One of Belfast’s oldest hostels for homeless men has undergone a £950,000 facelift that will help transform living conditions for its 59 residents.
The refurbishment programme – funded by Habinteg Housing Association – is the first major re-fit since the current building opened more than 30 years ago. The hostel, initially funded by the Department for Social Development has further benefitted from additional services made possible through DSD’s Supporting People Programme funding, administered by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
The hostel, at Utility Street off the Donegall Road is run by the Northern Ireland Institute for the Disabled (NIID) which also runs the Stricklands Care Village and Stewart Memorial House in Bangor, both of which cater for people with disabilities.
Amongst the improvements undertaken at Utility Street is a partial new roof, new lift, new boiler equipment and heating system, new bathrooms and wash rooms, new laundry room and equipment, new flooring, new locks, new windows, new staff room, new office space with enhanced IT facilities, new kitchen and food storage area, new electrics, new plumbing, new ventilation system, repainting throughout, new foyer and reception area, new blinds, new bedding, and refurbished bedrooms. New lighting has also been added as has a new fire alarm system, two new tea rooms and a new communications room.
According to Men’s Hostel manager, Edmund McCullough the change to the much needed facility has been transformational.
“Words cannot describe the physical transformation that has taken place in the hostel. We have fully modernised the entire building and this has impacted positively on the people who both live and work here.
“The single biggest change has been the introduction of catering services for the men. The men take pride in their hostel. This is their home for only a short while. We aim to make sure they are happy and contented while they reside here and it is therefore imperative we have the highest of standards. The refurbishment programme has ensured that we continue to provide good quality support to those vulnerable people who need and deserve our help.”
The hostel – which was initially established in the 1890s – can cater for 59 residents – employs a team of six support workers, three full time catering staff and two cleaners. A number of new posts across a range of disciplines are anticipated over the next year.
Men’s Hostel resident John’s story is reflective in many ways of how people’s lives can change almost overnight.
The 30 year old had been living with his grand parents. Following their decision to downsize and move away from the city John moved in with his uncle. However, when that didn’t work out he found himself without a home.
“I had a serious problem with alcohol and anxiety when I first moved into the men’s hostel three months ago but the staff there have been amazing. I now have my support worker Billy who has helped me remain almost completely dry for three months and the daily interaction with other residents has helped my levels of self esteem and reduced my levels of anxiety. It has really changed my life. I really feel safe here.”
NID Chairman, David McIlhagger paid tribute to the funders of the refurbishment.
“We are very grateful to Habinteg Housing Association for undertaking this major investment that has significantly improved the accommodation standards here. NIID are also grateful to The Belfast Supporting People Team for the commitment they give to this aspect of the renewal programme. The facilities have been truly transformed and brought up to a standard one would expect in 2015.”
Mr McIlhagger also commended Acting Chief Executive, Maurice Goodwin who worked closely with the various funders and statutory bodies from conception to completion of the scheme.
Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey MLA said:“The hostel at Utility Street is now a modern 21stcentury facility and I am pleased that my Department was able to contribute to the renovation project through its Supporting People funding. I would like to thank everybody involved for all their hard work in bringing the refurbishment of the hostel to fruition , including the landlord, Habinteg, the Northern Ireland Institute for the Disabled and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. I am confident that this refurbishment will make a huge difference to the residents during their time spent here.”
Scott Thompson, Habinteg’s Planned Maintenance Manager said: “The recent works that have been undertaken at our scheme at Utility Street will ensure that the property will continue to provide a safe and welcoming environment to both the residents and our management partners staff on site”.
Anne Sweeney from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s Supporting People Programme said:“Helping people to live as independently as possible is at the core of the Housing Executive’s Supporting People’s work. This refurbished homeless hostel will continue to make a welcome contribution in assisting vulnerable men to develop the skills to move onto independent living.”
The contracting engineers were GMD Design Coleraine and the main contractor was Maurice Flynn and Sons.