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Hill’s ‘pods’ are Next Steps for Cambridge’s homeless




Hill’s ‘pods’ are unveiled with, from left, Tom Hill, regional director of Hill Group; Emma Fletcher, a director at Hill and lead for the delivery of the Foundation 200 homes project, and Cllr Richard Johnson, executive councillor for housing at Cambridge City Council. Picture: Keith Heppell
Hill’s ‘pods’ are unveiled with, from left, Tom Hill, regional director of Hill Group; Emma Fletcher, a director at Hill and lead for the delivery of the Foundation 200 homes project, and Cllr Richard Johnson, executive councillor for housing at Cambridge City Council. Picture: Keith Heppell

A prototype new ‘pod’ for the homeless has been unveiled by Hill - with 16 donated to Cambridge City Council to kickstart Cambridge Next Steps, a new programme to tackle homelessness in Cambridge.

Cambridge City Council plans to host the units on land it owns across the city, with two sites already selected for the first 10 units.

Planning applications have been submitted for four of the modular homes off Dundee Close in East Chesterton, and six off Crowland Way in King’s Hedges.

The units are envisioned as providing temporary homes for those with a history of homelessness, acting as “a middle-step for those transitioning either from living on the streets, in a hostel or another support service prior to being found longer-term accommodation”.

Hill said the units have been designed with input from specialists and those with experience of homelessness to meet the needs of future occupiers.

The temporary homes have one bedroom, one bathroom, and a joint kitchen and living area, and come fully furnished, from white goods to cutlery.

Hill’s project director, Emma Fletcher, said: “It’s a complete turnkey solution. It comes with everything from toothbrush holder through to crockery.”

The pods are not the first modular home units to be installed in Cambridge, but they are the first to be part of an ongoing programme backed by the council and with support from developer Hill, which is building 200 of them as part of its Foundation 200 programme.

The Next Steps programme, part of the council’s affordable housing programme, is on track to deliver over 500 new council homes. The programme offers a range of specialist housing solutions for applicants, including the Housing First programme which is also aimed at formerly homeless residents.

Each unit costs £75,000 to £80,000, with the council suggesting tenants could stay for around two years in some cases, although no firm time constraints have been set.

Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council, said: “Since 2016, Hill have been a key partner for the council and have helped us ensure that Cambridge can achieve its ambitions for new council housing in years to come.”

“The Foundation 200 homes are sure to make a significant difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our community. We are pleased that our partnership with Hill has made us one of first local authorities in the UK to be able to offer them to our homeless residents.”

The temporary homes have one bedroom, one bathroom, and a joint kitchen and living area, and they will come fully furnished, from white goods to cutlery.

Roomy - pods make best use of 24 sq m of ground space. From left are Hill directors Emma Fletcher and Tom Hill, and Cllr Richard Johnson from Cambridge City Council. Picture: Keith Heppell
Roomy - pods make best use of 24 sq m of ground space. From left are Hill directors Emma Fletcher and Tom Hill, and Cllr Richard Johnson from Cambridge City Council. Picture: Keith Heppell

Emma Fletcher said: “It’s a complete turnkey solution. It comes with everything from toothbrush holder through to crockery.

“We have a sofa with a nice fleecy blanket so you can curl up and watch television, we have got two sets of duvet sets, we have got a full set of clothing.”

Some councillors raised concerns at a public committee in January that the homes fall below the council’s minimum space standards.

Hill has said each unit is around 24 square metres. The city council would usually insist that new one-bedroom properties have 37 square metres of internal floorspace.

Emma Fletcher said the size has been dictated by two factors. The design is deliberately for one person to avoid so-called ‘cuckooing’, where another individual or group moves into the home of a vulnerable person, and their home is then taken over. The layout is designed to dis-incentivise another person moving in.

Also, for easy mobility, the homes cannot be any wider and still be transportable without a police escort for an unusually large load.

Pod layout
Pod layout

Cllr Johnson added that the pandemic forced the council to find solutions to homelessness fast - and it is now determined not to lose momentum.

“The council has met the challenge of Covid-19 and has ensured that homeless people in Cambridge have had a roof over their heads during the lockdown, but the job isn’t finished,” he said.

“We want to provide safe accommodation for the people of this city in the months and years to come, and the Next Steps project is one way for us to do this. The pandemic has shown us that we can completely rethink the way we provide housing in Cambridge and we’re determined not to go back to the way things were before.”

“A lot of people out there are just one pay packet away from becoming homeless themselves,” adds Emma. “That’s not just the people you see on the streets, but also the hidden homeless who are in unsuitable accommodation and really need some decent housing to move on with their lives.”

As part of the Next Steps programme the council is also appealing to landlords with empty accommodation and landowners with land which could be suitable for modular homes to play a part in alleviating the ongoing housing crisis in Cambridge. Any empty sites should be a minimum of 9m x 5m in size. If you have land or property which fits these descriptions, please contact the housing development team on 01223 457919 or email housingdevelopment@cambridge.gov.uk.

- Additional reporting by Local Democracy Reporter Ben Hatton.



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