By Chris Smith, Executive Director of Business Growth at Thirteen

There’s an ongoing and understandable government drive to build more homes which makes sense on so many levels. At Thirteen, we’re passionate about providing new affordable homes for rent and sale, and developing modern, spacious homes is a big priority for us. We’re a Homes England Strategic Partner which means we have a large development programme and are working across the North East to deliver this.

But let’s face it, there are many communities in the North East where homes were built in, and even before, the last century which can hardly be described as modern. Many thousands of homes were constructed to house the then workforce and where there were once thriving communities, some have declined over the years and often display poorer housing standards, more transient populations and higher levels of deprivation. Funding to tackle issues like this on a large scale has all but dried up, but we can’t just abandon these places, especially when
we have a stake in the area.

We like a challenge at Thirteen and regeneration has always remained on our agenda, so we have been actively working with communities and local councils in the region to help improve these older housing areas where we can.

One example of a successful project has seen us working in partnership with Middlesbrough Council in North Ormesby to deliver a range of interventions that might seem small scale but can make all the difference for people living in the community. And we think it’s vital to work with the local community, building on the assets that are already there rather than focussing on the negatives.

We’re three years into the project which has involved buying and improving empty homes to let at affordable rents, creating much needed green spaces, supporting local groups to grow, and helping people into employment and training.

With an initial stake at North Ormesby of £1.4m between us, it’s not a huge investment but the project has been really effective, nonetheless. It’s created a sense of commitment and enables other funding streams to be drawn in and the area is much improved and on the up; it’s also been great to see how the project has helped the local community groups to become stronger than ever.

We’re working on similar projects in Redcar and Sunderland, but our next big project is again in Middlesbrough in the heart of the town centre. Gresham has had its issues over the years and was once described as one of the most deprived areas in the country.

Major plans to improve it collapsed mid-way through when the housing market intervention funding programme disappeared overnight and plans to regenerate the area stopped. That was 10 years ago, and Middlesbrough Council has tried to manage the area as best it can with little
available funding.

Thirteen was approached to help out and asked to take a chance and develop 145 new homes in a large derelict area in the middle of Gresham. It was a big ask, but by working with the council to set out what else would be needed to improve the surrounding area, and bring
much needed resource into the mix, we have developed a bold plan for its regeneration.

The council has agreed to implement a collaboration zone surrounding our development with a range of front-line services based in the area to address the wider issues for the longer-term.

Improving the environment, tackling anti-social behaviour and supporting the community to be resilient — in many ways, the key to regeneration.

This kind of leadership by the local authority is critical as it gives confidence to us and our partners, such as Homes England, that there is a longer-term commitment to the area and that the investment will be protected for the future.

It also acts as an anchor to bring in other funding to build momentum. We’re also looking at how we can improve the older homes in the area, working to consolidate our properties in Gresham and connecting to other stakeholders in a more strategic way. A big test is how we can de-carbonise homes to future proof them — we know it’s not as easy as building a new home from scratch, but I did say we like a challenge!

We’re optimistic about the future of Gresham now. While respecting its past we’re creating a whole new community in the heart of the town centre that will provide well designed, affordable homes for a diverse range of residents.

It won’t exist in a bubble though, it will be part of Gresham’s history but in a new, improved and confident place that people are proud to call home. Alongside our other regeneration projects such as North Ormesby, Gresham is a demonstration of how regeneration projects are not just about bricks and mortar; they’re about making tangible improvements and helping to create a better life for people in communities for years to come.