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once-derelict site becomes a community thanks to housing association’s new homes

Published: Thursday 15 February 2024

A new housing development, which regenerated a derelict social club site in County Durham, has quickly become a friendly community for its residents.

“It feels fab living here.

“I love my home, I’ve got lovely neighbours and I’ve integrated into a good community,” said resident Carole Watkis.

“I’ve gotten a new life here, my son’s happy, I’m happy and I feel really settled.”

Carole was among the first residents to move in to one of believe housing’s 96 new homes at Milburn Close, on Seaside Lane, Easington Village.

The North East housing association worked with regional contractor Esh Construction to deliver a mix of two, three and four-bed houses and bungalows for affordable rent, Rent to Buy and shared ownership.

With the development largely complete and all the homes snapped up, colleagues from believe housing and Esh Construction visited the site recently to see how the community has taken shape.

Kate Abson, Director of Development at believe housing, said: “Seaside Lane is a really important scheme for believe housing, helping us to meet demand for affordable homes in the local area as we have seen significant interest from people who want to live here.

“It has delivered brand new high-quality homes that people aspire to live in, and a mixed community where people can thrive.

“A lot of people who aspire to get on the property ladder are using the opportunities created at Seaside Lane to do that.”

The £11m redevelopment of the former Easington Working Men’s Club site was supported by a Homes England grant, secured by Esh Construction.

Like many building projects, it was delayed by lockdown and supply chain issues due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but residents were able to move in between summer 2022 and 2023.

Kate added: “Seaside Lane and its construction had a hugely positive impact on the wider area, in terms of investment into the local community and the region.

“And, after the site laid dormant and derelict for some time, this scheme has brought it back into use and is now a really attractive and popular place to live.”

Laura Devaney, Land and Partnerships Director at Esh Construction, was integral in developing the initial proposals for the scheme with believe housing.

She said: “The collaborative working of all parties involved — from the early concept through the planning process and then into construction — has been key to the success of this project.

“I’m thrilled to see another land led development come full circle and deliver incredibly desirable affordable homes.”

funding available from believe housing for community projects in County Durham

Published: Thursday 15 February 2024

Grants from believe housing are enabling people to cook hearty meals, use community laundry facilities, and get together with new friends.

These are just some of the community projects to recently receive funding from the housing association, which is urging not-for-profit organisations to apply to its 2023-24 Community Investment programme as soon as possible.

After receiving a £500 community grant, The Well community café in West Auckland launched a new project offering recipe bags on a “pay what you can afford” basis.

Project manager, Andy Mitchell, said: “We’ve offered recipe bags for years, using ingredients with a long shelf life such as tinned food, but wanted to offer something more substantial with meat and fresh fruit and veg.

“The £500 from believe housing meant we could do that, so people can get one bag of ingredients to make a hearty, nutritious meal like casserole for up to four people and we only ask them to pay what they can afford.”

The Wider World Project received £1,000 for a range of activities in the Belmont and Carville area of Durham, promoting wellbeing and reducing isolation particularly for older people.

Over the festive period, the group gave gifts to local older people, hosted a community get together, and shared wellbeing messages with local people and businesses and is planning more community activities in the coming months.

And The House of Hope, in Thornley, used a £500 grant to buy a washing machine and dryer for its new Scrub-a-dub-dub community laundrette.

People struggling to do their laundry at home can call 07478 942 140 or email to arrange a convenient and private appointment to use the facility for free.

Damian Pearson said: “We still have funding available to support more brilliant projects like these, which are strengthening communities and improving lives.

“If you’re involved with an organisation that could benefit from £500 or £1,000 to start or sustain a group or project please get in touch, we can support you with the application process and could award funds before the end of the financial year.”

To be eligible, projects must be delivered in areas where believe housing has homes – in central, east or south-west County Durham – and meet at least one of the following themes:

  • Health and wellbeing
  • Employability and training
  • Increasing household income
  • A greener, fairer future
  • Tackling inequalities as a result of the cost-of-living crisis.

The housing association’s Bridging the Gap grants are specifically aimed at initiatives addressing the cost-of-living crisis, such as money and energy saving advice, clothing and foodbanks, food provision, community appliances, or improving digital access. 

For more information on community funding available from believe housing, and how to apply, visit 

apprenticeships … not just for starting out, for life.

Published: Thursday 15 February 2024

One of the North East’s largest housing associations, believe housing, knows the lifelong value of apprenticeships to both colleagues and the business.

Among its 640 colleagues, believe housing currently has 17 colleagues in a variety of roles studying apprenticeships at levels 2 to 7.

During National Apprenticeship Week 2024 it is shining a spotlight on four colleagues who have benefited from apprenticeships.

Horticultural and Estate Officer Shaun Temby said joining believe housing seven years ago was “almost lifesaving” as he went from seasonal, agency work to a fulltime job he loves, working outdoors in a great team.

And he found that a return to learning during his 30s, to complete a horticulture apprenticeship last year, gave him the knowledge and confidence he needs to seek a leadership role. He has since mentored other apprentices and covered a supervisory role.

He said: “For a long time, I struggled to find a career. The nature of my job meant that no matter how hard I worked some places didn’t give more than seasonal work.

“So, when I came here and got the fulltime job it was almost lifesaving for me.

“I've got two children now and I'm getting married next year. I wouldn't be able to do that without believe housing and the stability it’s given me.

“I feel appreciated here, and I'm at the position now where I just want to give my best to the company in any way possible that I can.”

Emily Fullen and Hannah Wilson are both Assistant Project Surveyors­­ — studying construction in the built environment at Hartlepool College of Further Education one day a week and liaising with contractors, suppliers and customers for the rest of the week to ensure work in homes go smoothly.

Hannah joined believe housing six years ago as a Business Administration Apprentice and has moved around the organisation, expanding her knowledge and qualifications in various roles.

She said: “This course really opened my eyes. I have learned a lot of practical skills I will be using in my day job.

“I have received real-life experience, working alongside experienced staff, and gained practical skills for my job, while studying towards a recognised qualification.”

Emily began as a Neighbourhood Officer in 2012 before joining the Assets Team.

“Two years ago, if you'd said to me that I'd be going back to college, I would have been like ‘no sorry, I can't do that’. I didn't think I'd start an apprenticeship at the age of 29, but it's been really good,” she said.

“I started this role with absolutely no construction experience whatsoever, starting from the bottom and hardly knowing what a brick was or what it was made of.  

“I definitely thought that apprenticeships were for tradespeople.

“I didn't know there were so many different apprenticeships you could do, and I wish I had known that because I would have saved myself a whole student loan!”

Apprentice Gas Fitter Nattaya Malcolm has been happily challenging the stereotype of a tradesperson since she joined believe housing in 2022. 

She said: “I just wanted to prove to people that anyone, especially a woman, could do it.  

“When I go out to people's houses, it can sometimes be obvious that they expect me to be a male trade, and they are quite surprised when they realise I am a female.

“This job is helping me to open people's eyes.” 

Kerry Rowell, Culture Manager at believe housing, said: “Apprenticeships continue to play a valuable role for believe housing, helping us to develop a workforce with future ready skills and support our people’s ambitions.

“An apprenticeship can be a route into believe housing, or a way for colleagues to adapt or progress in their role – expanding their skills, knowledge, and experience together and helping us ensure we have the right skills, at the right time to provide homes and services for our customers and communities.”

church getting a new lease of life as venue to serve whole community

Published: Thursday 15 February 2024

A church saved from the brink of closure is being transformed so it can welcome people from throughout the community to use a range of services.

Easington Colliery Methodist Church, in County Durham, was declared at risk in 2022 and seemed destined to close due to maintenance costs and a dwindling congregation.

That was until a new community benefit society, Focus Easington, stepped in to lease the church and support its reopening as a community asset called The Welcome Centre.  

Focus Easington plans to modernise the building so the current youth provision, CAFÉ Together lunch club, and regular worship can continue alongside new activities.

This could include a community larder offering cooking lessons and healthy food packages, a community launderette, support for veterans, digital access, a garden, and advice, employability and health and wellbeing sessions. Rooms will be available for local groups and businesses to hire which will generate income to sustain the facility.

North East housing association believe housing has partnered with regeneration and construction specialist RE:GEN Group, to help give the centre a new lease of life.

A £30,000 capital community grant from believe housing is going towards renovation work including new windows, an upgraded heating system, and planting in the garden.

RE:GEN Group has donated £10,000 to redesign and landscape the community garden, with an additional £5,000 from believe housing. And RE:GEN Group has committed labour and materials, to transform the outdated kitchen with state-of-the-art facilities.

Faye Gordon, Executive Director Investment, Growth and Performance

at believe housing, said: “At believe housing, we work hard to create thriving, safe and sustainable places and homes that people want to live in.

“By supporting The Welcome Centre, we are not only helping to save it as place of worship but also helping it to grow as a valuable community facility, creating opportunities to support and engage local residents for generations.

“Members of the RE:GEN team have worked with believe housing colleagues to identify ongoing support we can offer this project. Their generosity with funding, time and expertise continues to be of huge benefit and is a sign of how our strong working relationships with regional businesses can deliver considerable social value and make a positive impact in our communities.”

Lee Francis, CEO of RE:GEN Group, said: “As a long-term partner of believe housing, we were only too happy to get involved in this project having been inspired by the mission and passion from both Councillor Surtees and Rev Bev Hollings to support and revitalise this community. 

“Beyond our financial support, our commitment has extended to offering our teams’ expertise across design, planning and commercial as well as the full strip out and rebuild of the centre’s kitchen as part of the first phase of work. 

“We’re all very much bought into the mission of Focus Easington and are proud to be helping rebuild a vibrant community space that epitomises a collective spirit of growth and resilience.”

A grant from the Benefact Trust, via the Plunkett Foundation, supported earlier work to get the project up and running and funding has been provided by Durham County Council’s Towns and Villages programme and councillors’ neighbourhood budgets. Several local organisations have offered professional services, supplies, equipment, and labour free of charge.

Durham County Councillor Angela Surtees, who is leading the project, said: “Easington is an area of deprivation, and we desperately need regeneration to improve the area and make it a better place for people who live here - this is a priority.

“Ensuring our community becomes resilient and building community cohesion and pride is important.

“Saving this building from closure was important and, as long as it is needed, I will continue to put all my energy and focus into serving our local community.

“Supporting people in the current climate with advice and guidance, food and energy help, youth provision, and maintaining worship for people of all ages are among the many priorities here.

“The Welcome Centre will go a long way to supporting all those people and more, it will be a place for everyone.” 

The Methodist Minister, Rev Bev Hollings, said: “We’ve always wanted to put the Methodist Church at the heart of Easington.

“Partnering with Focus Easington will enable the development of our building in a way which supports our community and our commitment to be an inclusive and justice seeking church.

“It will also provide a secure base for a worshipping presence in Easington for the next generation and somewhere people can come to for baptisms, weddings (including same sex couples) and funerals.

“We hope that lots of people in the community will come and share with us in this adventure.” 

To support the centre’s refurbishment or to volunteer once it reopens, call Councillor Surtees on 07900 702339 or email Like the Facebook page Focus Easington - The Welcome Centre for updates.

learn about bowburn’s history at new improved heritage room

Published: Thursday 15 February 2024

Generations of residents can learn about their County Durham community’s history after a heritage archive opened to the public.

Bowburn Local History Society’s Heritage Room, in Bowburn Community Centre, never fully reopened after closing at the start of the Covid pandemic.

But volunteers continued to catalogue its collection of books, maps, photographs, and memorabilia and funding, including a £1,000 community grant from housing association believe housing, was secured to update the facilities and buy a new computer so photographs and records could be digitised.

The archive is now easier to search, and the Heritage Room is open at least once a week to visitors. The resources also support the Society’s events programme which includes talks by guest speakers.

Anne-Marie Parkin, a Community Investment Coordinator at believe housing, officially relaunched the room.

She said: “It is wonderful to see this facility improved and reopened so local people of all ages, and visitors, can understand and celebrate the area’s history.

“Hopefully lots of residents, including believe housing customers, make use of it and develop new skills and meet likeminded people to boost their opportunities and overall wellbeing.”

The collection paints a picture of how the Bowburn area has grown and changed over centuries. It commemorates its heritage of coal mining – which was the biggest local employer for 200 years – as well as farming, factories, people, and important transport routes nearby such as the Romans’ Cades Road and A1(M).

Mike Syer, Chair of Bowburn Local History Society, said: “The collection has been built up over the years using donations from residents and former residents.

“Thanks to the efforts of volunteers, including many from Durham University, and the funding we secured, visitors can now be guided quickly to what they’re interested in.

“We hope to attract more people to find out about our local history in the room and at our meetings.”
The Heritage Room opens on Wednesdays, from noon to 2pm. To visit at other times or for more information call Mike Syer on 0191 3771491 or Malcom Bell on 0191 3771391.