UK’s largest homeless village planned for Manchester | Roaming


Plans are underway to build the UK’s largest homeless village in one of Manchester’s most desirable areas. Embassy Village will provide accommodation for 40 men in specially constructed pods under 10 railway arches in the Castlefield area, where one-bedroom apartments regularly sell for £ 250,000.

Sandwiched between the River Irwell and the Bridgewater Canal, the land was given away free on a 125-year lease by Peel Group, the developers behind MediaCity and the Manchester Ship Canal.

The village is the brainchild of Sid Williams, founder of a Christian charity called Embassy. Passionate about skinny jeans and in a constant good mood, he ran a homeless shelter on the old Mumford & Sons tour bus until Covid got in his way.

James Whittaker, Executive Director of Development at Peel, calls him Jesus, “because you can’t help but feel the real good he does. He’s probably the nicest, most genuine man I’ve ever met.

Computer generated images of the pods that will house 40 men. Photography: RP

Though he would blush at the blasphemous comparison, Williams, 36, has a remarkable talent for getting the rich to dip into their pockets on his mission to house the homeless and destitute in Manchester.

One real estate agent would describe Embassy Village as “living on the waterfront in a downtown location.” Showing the Guardian around the site last month, Williams admitted that it currently looks more like “an apocalyptic wasteland,” with water dripping from two viaducts carrying noisy streetcars and trains and a few sleepers in the river. street having already installed mattresses among the rubbish of illegal raves.

The planning permission was granted this summer, with 61% of residents in favor of the project. Now Williams is on a mission to raise £ 3million to build the village, giving local businesses the opportunity to sponsor one or more homes.

Computer-generated simulations of the project show alfresco dining, scalloped lighting, and imaginary residents tending to communal gardens – exactly the kind of ambitious images sold to wealthy young professionals moving into the skyscrapers that popped up in Manchester. But while they can pay £ 800 per month for a one-bed studio, Embassy residents are unlikely to pay more than the local housing allowance – currently £ 302 per month for a room in a shared house or £ 552 for a single bed. apartment.

Embassy does not provide “forever” homes. Residents can stay for a maximum of two years. The idea is to “give every resident a live try to run a home, cook, clean and pay rent in a friendly and supportive environment,” said Williams.

Buildings seen from the canal
The Embassy Village site (right) sits on derelict land under 10 railroad arches adjacent to the Mancunian Way and Bridgewater Canal, opposite modern canal-side apartments. Photograph: Joel Goodman / The Guardian

Driving the embassy bus led Williams to conclude that shelters aren’t really the solution to solving sleep on the streets. If people want to get off the streets, they need stable rentals and comprehensive support. They need jobs too, which is why Embassy is partnering with 18 local businesses that agree to give interviews and hopefully jobs to its tenants.

To be eligible for residency at Embassy Village, residents must be male without alcohol or drug addiction. (The Embassy will soon be opening a separate, more low-key project for homeless women fleeing domestic violence.) In addition to paying rent, they must commit to six hours per week of training in shopping, cooking and budgeting. . “I wanted to get away from the shelter model where you sort of accidentally become a parent, saying, ‘Oh, I’m going shopping. And I’ll do the housework. And I’m going to cook, ”Williams said.

The misconception that most homeless people are drug addicts isn’t true, Williams said: “Sixty percent of our guys are homeless because of relationship breakdowns. “

During the pandemic, the embassy rented properties to move men from the tour bus to homes, including one who had spent seven years in shelters waiting for a council house. With around 13,000 households on the waiting list in Manchester, he never rose to the top as a “single man with no criminal record, no drug addiction and no real mental health issues,” Williams said.

CGI of the planned development.
CGI of the planned development. Photography: RP

Potential residents will be referred by Manchester City Council or local homeless charities and then interviewed by the Embassy. “The interview is really to check if you’re serious about the change,” Williams said. “Believe it or not, about half of the people we interview say, ‘I don’t want a job, I never want to work, I want to live in social housing. This is my ambition. And we say, ‘This is great. But we are not that thing.

Smaller homeless villages have been built in recent years in Bristol and Edinburgh, and the Hope Gardens development in Ealing, west London has 60 apartments in containers used as emergency accommodation in shelters. 20-foot containers for new homeless people.

What sets Embassy apart is the ambition to build a community. At the center of it is a party hall, complete with a boardroom, laundry room and shared computers, as well as a training kitchen to help residents learn to cook, Williams said. : “That way we can be a community, we watch England lose in football, we can celebrate people’s birthdays and Christmas dinner – all of that good stuff.

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