourism, said: “As well as further improving the city centre and retaining business talent, this new office development will also boost the local economy through benefits for supply chain businesses in the local area.

“As building work gathers pace, construction workers on site will also benefit the city centre because of the money they’ll be spending in our shops, restaurants, pubs and other businesses, with this development also acting as a catalyst for further investment, jobs and opportunities for local people.”

John Boughton, Regional Managing Director of Bouygues UK, said: “We are thrilled to be working alongside Swansea Council in the construction of Kingsway.

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“This innovative, landmark and sustainable building aligns so closely to our climate ambitions with its bold ambition to be net-zero in operation. In addition it gives us the opportunity to engage with the local community and offer social value initiatives to help regenerate Swansea city centre.

“We are so excited to be laying the foundations of what promises to be an extremely valuable addition to the city.”

Access to businesses nearby will be maintained throughout the construction works. Temporary surfacing has been deliberately laid in front of the development site, with permanent paving to be installed there once main construction work has finished.

(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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