Form Design Group Architects help veterans build their own homes

Without Devonport’s new building for former service personnel, 39 year old Mike Bellamy was resigned to a life of ‘sofa surfing.’

Today his future is brighter thanks to the successful completion of the Nelson Project, in Plymouth, where veterans built homes for themselves.

Form Design Group Architects, based in Lockyer Street, Plymouth, drew up the plans for the building and was one of the attendees at an event to mark its opening which took place on Friday.

With 12 years of proud service to his country, Mike Bellamy found himself facing an uncertain future following an injury on board a submarine at the age of 30.

The incident led to a medical discharge in 2011 whereupon the Leading Hand suddenly found himself thrust into ‘civvy street’ and he quickly discovered that settling into a non-military lifestyle was tough going.

Financial pressures began to hit home and increasing pressures on relationships took their toll. Mike soon found his life spiralling downwards into a lost sense of self where depression began to take over and he became increasingly reliant on medication.

In 2016, Mike hit rock bottom and became homeless. He soon turned to Help for Heroes for assistance whereupon he heard about The Nelson Project – a scheme specifically designed for former Navy personnel in his situation.

“The ball started rolling for me,” recalls Mike. “It was the right project for me.”

The Nelson Project is working in partnership with the local housing association (DCH), Plymouth City Council, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and the Community Self Build Agency charity to help former service personnel build homes for themselves.

Form Design Group Architects produced the blueprints for the affordable housing development which has created 24 homes at the Millbay site (including 12 flats for veterans).

The team has received national and regional praise for their outstanding design work which has seen them receive a number of accolades - including the Development of Year Award in 2012 from the Chartered Institute of Housing.

“We felt Plymouth should do something for the veterans and, as such, in 2007, we were asked to find a site,” says Graham Lobb, Founder and Director of Form Design Group Architects.

“The area we identified in Millbay was owned by Plymouth City Council and it was a perfect location as there is the comfort for veterans to know that there is a barracks nearby and the area has close links for both the Royal Navy and the Army.”

“It was crucial to bring on board a housing association to manage the process to project manage procurement, planning and development. DCH has provided fantastic support which has ensured the development could happen.”

“The contractor, Interserve, had to retrain former veterans to work on the building site as some of these brave individuals have been in life threatening situations which have left mental and physical scars. The project has really helped to turn their lives around.”

“The design was challenging as we had to ensure the people were clustered within a close knit area to allow for the growth of their community. So, we kept the design simple and, as it is publicly funded, we wanted it to sit comfortably within the surrounding area.”

“Without doubt, this is a flagship project which is based on a simple concept and design – crucial for people with limited experience on a construction site. These veterans were retrained to build their own homes which has helped to provide them with a real purpose in life.”

“It’s given me a new sense of direction,” says Mike. “It’s a completely fresh start with employment opportunities, I had reached rock bottom and now I feel a sense of gratitude and self-empowerment.”

“If you give someone a fish, they can live for a day. Give them a rod and they can live for a lifetime. The Nelson Project has helped to reinstate those skills which I had thought I had lost but which have now been reignited back in me.”

Successful schemes have flourished across the country: from Cornwall to Bristol to the West Midlands and London.

Paul Crawford, DCH Chief Executive said, "This project is one we are immensely proud to be part of. The real difference this has made to people's lives is what our work is all about. I sincerely hope the people who've worked really hard to make this happen can now sit back and enjoy their new home."

Patrick Nicholson, Deputy Leader and Cabinet member for Strategic Transport, Housing and Planning said: "For me, the Nelson Project represents everything that I think is great about this city.”

"Firstly, the heart of this project lies in our association with the armed forces. Plymouth is a service city and it was important to recognise this by gifting the land and aiding financially in the form of a capital grant to provide additional local housing.”

"But it also shows what can happen when multiple agencies pull together. From the very beginning, the Nelson Project has been a partnership, with every party bringing with them their expertise and guidance. I’m delighted to see it complete.”