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Restoration of historic Exeter alms houses reaches milestone

Now in the care of Cornerstone, Exeter’s largest independent housing association, 20 of the alms houses at Mount Dinham have been extensively refurbished with work already well underway on the next block of four houses.

To mark this milestone, Cornerstone invited councillors, stakeholders and local residents to view the completed homes and the extent of the refurbishment.

Built in 1862 by Exeter philanthropist John Dinham, the cottages were intended to provide decent housing for the elderly people of the city. In recent years it became apparent that millions of pounds would need to be spent overcoming damp, dry rot, poor insulation, old wiring and many other issues.

Cornerstone signed a 125-year lease with the Mount Dinham Cottage Trust in 2012, following consultation with residents and in-depth discussions with the Charity Commission and the Almshouses Association.

Cornerstone, which provides 1300 affordable homes for rent and shared ownership across Exeter, East Devon and Teignbridge is using its own labour force on the Mount Dinham project, working alongside specialist stonemasons.

Stripped back to the bare bones, each property has undergone a complete transformation with the installation of new walls, staircases, plumbing, wiring, insulation and windows.

All of the refurbished homes feature brand new bathrooms and kitchens as well as ground floor extensions to provide a downstairs toilet as well as more living space.

Rick Williams, Chief Executive of Cornerstone, said:

“Having now reached the half-way mark at Mount Dinham, and as Cornerstone itself marks its 90th year serving the people of Exeter and its surrounding communities, it’s a fitting time to hold an event to reflect on the success of the scheme so far. It’s been a great opportunity to showcase the quality of the workmanship that’s gone into the properties. The homes have been transformed and internally they look like new homes but we’ve prioritised maintaining the character of the old Victorian estate.”

Cornerstone has been providing affordable homes for the people of Exeter and surrounding districts since it was originally founded as the Exeter Workmen’s Dwelling Company in 1926. Today it is a not-for-profit, charitable housing association working closely in partnership with Exeter City Council to deliver new affordable homes.

Mount Dinham residents, Brian and Patricia Coward, said: “We’re extremely grateful to Cornerstone, they’ve been marvellous. We’ve now got everything we want from our home; we have central heating and double glazed windows which makes it warmer and cheaper to run. We also have a brand new bathroom upstairs that we didn’t have before – it sounds silly but it feels really luxurious!”

Among those invited was Professor Henry French, Head of History from the University of Exeter. Professor French spoke about the John Dinham legacy. He said:

“John Dinham lived all his life in Exeter, from the late 1700s until he died in the 1860s. He was an entrepreneur who tried his hand at different business ventures but from the 1820s his focus was on charitable work across the city. In the final decade of his life he spent a lot of money on the alms houses. There are 44 homes in total and he paid for 20 of them out of his own funds. He was an incredible philanthropist and at his death he donated the equivalent of about £2.3 million, in today’s money, to charities across Exeter.”

Former trustee for the Mount Dinham Cottage Trust, William Burkinshaw, said: “Professor French explained how all the Exeter Almshouse Trusts – some 400 years old – have had to reconstruct or rebuild every hundred years or so. Buildings decay, expectations rise and techniques improve.”

“The Mount Dinham Trustees were daunted by what the 150 year old cottages needed but Cornerstone has been a ‘White Knight’ and the results are beyond what we had dared hope for. For example, the restored cottages are now so well insulated that they barely need heating. The Mount Dinham Trust is very, very delighted that this secret corner of Exeter is being saved for another 150 years.”

Emma Osmundsen, Housing Development Manager at Exeter City Council, said: “Cornerstone’s refurbishment and upgrading works at Mount Dinham is truly exemplar. It is so gratifying to see building works undertaken in a sympathetic and thoughtful manner and the legacy of almshouses preserved for future generations.”

Read more about how we raised awareness for Cornerstone’s project or head over to our newsroom for more news stories from clients across the South of England.