Former Bristol school turned into temporary home for refugees

The St Christopher’s School on The Downs is currently housing refugees from several countries

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A former school in Westbury Park has been transformed into temporary housing for refugees.

St Christopher’s School on The Downs is currently subject to a planning application to turn it into a luxury retirement development.

But while developers Socius await the outcome of this, they have teamed up with the FORE Partnership and Amicala to provide temporary housing for refugees in need of interim housing.

Starting with the refurbished Hampton Lodge on the site, this is the first project of its kind in the city and will provide homes for a small community of refugees from several countries including Afghanistan, Sudan, Russia, and Ukraine who have been granted refugee status in the UK.

The building offers one-bedroom properties which are provided fully furnished and fitted with white goods, so residents have a place to call home while they receive support from ACH.

ACH is an organisation dedicated to breaking down the barriers of entry to work and housing which refugee and migrant communities face. Through its work in social housing provision and tailored integration services, ACH aims to redefine, recentre and rebuild this process of integration, providing refugee and migrant communities across the UK the means to lead self-sufficient, ambitious, and happy lives.

Fuad Mahamed, CEO at ACH, said: “This partnership is most welcome and much needed. The refugee clients we support desperately need safe, comfortable, and affordable housing to begin the process of rebuilding their lives in this country. This project is an important contribution to this journey.”

To ensure a level of stability, the residents will have a minimum lease of 12 months and be offered at least three months’ notice ahead of any future development works commencing.

One of the refurbished rooms for refugees at the former St Christopher’s school on The DownsOne of the refurbished rooms for refugees at the former St Christopher’s school on The Downs
One of the refurbished rooms for refugees at the former St Christopher’s school on The Downs

Mike Dodd, Project Director of Socius, said: “As a partnership with FORE and Amicala, we are deeply committed to making a positive impact in the communities we work in, both socially and environmentally.

“While we work our way through the development process, we saw an opportunity to utilise an otherwise vacant site as much needed temporary accommodation for refugees in need of accommodation.”

Aurélien Collignon from developer FORE said: “Creating lasting, positive social impact has been deeply imbedded into our vision as a firm since inception a decade ago. We love partnering with local social enterprises to deliver on that vision, and we have been incredibly impressed with the work of ACH, to ensure those in need can access quality accommodation while they set up their lives here in the UK.”

As well as working with ACH, the development team is also providing housing to 90 ‘guardians’ (people who live in empty properties for affordble rents in order to protect the buildings), in addition to rent-free space to local groups such as Redland Scouts, and open outdoor space to the neighbouring Westbury Park School.

The proposed plans for St Christopher’s Square will create over 100 homes for older people looking to live independently.

The plans will restore the existing heritage buildings, open the site to the local community and its extensive landscaped gardens. To encourage intergenerational use of the site, the proposals include a café, urban village hall, wellness centre and activity rooms.

The development of the former SEND school has been met with strong opposition from St Christopher’s Action Network (SCAN). As well as the loss of SEND provision on the site after 70 years, the campaign is concerned about overdevelopment, the loss of protected trees and wildlife, a lack of parking and say the scheme is out of character with the designated Conservation Area.

But a spokesperson from SCAN told Bristol World that they welcomed the refugees who are now living in the former school.

“We warmly welcome all the refugees to Westbury Park and we hope they settle into this wonderful part of Bristol. It’s testament to the generosity of spirit here that the idea of housing refugees in empty buildings at St Christopher’s came from within the community. So many local people then pitched in to make it all happen.”

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