Leeds takes pride in sheltered scheme
"We are close to the community and have the help we need"
Remote controlled front doors, an £8,000 hydrotherapy spa and a planned "playground" for the over-60s are among features to excite the first occupants of a £6.6 million Jewish sheltered housing project in Leeds.
This week, residents began moving into the ambitious redevelopment of Leeds Jewish Housing Association's Queenshill Estate in Moortown.
Workmen are still putting the finishing touches to the two, three and four-storey buildings, construction having been delayed because of extreme winter weather over the last two years. But such teething problems do not lessen the sense of achievement felt by housing association staff, who say the project will provide four-to-five-star hotel-style accommodation for community members.
Over the next six weeks, 65 people will take up residence in 44 one and two-bedroom apartments, incorporating en suite bathrooms and stylish fitted kitchens.
An outside observer would be forgiven for believing they were designed with the young professional in mind. But subtle design elements are geared to the needs of wheelchair users and the more frail.
Housing association chief executive Darren Cooper pays a house call on residents Myrna and Stanley Miller at the new development
There is the further convenience of the flats being next door to the MAZ Jewish community centre's kosher restaurants and day activities. The centre is also home to Leeds Jewish Welfare Board, which can provide on-site services to residents.
Moving in on Monday, 75-year-old Myrna Miller said she felt privileged and excited. For 23 years, she and husband Stanley have lived in their own home a mile away. But illness had forced Mr Miller to give up driving and the stairs had become increasingly troublesome.
"It's getting hard for my husband to get out much," she said. "Our block of flats used to have lots of Jewish residents but not anymore. We are delighted with these new flats which will be wholly Jewish. It's what we wanted - to be so close to the community and having the help we need. The whole idea and planning that's gone into it is just great. The housing staff have made the move so easy."
Her daughter Sharon Brown was "bowled over" by the development and the quality of life it will offer.
"I know they will be comfortable here. My husband and I live nearby, but people will be around them all the time and help is on-site. There will always be people to see and to have dinner with at the restaurants. It is fabulous we have something like this in Leeds."
Project director Craig Simons said the housing association faced the challenge of reducing a waiting list of 145.
"There are a so many people living on first-floor flats with no lift access. The day-to-day task for us is stopping isolation, vulnerability and loneliness. This scheme removes that and gives people a new lease of life."
Mr Simons is now overseeing the second phase of construction, which will add a further block of 18 flats and form the fourth side of a quad. There are plans to landscape its centre, providing a garden courtyard complete with one of the UK's few outdoor playgrounds for older people. It will include special swing, skate and ski machines which gently exercise different parts of the body.
Mr Simons said the LJHA had not scrimped on facilities. Front doors open automatically when a resident walks up to them with a security remote control. Guest flats will allow family to stay over.
Kitchens have extra space to accommodate utensils for milk and meat, while powerful extractor fans have been installed with heimishe fish frying in mind. A kosher convenience store will open on the site.
Chief executive Darren Cooper said the community had been fortunate to receive a £4.6 million government grant towards the project.
He fears future schemes will be much harder to finance as grants have been slashed by around 60 per cent since the government's spending review. The housing association is also suffering cuts or freezing of local authority funding.
But Mr Cooper believes the new sheltered housing puts the LJHA in a good position as local and central government look to fund more people in independent living.
"Care home places cost between £800 to £1,000 a week, whereas we can provide a very settled home with care support that costs only an extra £125 a week. We must be very proud that we can provide state of the art facilities in times like these."