Bradfield Parochial Charity owns and manages a terrace of four almshouses in Mariners Lane, Bradfield Southend, housing up to eight people who are of limited financial means.

Photo credit: Flickr

The cottages were built in 1810 by a local landowner and a plaque on the front of the building bears the inscription:


Mr Wilson’s wish for the houses to be habitable forever was more than a little optimistic, as they were cheaply built by unskilled labour and have consequently become increasingly expensive to maintain.

They are, however, still an important legacy, providing an invaluable affordable housing resource in the village.

Q: What challenges were you facing before the project started?

In 2018 a Quinquennial Survey to the visible and accessible parts of the building produced a schedule of works to the value of £154K to be spread over the next ten years.

Of particular concern was the lack of fire protection between the cottages. The first floor had been built as a continuous space divided only by timber frames with a lath and plaster finish and needed upgrading to give one hour fire resistance.   There was damp and decay, wiring was not up to modern standards and the plumbing was a chaotic mix of old and later ad hoc additions. Better insulation of the roof space, pipes and water tank was recommended as well as new kitchen and bathroom fixtures.

Q: How was this affecting the residents?

The trustees were of course acutely aware that the recommended remedial work couldn’t be carried out while the residents were in situ and they would have to wait until the properties were empty.

Q: What work was completed using the loan or grant? Were there any unforeseen challenges that you had to overcome as part of the project?

When one of the cottages became vacant, we were in a much better position to be able to examine the cottage in detail; it needed to be stripped back completely and entirely refurbished. This was also a golden opportunity to not only re-fit the downstairs bathroom with a shower but to annexe part of the bedroom to create an upstairs toilet, an amenity much appreciated by elderly residents! An initial schedule of works was drawn up and work started later that year.

It came as no surprise that as work progressed many more defects were uncovered!

Woodworm and damp, the twin enemies of old properties were very evident, wiring failed the ECIR test, and the plumbing was a chaotic mix of old and new.

Due to the newly revealed issues, inevitably the costs increased, but the trustees were determined that the uncovered and dangerous issues must be addressed and the properties become fit again for the foreseeable future.

The finished cottage looked fresh and modern and was set to become the blueprint for all four cottages. A delighted new resident moved in.

Q: What would have happened had you not been successful in receiving a loan or grant from the Association?

Without the loan we would have been faced with the unenviable position of exhausting our reserves leaving little contingency to cover any unexpected items or income falls through vacancies. It would be very difficult to operate with a long term view to protect the almshouses and residents whilst having to take a very short term and “hand to mouth” view on the finances.

Q: With the benefit of hindsight is there anything you would have done differently?

We’re hoping (subject to further Almshouse Association loan) to undertake another refurbishment. Having undertaken two in the last couple of years the visible defects are the tip of the iceberg and a decent contingency in terms money and time is required.

Q: Would you recommend any of the architects/tradespeople/companies you used to other almshouse charities planning renovations/new builds?

We have been very lucky in securing the services of a local multi-trade contractor who has taken a keen interest in the project and has carried out the work to a high standard. He is also multi trade being a qualified electrician and plumber. A good experience all round working with someone who found a solution for every problem rather than just a sharp intake of breath. Using the same contractor throughout also meant he was familiar with the problems likely to be uncovered and has been able to link the works in the adjoining properties without a costly voyage of discovery each time. We hope to retain them to support any ongoing (minor!) maintenance work.

Q: On completion of the project what feedback have you received from the residents? 

The new resident is delighted with the property and was able to have a modest level of influence with the refurbishment choosing paint colours.

Q: If you had one piece of advice that you would like to pass on to another almshouse charity following the completion of your project, what would it be?

You might be asking why these cottages ended up needing such extensive work and going forward how we can avoid this situation in the future. All the cottages were continuously occupied for twenty years or more which meant that it was a very long time since we had been able to carry out an in depth inspection.

Once residents’ floor coverings are down and enormous wardrobes in place it is quite likely that we won’t have sight of the floors and walls they conceal for another 25 years. In this time the sagging joists, damp patches and woodworm will all be progressing unchecked. Although thorough remedial work is expensive it is so much easier and cheaper to put everything right while the property is empty.

Many thanks to Duncan Butler for sending us in this case study; we look forward to their next instalment!

December 2022