Watling Court Turns Ten!

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8 October 2021

Watling Court Turns Ten!

Rapport Housing & Care’s first extra care housing scheme celebrated its 10th anniversary this week.

Watling Court opened in 2011 back when extra care housing wasn’t a well-known form of accommodation for older people; it still isn’t in many areas. The organisation recognised a change in the market and took a leap of faith, developing the Gravesend scheme and it turned out to be a very good decision as the scheme achieves continually high occupancy and the residents’ feedback is always positive, here is the story of how the scheme came to fruition.

The Story of Watling Court

Testimony from residents and guests at Watling Court suggests that visitors cannot help but be impressed by the scheme and its impact over the past ten years; it speaks for itself. What can be missed out when looking around is the story behind the scheme, and how it was transformed from an old council-run residential home into a state-of- the-art extra care housing scheme.

On the site where Watling Court now stands once stood Valley Lodge, a Kent County Council run residential home originally built in the 1970s. Valley Lodge first came to our attention in 1999, when Kent County Council decided to sell their local authority run care homes. The Gravesend home was acquired, along with eight other properties, in 2000 and joined The Abbeyfield Medway Valley Society, as the organisation was then known.

Over the next decade The Abbeyfield Medway Valley Society evolved into The Abbeyfield Kent Society, after being joined by more homes from throughout the county. Watling Court was first envisaged in 2008, at a time when the British economy was heading into a financial meltdown, and Valley Lodge had reached a stage where it was no longer viable.

The process of developing a 1970s residential home into a brand new extra care housing scheme is a lengthy one, and the plans evolved over the course of the project as the circumstances changed. A small house was located on the corner of the plot where Valley Lodge was situated. At the point that Kent County Council sold the home, the plot was split, and the small house kept on. However, the house came onto the market in 2008 and was put up for auction, at which point The Abbeyfield Kent Society purchased it, significantly increasing the scope of the project.

The sale of the extra property drew the attention of Lion TV, the production company who make the BBC property auction show Homes Under the Hammer. The show focuses on properties that have been purchased at auction and redeveloped. After the auction, Lion TV visited the property with Abbeyfield Kent Chairman Robert Barnes, who talked them through the grand plans for the site.

On two occasions, Abbeyfield Kent was approached by two property developers who offered substantial sums of money to purchase the very desirable plot of land. Of course, the offers were attractive but accepting them would have done nothing to help older people in need in Gravesham, so they were declined, and construction finally began in 2009.

Before the development work was complete, Watling Court had established its first community link. The extra care housing scheme needed a name, so Riverview Junior School was approached to help out. The current Abbeyfield Kent Director of Property and Development, Ian Thomas, who oversaw the whole project, visited the school to talk to pupils about The Abbeyfield Kent Society, the work we do, the people we look after, and what we were building just around the corner from their school. The school pupils then developed a substantial shortlist of suggested names for the home, with the winning name chosen by Abbeyfield Kent Chairman, Robert Barnes and Chief Executive, Leon Steer.

Watling Court was suggested by Nathan Sizer, who was eight at the time, and Nathan came along to a naming ceremony in Gravesend in January 2011 where the name was finally unveiled. The finishing touches were added to the project over the summer months of 2011, and the scheme welcomed its first residents in October of the same year.

Before the first residents moved in, Lion TV returned to Gravesend to catch up on the development work and see what had happened since they last visited. The results were broadcast on BBC One in February 2012, and the feedback was tremendous. As part of the show, three commercial estate agents visited
Watling Court to provide a valuation on the scheme, all of whom agreed the property was worth between £12 and £13 million, a great return on an investment of £8.3 million.

Since completion, Watling Court has been awarded the BREEAM Excellent Certificate, the highest available grade when the project began. The BREEAM scheme provides an environmental label for new buildings to recognise the efforts of developers to mitigate their impact on the environment. The project was
assessed throughout the construction stage against a system of issues such as energy, transport, pollution and innovation.

There are a number of features at the scheme that helped it achieve the excellent grade. Power consumption is minimised in a number of ways throughout the scheme. The building has a full CHP system that produces electricity, and the heat by-product is recycled to heat water. Hot water is also provided to the building by solar hot water panels, which are situated on the roof. Inside, motion activated lighting is fitted in the hallways to ensure lights are not on when not needed, and all levels of the scheme benefit from natural sunlight which is tunnelled from the roof. Responsibly sourced thermal insulation was fitted throughout the building, and special consideration was given to ventilation to minimise energy used in heating the scheme.

When Valley Lodge was demolished, materials from the demolition were left on site and crushed for use as high grade aggregate for the rest of the building project. And the recycling doesn’t stop after the building was complete. Each flat was provided with a kitchen caddy compost bin, and a large compost bin is available to compost material from the daily operations of the scheme.

As it stands today, Watling Court is a stunning environment that accommodates up to 70 older people, where they can be cared for, supported and enjoy companionship with the other residents. One only has to talk to the people who live there now, to hear stories of the difference it has made to their lives. These stories would not be heard had the organisation allowed the dire financial predictions to overcome the vision that such a project was vital for the area.


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