A partnership creating affordable new homes in Chester-le-Street, has stepped up to help transform a disused social club. Durham Villages Regeneration Partnership (DVRC) sourced and donated over £1,300 of materials to Heartwood Skills, the non-profit organisation behind the renovation of the former Whitehills Social Club, into a hub for the local community.
DVRC, a partnership between Durham County Council and Keepmoat Homes — which has delivered over 2,000 homes and invested more than £240m in Durham communities since 2001 — will again team up with New College Durham on the project. This is creating opportunities for construction students to hone their practical skills.
Named The Beacon, the revitalised building will include a large events area and smaller rental spaces for community, church and private organisations to use.
Plans are already in place hold skills classes to support with local needs, including budgeting, parenting and relationships. There will also be an alternative provision centre — offering personalised education for young people who are not coping with school — and a room for counselling and family time for looked after children. The creation of a community café and a field to fork garden, where people can learn about and grow their own vegetables, is also underway.
The project is being organised by not-for-profit organisation Heartwood Skills — which was established to transform the life chances of vulnerable young people and positively impact their communities. Formed just three years ago, it provides one to one and school-based support for young people at risk of exclusion and those who have disengaged from education.
“Our vision for a space where young people are offered a second chance has taken a step further as work at The Beacon continues,” said Dave Anderson, Founder & CEO at Heartwood Skills. “We have raised around £400k so far which has been used to buy the building, repurpose the layout and upgrade electrical, heating and plumbing systems. This could not have been achieved without the support of our funding partners and businesses like DVRC and New College Durham coming forward to offer their time and resources.”
At the start of the journey, Heartwood Skills was provided with help from new business accelerator programme, Durham City Incubator. This helped to purchase the building from Northstar Ventures — through The North East Social Investment Fund (NESIF), which provides impact investments to charities and social enterprises.
Capital investment for the refurbishment has been raised through The County Durham Growth Fund — an £8.9m European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme supporting capital expenditure to accelerate business growth.
“When we heard about this fantastic project, close to The Fell development where we are currently at work, we immediately wanted to help,” said Geoff Scott, Social and Economic Impact Manager with DVRC build partner Keepmoat Homes. “We donated some of the materials that Heartwood Skills required and engaged New College — who we work with on a range of projects – to help with the refurbishment.
“It is vital that we invest in the neighbourhoods in which we work, supporting community projects and initiatives that will have a long lasting impact for the area and its residents.”
Iain McCartney, Vocational Instructor, at New College Durham added: “Our Level One students have been undertaking supervised maintenance works and painting and decorating at The Beacon and it has been of great benefit to them.
“This real-life working experience has created some excellent learning opportunities and the chance for them to apply the knowledge and skills they have been developing at college. Learning about teamwork, working alongside other skilled professionals, planning, problem solving and the pressures of working to a time scale, will help our students to fully understand the approach they need to take to large scale projects.”
Cllr Mark Wilkes, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for neighbourhoods and climate change and a Durham Villages Regeneration Partnership board member, said: “It’s fantastic to see this disused site being transformed into a welcome facility for the local community.
“This once again demonstrates the positive impact the Durham Villages Regeneration Partnership has across the county, helping to improve the lives of residents of all ages. We’re excited to see what the finished site will look like and I’m sure it will be an important resource for the area for years to come.”
The Fell is the 32nd development by DVRC. Other villages to benefit include Bearpark, Bowburn, Brandon, Cassop, Croxdale, Dipton, Esh Winning, High Pittington, Meadowfield, New Brancepath, Shadforth, Sherburn, Sherburn Hill, Ushaw Moor, and West Rainton.
There have also been developments at Byland Lodge and Newton Hall in Durham City, Newton Aycliffe, Peterlee, Seaham and Spennymoor.
Across these sites a total of 2,059 homes will be built, of which just over a quarter — 516 — are for affordable rent. DVRC has consistently delivered homes for sale that are within the reach of local, young people. Over 80% of properties sold have been bought by those living within 10 miles of the development and around 60% were first time buyers.
For more information about all the DVRC projects, visit: www.keepmoat.com and search for the development’s name.
Header image shows (L-R) Christopher King, Geoff Scott, Cllr Mark Wilkes, Dave Anderson, Iain McCartney and Kaci France.