This report sets out a response to the Member’s item, raised by Councillor Curry, concerning Russell House and its proposed future use by MHS Homes.
Councillor Curry introduced his Member’s item, which raised concerns about the proposed use of Russell House, Luton as a Foyer Project for vulnerable young people aged 16-25. He explained that the building was in a poor state of repair and was attracting anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping and drug users. He felt the building and the area in which it was based required a great deal of investment and commented that MHS Homes had not undertaken some of the investment they had planned. He added that the community and other agencies, such as the Police, were not supportive of the project due to safeguarding concerns for the young people that would be placed there, in an area with high crime rates.
The Chief Executive of MHS Homes responded, stating that foyer projects provided much needed accommodation for young people who required support to develop into independent adults. Foyers provided safe 24/7 professional support and supported young people to avoid dangers of becoming engaged in things such as county lines, substance misuse and anti-social behaviour. He added that currently 225 young people were on the list as needing support from such schemes and 38 young people were in the highest priority group. He confirmed there was £3m funding to refurbish the building and that plans included space for community use, dedicated area for PCSOs as well as other agencies. He confirmed that MHS Homes was working with all statutory partners who were working together to ensure all risks and vulnerabilities were mitigated to ensure the foyer project’s success.
Members then raised a number of comments and questions, which included:
· Appropriateness of the location – Members raised concerns about the location of the project and the vulnerabilities of looked after children as well as young people generally. With regards to children in care and care leavers, as corporate parents, Members were concerned about placing vulnerable young people in an area with high crime statistics and high risk of county lines activity. Similar concerns were also raised in relation to young people with learning difficulties who also had increased vulnerabilities. The Chief Executive of MHS Homes confirmed that care leavers were within a sub-group of the cohort of young people that would be considered for a foyer scheme and wouldn’t necessarily be placed at Russell House. He also expressed MHS Homes commitment to support and improve the neighbourhood within which Russell House was based and wanted to do this collectively with all agencies to provide multi-agency solutions.
· Management of the site – concern was raised about the current management of the site, with overgrown vegetation, lack of CCTV and the poor state of repair of the building itself. The Chief Executive, MHS Homes confirmed CCTV would be included as part of the refurbishment that would take place as well as other refurbishment plans to improve the site.
· Refurbishment plans – the Assistant Director, Development and Sales, MHS Homes detailed some of the plans for the foyer project at Russell House, which included; 24/7 support, multiple office areas for PCSOs and other agencies, an accredited learning centre, carefully designed boundary fencing to provide security and natural surveillance, fobbed access, installation of CCTV and enhanced lighting. It was confirmed that there were three planning permissions that had been granted in respect of the refurbishment of Russell House and these were being combined into one project for contractors to undertake.
· Safeguarding issues – in response to a question about the safeguarding concerns that Children’s Services officers might have regarding the project’s location, officers confirmed that although they could not comment on the specific location at that time, they explained that there were children and young people in every ward in Medway which were of concern for Children’s Services and mitigations were put in place to address the concerns. It was also confirmed that the commissioning for all accommodation was part of a very robust quality assurance framework and where providers fell short, officers would work with them to address the issue or withdraw the commissioning of that service.
The Committee noted the report and Director’s comments and recommended the appropriate authorities (as determined by lead officers) to carry out full analysis of Russell House to determine if it is an appropriate location for a Foyer Project.