2 September 2019

Established in the 1860s, by the early years of this century the Mount Dinham Cottage Trust recognised that the resources needed to address essential repairs, let alone bring its ageing properties up to modern standards, far exceeded its funds. A solution was required that would prevent the cottages from being sold to a private developer and lost to the affordable sector.

As the largest local housing association and with an excellent track record in refurbishment of its own stock, Cornerstone was identified as the ideal partner for the Mount Dinham project and a dialogue was established in 2008. This followed extensive consultation with residents and in-depth discussions with the Charity Commission and the National Almshouse Association. The agreement was vital in securing the long-term future of a historic estate of almshouses which has provided important and much-loved affordable housing to older members of Exeter’s community since 1862. As custodians of the Mount Dinham cottages, Cornerstone is committed to ensuring that the homes will provide vastly improved living conditions for the residents whilst preserving the estate’s rich history and unique character.

A challenging project

The almshouses have Grade II listed status, so there are some limitations in terms of what features can be altered or removed to facilitate the restoration. The rear extensions were neither attractive nor functional and prone to damp and mould. We consulted residents on replacing them with modern, well-lit and well-insulated extensions that also allowed the rear courtyards to be better used as well as creating more space between the homes. Residents were pleased to hear that the very steep and unsuitable staircases were also to be removed and replaced with more accessible stairs.

All of the work was undertaken by Cornerstone’s own direct labour force except for the repairs to the stonework surrounding windows which required specialist stonemasons. A site manager and two experienced tradesmen were drawn from the existing staff and complemented by the recruitment of a further eight personnel including an apprentice. The skill and dedication of this team has been crucial for the success of the project.

The works have been carried out on blocks of four cottages at a time and each phase has thrown up new challenges including structural movement, dry rot, sub-floor saturation and bat roosts. The scheme has taken longer than originally anticipated but is now due to complete next year at a total cost of approximately £6m. A Homes England grant of £600k was awarded for the latter phases but the scheme was otherwise funded entirely by Cornerstone.

The communal grounds are a particularly lovely feature of the setting of the buildings and have largely remained unchanged since 1862. The residents have complemented this with their own planting of flowering tubs and an allotment area that has resulted in the estate being recognised with a Britain in Bloom award.

What the work involves

The painstaking programme of careful and sympathetic modernisation has been challenging, not least because residents have had to be temporarily relocated, one block at a time, to vacant neighbouring houses. The work has involved:

  • stripping each cottage back to a bare shell
  • restoring stone work
  • tackling extensive dry rot
  • installing new staircases and walls
  • laying new roof slates
  • upgrading insulation to exceed current standards
  • fitting new windows
  • building ground-floor extensions providing light, modern and functional kitchens
  • re-plumbing and re-wiring
  • fitting gas central heating
  • adding new bathrooms with a choice of bath or walk-in shower
  • installing downstairs toilets
  • installing communal TV, satellite and broadband system serving living rooms and all bedrooms

The project is something that all involved are very proud of and Cornerstone has played its part in ensuring that an important piece of Exeter’s heritage has been maintained whilst continuing to provide affordable homes for those in need. It is a flagship scheme that demonstrates Cornerstone’s commitment to its core values of quality and pride as a caring and sustainable organisation.

We hope that this short film telling the story in more detail will be of interest:

Rick Williams

Chief Executive at Cornerstone Housing

Rick has been Chief Executive at Cornerstone since 1993. With extensive experience of more than 35 years in the housing sector, Rick first joined us as Housing Manager in 1985. Rick has executive responsibility for day to day operations and organisational performance and is an executive member of the Board.

Cornerstone's approach to regeneration - Mount Dinham project