West Bromwich residents hit out at plans for homeless flats on doorstep

A care home for the elderly set to be converted into accommodation for the homeless has baffled West Bromwich residents who argue their safety may be at risk and were not consulted on the decision.

Sandwell Council vans parked outside on Manifoldia Grange. Copyright Kathleen Hodgson
Sandwell Council vans parked outside on Manifoldia Grange. Copyright Kathleen Hodgson

Manifoldia Grange, on Coyne Road, West Bromwich, provided one-bedroom flats for up to 38 people. Originally built in 1985, it closed in January this year with residents transferred to Willow Gardens, a new care home in Rowley Regis.

Since Manifoldia Grange’s closure, Sandwell Council has taken the decision to consider re-purposing the derelict building into short-term homeless accommodation. It comes as the council approved four short-term contracts for accommodation-based housing support for adults at risk of becoming homeless.

The contracts, a continuation of existing services, will last nine months between November and August 2023 at a contracted value of £632,800. A letter was sent out to Coyne Road residents by Sandwell council on July 15, which admitted the potential homeless accommodation “may be short notice”.

The letter, signed by Karl Robinson, housing solutions manager at Sandwell Council, said: “I am sure you are aware that Manifoldia Grange is no longer being used for sheltered housing for older people and the Housing Solutions service is working on developing the property to bring it back to use.

“I would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the future use of the Grange and to talk you through what I expect to happen to the building over the coming months. Some work has started to make the site secure and to ensure that we make best use of the building at the same time as minimising impact on local residents.

“I would like to meet with anyone who wants to understand more and to hear about the future plans […] I understand this may be short notice but I did not want to delay meeting with you now that we have clearer plans for the building.”

Kathleen Hodgson, 60, a resident of Coyne Road, said she spotted 10 Sandwell Council vans outside the former care home.

She said: “I was driving down the road where the care home is and I asked one of the workmen what was going on, and they said they didn’t know, they were just working on it.

“We kept asking our neighbours what was going on, but nobody knew. So six or seven of us walked down to the Grange where we saw a lot of people in suits. We went to the reception room where they used to hold the bingo and we saw interview booths numbered one to six.

“We again asked what was going on, but they told us someone would phone us about it all.

“Eventually someone from the council phoned us to have a meeting. At that point we thought: ‘We’ll all get together’ for the meeting.”

Ms Hodgson claimed she and 50 other residents attended a meeting on July 19 between Sandwell council housing officers and themselves. Councillors Pam Randhawa, Jackie Taylor, and John Giles were also in attendance. A further meeting took place on July 26.

During a meeting, residents read out a jointly-signed statement claiming they were never consulted on the future of Manifoldia Grange.

It stated: “Some residents have been here since the street was first developed in 1985. We have all lived together safely and quietly without fear since the Coyne Road houses, bungalows, and flats were first built.

“We envisage house prices in our postcode area will inevitably tumble and our insurance rise. This will be a huge detrimental impact on the development of the local area, which has seen major investments, improving the area over the last ten years or so.”

An employee of Sandwell council allegedly told Ms Hodgson that families would be housed in the single-bed accommodation. But she alleged there could be “more people living in Manifoldia Grange than residents of Coyne Road”.

She alleged: “We believe we are being treated very unfairly and our right of reply eroded […] we were told there was no consultation with the residents because the council thought we would not mind.

The history of Manifoldia Grange is peppered with consultations before its closure. Residents were asked their thoughts on relocation to the Moor Lane development, now known as Willow Gardens, after Sandwell council approved a consultation in 2019.

Over 76% of residents said they would consider living in the Moor Lane development, with the majority of residents either in favour or strongly favouring a move into the facility. Staff and tenants both reflected that they “struggled with the buildings” and were often frustrated as a result.

Sandwell council documents noted both staff and residents would move to the Moor Lane development by February 2021.

Councillor Pam Randhawa said she, along with other councillors, are on a “fact-finding mission” to resolve residents’ concerns.

In an email she said: “Councillors Giles, Randhawa and Taylor are currently supporting local residents on a fact-finding mission to establish how to move forward with Sandwell Council to resolve issues around Manifolda Grange.

As you are aware residents made their views quite clear at a recent meeting arranged by their councillors. We will endeavour to support until a full consultation is carried out.”

A spokesperson for Sandwell Council said: “The council took the decision to close Manifoldia Grange as it had become outdated and didn’t meet the changing care and support needs of some of its residents.

“The final residents moved out of Manifoldia Grange in January leaving the premises empty. The council’s short term plan is to use the building to provide good quality, well-managed temporary accommodation for homeless families.

“We held a drop-in consultation meeting for residents last week, and there was a second one this week, which is part of our ongoing plan to respond to and address their concerns.”

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