Exciting new housing initiative supports young people leaving care in Essex

Published on
07 June 2022

An exciting new housing initiative designed to support vulnerable young people at risk of homelessness is now ready to welcome its first resident in Epping.

Children’s charity Barnardo’s has joined forces with housing association Theydon Trusts and built a ‘Gap Home’ – the first one in Essex and a purpose-built house for young people leaving local authority care. The innovative Gap Home includes access to consistent ‘wraparound’ support from local Barnardo’s services. 

Leaving care is a huge milestone in a young person’s life and without suitable accommodation or a support network, it can be extremely challenging for young people to make positive steps towards living independently, obtaining employment, education or training.  Gap Homes are designed to make this transition easier by providing suitable, safe accommodation and responsive, relationship-based support that meets the needs of individual young people.

Jenny*, aged 22, lived in a Gap Home in Scotland for just over a year with her newborn baby.

Jenny, said:

“I was 19 and living in a residential unit when I fell pregnant. It was arranged for me to move into my own place, into a Barnardo’s Gap Home. It was a big change and I was scared. But living there with the support I had wasn’t a massive jump to go from being surrounded by people, to suddenly living on your own and everything that comes with that. It was a nice stepping stone.  

“As well as my worker that came to help me every day, there was different support I could access at different stages depending on what I needed, including parenting support and counselling when I was struggling. I got help from Barnardo’s with learning how to pay bills and managing all those other things to run your own home.  

“I’ve moved into my own flat now and I feel like I’ve come a long way. I’m starting a new course to get a care qualification and I’m confident in making decisions about our future, which is something I never imagined having the confidence to do just a couple of years ago.”

Michelle Lee Izu, Corporate Director for Development and Innovation, Children’s Services, Barnardo’s, said:

“This is such an exciting project. Gap Homes have been designed to truly transform the experiences of young people as they make the challenging transition into adulthood.

“Living alone for the first time in your own home and on a limited budget can be daunting for anyone and particularly for young people leaving the care system, who often miss out on the family support network that others can rely on. In a Gap Home, Barnardo’s can step in and provide practical and emotional support giving young people the life skills needed to become independent.

“What is unique about Gap Homes is that young people have been instrumental in designing and creating the concept using their own lived experiences, and it has only been possible thanks to our partnership with Theydon Trusts.

“We are thrilled that this new project in Epping is just the start, and many more Gap Homes are planned across the UK. However, we can only deliver this vision with support from business and local authorities who share our ambition for a better future for vulnerable young people. We are always looking for new partners to make this a reality.”

The Home has been built on a 'Gap Site' which is a small, awkwardly shaped patch of land that would otherwise go unused. It has now been converted into a 1.5 storey one bedroom home complete with its own front door and garden.

Mr Michael Chapman, Secretary at Theydon Trusts Limited said:

“We were delighted to be involved in this exciting initiative working in partnership with Barnardo’s and feel very proud to show off the first GAP home in England.

 “It is important that young people have support and advice with the everyday problems they will face such as budgeting for water and electricity supplies and everyday issues we all have, which can be so daunting to young people leaving care.

 “We are looking forward to working with Barnardo’s in years to come.”

Barnardo’s has also been working closely with their partner IKEA on the Gap Home. A team from IKEA’s online design service used their expertise in working with small spaces to design the home, and the home was fully furnished through donations from the local Lakeside store. In addition, co-workers from Lakeside IKEA built the furniture and made the home ready for the first young person to move in.

Hiliary Jenkins, Sustainability Business Partner at IKEA said:

“IKEA are delighted to have been able to support Barnardo’s new Gap Home in Epping. Our Design Team and co-workers from the Lakeside store came together using their expertise to furnish the house, turning it into a home ready for a young person to move into. We are very much looking forward to continuing to work with Barnardo’s on their Gap Home initiative, to keep supporting care experienced young people as they live independently.”

Barnardo’s is working in close collaboration with Essex County Council to identify young people who are leaving care who will be offered their first tenancy in the Epping Gap Home.  

Barnardo’s Gap Homes initiative was originally piloted in Scotland with the charity’s first Gap Home becoming available to young people in December 2019. Barnardo’s is now partnering with local authorities and industry partners across the UK to build a further 50 homes.