We are helping to transform empty spaces into homes

Have you ever considered the sheer number of unused commercial and business premises scattered about? Just picture this: Rather than constructing new houses and apartment complexes, why not repurpose these vacant spaces into warm and welcoming homes for those struggling to find a decent and secure place to live?

This strategy offers a sustainable solution to the UK’s housing crisis by using existing structures to address the limited availability of affordable housing and high cost of land.


Turning unused premises into warm and welcoming homes

Two years ago, a successful reconstruction project was completed on Gale Street in Dagenham, a town in East London. Today, this property claims three bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, a communal living and kitchen space, and an additional guest toilet. After furnishing the place with a mix of complimentary and second-hand furniture, and adding those final touches to make it feel like a true home, it was handed over to the London Borough Council of Barking and Dagenham, who will ensure that it is utilised as social housing for the next 15 years.


The new occupants have been residing in the shared house for a year and a half now. Among them are three young men, two of whom are asylum seekers. They express profound gratitude for the security and comfort of having a place they can call home.


John arrived in the UK in 2002 when he was still a child, seeking asylum from Eritrea. Initially, he lived with foster carers, but like many young people, he longed for independence. Making his own way in the world was a frightening prospect, and he felt nervous. “At first, I was worried. It was my first time living alone. Now I love it. I’m a big man now.” Support from the Council has helped him to learn new skills such as managing money and cooking. He was delighted when he visited the accommodation his social worker had found. “When I first saw the house, I loved it. The people who share it with me are good guys and clean. There is nothing I don’t like,” he said.

Ahmed, also an asylum seeker who had recently left a foster family, shared his friend’s concerns about how he would cope alone and agreed the house had offered a great learning experience. “I have learned many things because I live by myself. We all cook together and clean the house together.” He too loved the house at first sight and especially the extra privacy of having his own bathroom and staying close to his support networks. “Here I also have access to medical support, educational support, and transportation, and I can call my social worker anytime,” he said.

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For both men, a comfortable and secure home has given them the space and stability to further their education.

John is currently studying at Barking and Dagenham College. In the coming years, he has hopes for a career in computer programming. “Now I’m excited for the future. I can start to work and live, to make a family. Before I wasn’t thinking about that. Now it’s changed. I want a family and to work,” he said. 

“It is very important to have a secure and safe place. When I go out, I feel excited to come back home. Here, it is clean and brand new, and when you sleep, you feel good. The bed is soft on your skin,” John reflects with a sense of appreciation.

This project exemplifies the power of collaboration, dedication, and a shared commitment to social impact. The continued support of our partners has been pivotal in transforming empty commercial spaces into vital social housing for vulnerable community members.