An East London council has been awarded £9.3million in government funding so it can continue with plans to transform a former housing block into a hub for the homeless complete with 42 beds for rough sleepers. In April 2021, cabinet members at Newham Council unanimously agreed to buy and renovate Lady Helen Seymour House in Florence Road, Plaistow from the housing association, L&Q so it could turn it into a rough sleeping assessment centre.
The council originally expected to receive £3.5m in capital funding from the Greater London Authority (GLA) but according to council documents the funding source ‘did not open as envisaged’. Since then the cost of transforming the site has gone up ‘significantly’ due to a ‘high inflationary environment’ and the budget that was initially set aside by the cabinet in April 2021 can no longer meet the much higher costs of refurbishment works, which has gone up by £2.4m in less than three years.
The council has now secured £9.3m from the Single Homeless Accommodation Programme (SHAP) which is funded by the GLA and the Department for Levelling Up, and Housing and Communities (DLUHC). Of the £9.3m, the council was awarded £6.5m in capital funding and £2.8m in revenue funding which will go towards providing support services at the centre for three years once the refurbishment work has taken place.
As of November 2023, the council recorded around 18 rough sleepers on the street while 68 were in accommodation. None of the existing rough sleeping accommodation in Newham is owned by the council, which is a worry as the buildings could eventually be withdrawn from council use.
Labour councillor, Neil Wilson who is a cabinet member for health and adult and social care, said in a cabinet report: “The proposal to purchase and renovate Lady Helen Seymour House remains a key strategic priority within the council’s homelessness and rough sleeping strategy.
“The case for purchase remains compelling given the continuing homelessness and rough sleeping challenges faced by the borough.” Cabinet members have been asked to approve the £9.3m in funding as well as agreeing to take up to £2.6m out of the council’s capital programme so it can carry on with the plans. The plans will be discussed at a cabinet meeting next week (Tuesday, 30 January).