Latch (Leeds Action to Create Homes) is a Leeds-based charitable organisation that refurbishes derelict and run-down houses in the Chapeltown, Harehills and Burley areas of Leeds.
Once Latch has modernised and furnished the properties, they are let out to provide supported housing for people who are homeless or in housing need and are ready to make a positive change in their lives. Residents in Latch housing also receive support, such as financial guidance and job seeking, which are so fundamental for moving forward.
Homelessness – a challenge across the UK
According to Crisis UK, there is no national figure for how many people are homeless across the UK. However, it has been noted that over the last 5 years, homelessness has been rising, reaching a peak just before the pandemic, when the numbers of homeless households exceeded 219,000. Like many other UK cities, in Leeds there are lots of people experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. Statistics released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government indicate that a family became homeless every 7 hours in the City in 2019, with a related rise of 466% in rough sleeping over recent years. There are also concerns about the growing number of ‘hidden homeless’ in the City, i.e. people who are without a secure form of accommodation.
Leeds has been relatively good at helping people who are at risk of homelessness, with figures indicating that the council prevented 7,070 households from becoming homeless in 2016, and a further 9,180 households from the streets in 2019. Despite this, there are still many people who are currently without a home or who are at risk of losing their home, so more needs to be done.
One method is by converting empty houses into liveable homes. In 2018 government figures showed there were 8,727 empty homes across the City, all of which could be converted into housing for those experiencing homelessness.
Latest Latch renovation project – preview event
Latch have renovated many homes over their 30 year history. One of their most recent home renovations was also one of their largest. I was invited to preview the new supported homes in Harehills and also took the opportunity to speak to some of the Latch team members to explore the project in more detail.
On arrival, I was shown around the property by Joe Brown, Latch Property Development Manager. Joe led the project throughout but was also very hands-on. As he walked me around the property, he explained how proud he was of the work that had been completed in such challenging times. He showed me photos of what the property looked like before Latch purchased it, and I was shocked by the state it had been in. There had been no mains electricity or running water, and it had been heated by a wood burner. Joe explained that in addition to the usual challenges of renovating a large property, such as working in hot conditions in the summer, having to deal with lots of dust and navigating a very muddy site, the team also had to work through COVID. He told me that the pandemic added extra challenges, for instance when lockdown was first announced in March 2020, most of the Latch staff were furloughed and compounding that, it was hard to find contractors.
I listened as Latch CEO, James Hartley, delivered the opening speech. He described the extent of homelessness across Leeds and laid the foundations for the importance of the work of Latch. He thanked all the team, and those in attendance at the preview event also acknowledged all the hard work.
Local Councillor Jane Dowson then spoke about homelessness in the City and praised the important work of Latch in tackling the issue. Both speakers highlighted the importance of continued work and securing funding for more home renovations.
I was able to speak to James shortly after his talk, when I asked about how the work had been funded. He explained that the property renovation was funded from a range of sources for the Latch Creates Project. However, moving forward, he and the rest of the Latch team are looking to identify other funding sources, including a citizen-led approach that will enable the community to support future building projects. I loved the sound of this, especially because it would allow local people to invest in work with social impact, and also benefit financially from it themselves. Like Joe, James said that he was really proud of the work that had been done and is looking forward to future projects as there are still lots of people in Leeds without a home.
Just before leaving, I was invited to speak to Latch trainee Ryan Jeffers about his experiences on the project. Ryan explained that before the pandemic he was working as a personal trainer, but when March 2020 came around, his work stopped. Shortly after that, he received a phone call from Latch, offering him the opportunity to work as a volunteer builder. After a few months, he was offered a job, something that he said he is really grateful for.
I asked him about how he has found the experience with Latch, and specifically how he found working on the house. Ryan told me he really enjoyed learning everything, and now has lots of skills that he can use at home and on other projects. The work was not without its challenges, and for Ryan, grouting was one of these! He is now set on a new career path and is also wanting to build and/or decorate his own property one day.
I’m grateful that I was given the opportunity to preview the new Latch property. It was fantastic to see the house and the incredible work that the small Latch team were able to achieve. The four properties will make a huge difference to the lives of their new residents.
I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for opportunities to support Latch in their funding efforts, and I hope that after seeing and reading about their work, many others across Leeds and beyond will also consider supporting the charity and the people that they help.
Feature photograph: A view of the finished interior.