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By breathing life back into empty, derelict houses to create safe, affordable homes for homeless people or those in housing need in Leeds, UK, Canopy Housing Project is transforming lives across the city.

With 64 leased properties that it rents out to homeless people or those in housing need in three Leeds neighbourhoods, Canopy Housing Project is now attracting worldwide attention since being named joint winner of the 2015–16 World Habitat Awards with Giroscope, a Hull-based housing project.

With funding, Canopy has long-term leased properties previously lying empty from Leeds City Council and works with a team of volunteers, staff and future tenants to renovate the houses.

While the transformation of the houses is clear, what isn’t immediately obvious is the impact for those involved, either as volunteers or potential tenants.

“When I first came to Canopy, I was living in a hostel,” said Jane. “I was very depressed, low in confidence, I just didn’t want to do anything for myself.” Jane began work with Canopy as a volunteer, which led to her being offered her own home to work on. She has also gained a range of skills that she can put to use, offering the promise of a sustainable, better long-term future: “Being on site with Canopy was so easy, the people are so nice. I just forgot about everything and got on with what I was doing.”

Jane is still volunteering, despite finishing her own home. Canopy has also encouraged her to take a computer course, which she has now completed. This, along with the skills learnt while volunteering, has genuinely transformed Jane’s life. “I had no confidence on the computer, but I can use the laptop now without looking at the buttons.”

“I feel like I can actually achieve something now. Canopy has brought that out of me with all the help I have had. I’m smiling, talking and walking on the street with my head held high.”

 And Jane is far from alone. Whether it’s providing people with skills, employment or housing, Canopy is genuinely transforming lives.

Most volunteers come from disadvantaged backgrounds and include refugees, people with learning disabilities and those who are long-term unemployed. With Canopy, they all work together to learn new skills and improve self-confidence. While some may go on to formal training and find a job, others become Canopy tenants after helping to renovate their own homes. Tenants are expected to carry out at least eight days’ voluntary work helping to renovate the property that will become their home.

After experiencing domestic violence and a period of homelessness with her young son, Beth moved into a hostel before discovering Canopy. “I was volunteering about four days a week for my own house. It was hard work but I loved it.”

Volunteering with Canopy has completely changed their lives. “I had no confidence. I had nothing. Working with Canopy brought all my confidence out. It’s too good to be true. We can be a family, me and my little boy. I’ve never had a house that feels like a home.”

Not only has Beth found new confidence and a secure home, it’s also provided her with a range of skills and experiences as a foundation for employment. “I’ve never had the chance to work, so now my boy is in nursery, it is about moving forward.”

“The most unique aspect of Canopy is the self-help housing element,” said Steve Hoey, Director of Canopy. “The fact that potential tenants work on their house to make it a home makes the project really special. They learn additional skills, such as plastering, painting or joinery, which can lead to employment, and they get to meet local people and become part of the community.”

And it’s a win–win for the City Council too. Empty homes blight an area and can attract vandalism and rubbish dumping. Canopy are regenerating the area both socially by training and supporting local people, and economically by improving the housing stock. All of which contributes to a better quality of environment for residents. 

“The City Council is proud of its relationship with Canopy,” said John Statham, Head of Housing Partnerships and Growth, Leeds City Council. “We were keen to support them at the outset and have continued to so do by transferring empty properties, offering long leases and helping them to gain additional funding. Canopy’s focus on enabling homeless people to work on renovating empty properties to gain work skills is a great example of what the third sector can offer.”

Canopy Housing Project is also a partner in Leeds Community Homes, a unique city-wide collaboration that looks set to make a significant contribution to meeting housing needs in Leeds over the next 10 years.

For more information about Canopy Housing, contact Rosie or Steve on 0113 294 6868 or email [email protected]


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