The Pilsdon Community is a working farm in Dorset, which provides a refuge for people in crisis and intermittent respite for homeless people. But when they engaged a contractor to renovate a dilapidated barn and stables to create extra space they got their fingers burned. Here’s how working with CRASH and its patrons has rebuilt trust in the building profession

CRASH Pilsden

The contractor’s view: You don’t realise how many people there are who need help, but who don’t seem to fit into the formal social services framework

Nick Goff

Nick Goff

Three-and-a-half years ago we got a call from CRASH about a community in Dorset that had had problems with a contractor - they had used most of their money and hadn’t been able to complete all the work they planned. They needed someone to do painting and decorating, so a group from BAM volunteered.

It was originally meant to be one day, painting windows, but we were made so welcome there that we couldn’t leave the job half done. The people at Pilsdon were so genuine, but so vulnerable to these unscrupulous builders. They just wanted to be treated fairly and properly - with us, they were going to get their building and get a good experience. Their trust in us has increased over time, because we’ve done what we’ve said we’ll do. They’re like friends now - working at Pilsdont is like doing something for your family.

The project we’re working on now will create more space for homeless people as well as some some stabling for animals. It started in September, and we’ve rebuilt the frame and envelope of the building. It’s scheduled to finish this March. We priced it like a normal project, but tried to get materials with charitable offers for them - CRASH has helped with that - and although times are hard in the building industry, we got some generous discounts from subcontractors. One subcontractor offered to do all the floor coverings for free.

During the voluntary work, everybody mixes with each other; we have morning tea together, and lunch. There are people who need time to settle, to get back into a working way of life. You meet people with difficult circumstances. Some like to talk, and you hear all about their problems. And it’s a busy place - you don’t realise how many people there are who need help, but who don’t seem to fit into the formal social services framework.

All the guests at Pilsdon have tasks to do, but some came and helped with the painting in the stables as well. When you get people to pull together, it’s amazing what you can achieve.

We have a full-time project manager at Pilsdon, and other people from the company participate as well. Just recently, we put out a call for painting volunteers. As soon as you start talking about the project, people want to get involved. Working on this project has helped my colleagues gel as a team, they just want to do their absolute best for that community. I couldn’t have asked for more from them.

The important thing is the personal satisfaction - you feel like you’ve really helped. You can see the benefit. It’s totally different from the day job, but you go down there and paint 20 windows and you feel good about that. The project manager, Tony Syddall, has been involved with some iconic buildings, but he says that Pilsdon is the best project he’s ever worked on.

Nick Goff is construction director at BAM

The community’s view: Working with CRASH and its patrons has been a matter of rebuilding trust with the building profession

Michael Deegan

Michael Deegan

Homelessness is something we have always worked with. Pilsdon was set up 55 years ago as ‘a place of rest along the journey’ - its ethos is hospitality, work and worship. In our community of about 28 people, some stay here for one, two or more years, and some are what we call “wayfarers”, homeless people who visit for a night or two at a time. We don’t know when they’re going to turn up, they just come - if we don’t have space, then we put mattresses on the floor. They come from all over - some local to Dorset and some from much further afield.

Being homeless is a very high-risk proposition. You don’t know if you’ll be attacked or robbed, you’re very vulnerable. Here they get some respite and a feeling of safety. They can catch up on sleep, and laundry, and do some light work in the garden, the kitchen or with the animals we have on our sustainable farm.

A lot of our guests have had a level of chaos in their lives, and we provide a place of safety and a healthy pattern of day-to-day living. They are often in recovery from crisis: bereavement, divorce, addiction. They don’t need a hospital, but they need something that has more support than just living in a flat somewhere.

When we worked with a contractor before, it was a bad experience. The work was badly done - parts of it had to re-done and we’re still repairing as we go. It took up a lot of our time and budget.

Working with CRASH and its patrons has been a matter of rebuilding trust with the building profession. CRASH came in offering more than we could have hoped for. They put us in touch with firms such as BAM and EC Harris, and helped us do some development in fundraising. They did everything they could to make sure that the project was well supported. It’s an ongoing relationship.

This building project has been running over the past three or four years. We’re taking down the old animal stables, and reconstructing them. We’re converting the loose boxes to be an auxiliary kitchen space, for preparing the communal meals that we eat, and a large space to be used as a general meeting room, and flexible spaces for crafts such as woodwork and upholstering that the guests do.

The rest of the building will be winter quarters for our cattle. The project is also allowing us to provide eight more spaces for wayfarers {homeless people) to sleep in, which means we can take in more people.

Between our guests, and the people who have been working on this project, everyone knows everybody by name.

The construction folks that are working here have been that easy to work with, they’ve become part of the community.
It’s been wonderful.

Michael Deegan is the warden of thePilsdon community