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Housing & Homelessness
I know they say everything changes, but so often it really doesn't. So no one was more delighted than me to see that pre-fabs are slowly reappearing in the housing market. And they’re nothing – really nothing - like the pre-fabs I remember.

Pre-fabs have been reborn

Colourful red, bronze, and yellow pre fab homes at the Great Thornton Estate, Hull
Pre fab homes at the Great Thornton Estate, Hull

Like many people, I recall crumbling, concrete section houses put up after the WW2 and still hanging on decades later, rotting in front of our eyes; or even worse, the nasty metal boxes so often put up at schools as temporary classrooms that one way or another become permanent fixtures. But proving again that imaginative technology can revive ideas that were once written off, pre-fabs have been reborn – and you can see them in all their colourful glory at the Great Thornton estate in Hull.

Affordable housing for Hull

The Goodwin Trust, a brilliant and pioneering community group, decided the new version of pre-fab, or ‘modular’ housing, was exactly what was needed to provide affordable housing for the people it also cares for in so many other different ways.

Built to a fantastically high standard of energy efficiency, each of the five houses they have completed so far, is made up of four pre-fabricated units. The result is truly inspiring. A row of low energy, beautiful, modern and affordable rented homes for local people – their colourful exteriors announcing that they are different; that they are the future.

An illustration of the cross section of a pre-fab
Cross section of a pre-fab

The Trust plans to build more prefabricated homes, recognising that they offer design flexibility and better quality control. They are also speedier and less disruptive to build. As they move forward, they will revise and refine construction approaches yet further to ensure that local people get the very best product to meet their particular needs for the lowest cost.

‘We look after people in the best way we can’

But pre-fabs aren’t the only option open to community groups. The Goodwin Trust has also successfully refurbished 60 homes under the now closed Empty Homes Community Grant programme, and it also offers these as rented accommodation to local people. It’s helped them give new homes to those who are marginalised by modern life.

As the Trust Chief Executive Peter McGurn put it, ‘We’re a poor estate in a poor city. We try to look after people in the best way we can’.

A large multistory block of flats, with a sign in front that reads Great Thornton Street
Housing on the Great Thornton Estate

Sometimes that’s working with young mums or ex-offenders; sometimes it’s providing allotments or a conference venue; sometimes it’s running a food distribution operation or rescuing a church and turning it into a public space for local people to use. But in this case, it’s housing – a project that not only helps local people but also brings in revenue to the Trust, reducing its reliance on public funding and helping it to reinvest in other community projects.

It’s an example that other community groups might like to look at. There’s much to learn from here – a great project leading to a hugely positive outcome. I loved it.

– Lyn Kesterton, Locality