Housing deal will secure the future of Ravenswood


Norwood has revealed plans to ensure the long-term future of its Ravenswood village for the learning disabled through both a sale of land on the site for housing and the rebuilding of residents' properties.

Ten companies have entered bids for a housing development - including an element of social housing - on around 10 acres of the site in Crowthorne, Berkshire. Norwood chief executive, Elaine Kerr, said this was being refined down to a shortlist, with a decision on the development partner being taken by the middle of the year. The intention was then to submit a planning application to Wokingham Borough Council by early 2016 with a view to project completion around 2019/20.

The Ravenswood rebuild will provide modern accommodation and facilities for the 128 residents in a more manageable area.

Ravenswood has been running at an "unsustainable" annual deficit of £2 million. "The majority of the deficit is about trying to keep up with site facility problems," Ms Kerr explained. "The utility systems are old, the buildings are not of the best stock. So decorating, keeping them up to speed and meeting health and safety is a drain - and it is money that we would rather put into services."

In addition, the isolated nature of the site made it difficult to attract staff, even though Norwood paid above the market rate. "If we didn't do something substantive to turn it into a better place to live for the people who are there - and to make it sustainable into the future - it was just going to get more dilapidated and would eventually have to close. This gives Ravenswood a future. There is no plan B."

Norwood has already been working on the project for almost two years. "We have had a lot of professionals involved and have done a lot of work with all the stakeholders - the primary stakeholders being the families of residents and our staff. It's critical to us that the development partner understands the nature of the site and puts the welfare of residents first during the building programme. Because of the decanting of people and the new build, we estimate that the building programme could be up to three and a half years." The families of residents had been supportive of the proposal.

"We've got an obligation to the people living there - in some cases for 50 years," Ms Kerr stressed. "There will be new housing for a lot of them and new recreation facilities. It will be a more urbanised environment in a rural setting. And they'll be living on a site that is inclusive. We're hoping that there will be more opportunities for work and volunteering." Potential examples included a small retail shop and a market garden farm. There would also be "sports facilities such as football fields if we can get it through planning".

Ms Kerr anticipated that "any social or affordable housing on the site would help us in recruiting staff" - and that Ravenswood would eventually be able to provide accommodation for guest rabbis or residents' relatives visiting from abroad. "We cannot get US rabbonim out to do services as there is nowhere for them to stay."

As well as funding the improvements, the idea was that the money from the development partner would provide Ravenswood with "an endowment for the future".

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