New initiative launched to help youngsters

Clusters of eco-friendly 'Hobbit homes' and a respite care hotel are among the ambitious plans to help vulnerable and young people in north Norfolk find affordable housing and jobs.

Clusters of eco-friendly 'Hobbit homes' and a respite care hotel are among the ambitious plans to help vulnerable and young people in north Norfolk find affordable housing and jobs.

The projects are the vision of the locally-based Benjamin Foundation which already provides a range of services for the young and homeless.

They come as the charity this week learned it had failed in a Big Lottery bid for a �3.5m arts and performance centre at North Walsham, which would have provided somewhere for young people work and enjoy music and drama.

Charity founder Richard Draper said they were 'gutted' by the news but were excited by the other new schemes.


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Land was now being sought for carbon neutral 'green' housing, made from earth banking, with solar panels, which would be cheap to rent and create training opportunities for people to learn eco building skills.

The aim was to have small groups of the so-called 'Hobbit homes' in rural areas, but with a mix of tenants, not just the vulnerable, to avoid creating ghettos, he added.

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It was hoped to get a pilot scheme off the ground this summer, using similar skills to build more conventional, timber-framed, sectional, sedum-roofed extensions to the charity's homeless hostel at Winston Court.

Like its sister unit at Fakenham it had a waiting list because the young people helped through crises were struggling to get on the property ladder as they rebuilt their lives.

Next year it was hoped to firm up a �2m plan to run a 15-20 bed respite hotel offering high class breaks for people needing care.

As well as offering skilled jobs, it would provide 20 training opportunities aimed at vulnerable people struggling to find employment - from ex-offenders to people with mental and physical health problems.

It was also aiming to create six jobs and eight training spots in a horticultural scheme producing food for local shops and restaurants.

'We know we cannot solve all the problems but this an attempt to address some of them,' said Mr Draper.

The rejected arts scheme would have been in a new eco building housing a performance area and cinema, and would have created catering and backstage jobs.

Mr Draper said it was turned down because the Big Lottery was three times over-subscribed with �585m worth of schemes chasing �185m pot, and concerns it was too arts focussed and not targeting deprived young people - points he disagreed with because rural youngsters were deprived through poor access to the arts.

However the charity was hoping to bounce back with a smaller scale scheme, and had an eye on the Paston College Griffons site which would be ideal for a community facility after the college relocated.

Since the foundation was formed in 1994 and started providing rural youth services, it has expanded into a �2m turnover business employing 92 people.

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