Homes shake-up leaves Norwich tenants fearful for future

City councillors, Ash Haynes, right, and Jo Henderson, front 3rd right, with resident Sidney Coplan

City councillors, Ash Haynes, right, and Jo Henderson, front 3rd right, with resident Sidney Copland, front 2nd right, and other residents of Lakenfields sheltered housing, which the City Council want to demolish. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Archant 2013

Tenants have pleaded for their community 'family' not to be split up as part of estimated £2.6m proposals to revamp 28 council-owned sheltered housing sites.

Norwich City Council is planning to make improvements at 26 of its sheltered housing schemes but is considering 'decommissioning' Lakenfields, in Lakenham, and Britainnia Court, in Knowland Grove, off Dereham Road.

This has left more than 40 tenants facing an uncertain future after the authority insisted the sites, built in the 1970s, are not suitable for upgrading.

Officers say because the sort of accommodation elderly people want has changed and it is often difficult to find people who want to live in those schemes, which they say are poorly served by buses and have no space for mobility scooters.

Because the review of Lakenfields and Britannia Court was pending, the city council stopped housing people there 12 months ago, which means of the 68 homes across the two schemes, 26 are empty.

Officers from City Hall visited the 23 residents in Lakenfields last week and the 19 in Britannia Court this week to explain to them that a 28-day consultation over the future of the schemes had begun.

Tenants at Lakenfields say they look out for each other and enjoy gathering for social events and bingo sessions during the week.

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And while many accept improvements to the site could make life easier for them, they say they remain happy there.

Sidney Copland, 87, who has lived at Lakenfields for around five years, said everyone is friends with each other and it also helped that his daughter lived five minutes away.

Mr Copland, who was in the army for four years during the Second World War, said: 'I went to war for democracy, truth and justice – and are we getting it?

'We are a family and families don't like being split up. We want to know exactly what they are going to do. They have kept us in the dark long enough.'

A decision on the future of the schemes is likely to be made by the city council's controlling Labour cabinet in July.

If it is agreed, the council would go back to the tenants and talk to them about what their options for the future would be.

Some of them could decide to move into residential care, housing with care or other sheltered housing schemes, either in Norwich or further afield.

Another Lakenfields tenant, who did not wish to be named, said he felt a deal was already done but he wanted to know when things would change.

He said: 'As far as I'm concerned they have made their decision on what they are going to do, whether we like it or not.

'But they are not going to kick us out. They will offer us somewhere else. We are going to go. We know it's just a matter of when.

'Some people are aged 94 and 87. They don't want to move. They don't want this – but they have to go. What it will do to their health, who knows?'

Ken Brown, 82, chairman of the Britannia Court Residents' Association who has lived at the Knowland Grove complex for eight years, said although no decision has yet been made he expects he will have to find a new home.

Mr Brown, who has been looking for alternative accommodation, said he will be 'sorry' to leave and is 'sad' about it but 'accepts it might well happen'. He said he is more concerned about what will happen to others in the complex, including a blind man and another resident who is 90.

Julie Jones, 67, who has lived at Britannia Court for a year, said she does not want to leave but accepts she might have to.

The mother-of-three, grandmother-of-11 and great grandmother-of-three said: 'I can understand it because the place isn't viable and to bring it up to modern standards, I think it just wouldn't be cost effective.'

Council bosses have acknowledged the possible shake-up has caused anxiety to elderly people, but say they will be given support and guidance about what happens next.

While the council says, until the decision to decommission the homes is made, it cannot formulate any plans for what would happen to the existing homes, one option could be to demolish them and sell the land for new homes to be built on.

But the council adds it is committed to sheltered housing schemes and is planning to invest in other schemes across the city.

There is also a possibility that new sheltered housing schemes could be built in the future.

Nigel Andrews, sheltered housing tenancy support manager at Norwich City Council, said: 'It's fair to say that we are committed to invest in our sites. We have 28 sites and we really need to look at them very carefully and think what the future of them is, in particular around the demand for sheltered housing and future needs and where and how people want to live.'

Guy Dryburge-Smith, chairman of the Sheltered Housing Tenants Forum, said the plans aimed to allow sheltered housing sites to cope for the next 20 to 30 years and ensure buildings constructed in the 1970s offered more opportunities for residents.

The St James House resident said of the overall project: 'The idea of refurbishing one block and to say to people 'come and have a look, this is what could happen at your block', that's probably going to be what they are doing. I would be very surprised if they were not.

'It's not the case someone will be told 'that's it, sorry, you are doing this'. There has to be consultation and agreement.'