These people are ‘levelling up’ their area by renovating derelict homes and renting them out on the cheap
Community group East Marsh United have already renovated three homes and rented them out to families at social rents. They now wants to raise £500,000 to do up 10 more homes and boost the struggling Grimsby suburb.
East Marsh United's efforts to transform their community started with litter picking and have grown to becoming an ethical landlord. Image: Kelly Mclaughlin Through My Eyes Photography
There was a time when East Marsh was thriving. The small suburb of Grimsby was created back when the town could boast one of the biggest fishing docks in the world and marshes were drained to provide new housing to service them.
But those days are gone. The fishing industry is no longer what it was and austerity measures introduced in the last decade have left the area with boarded-up homes and the social problems that accompany them.
Now, a community group is taking it upon themselves to ‘level up’ the area by renovating those empty homes and renting them out at affordable prices.
Billy Dasein played a central role in forming the East Marsh United (EMU) community group five years ago.
It has so far transformed three boarded-up properties on Grimsby’s Rutland Street, working with North East Lincolnshire Council to renovate each property to provide a new social rent home for a family to live in.
Through its property subsidiary East Marsh Community, each family pays rent tied to local housing allowance rates to keep payments affordable, amounting to £395 per calendar month for a two-bedroom house and £414 pcm for the three-bedroom homes.
The group is now raising £500,000 to do the same with 10 more houses and has grander plans to transform the area.
“It would be amazing, absolutely amazing,” said Dasein, 62, an academic who was born in the area.
“The big thing that it would mean is that people will have changed their own lives. I think many people around here have given up on any hope of change. I think if we could spark something of that in people then everybody has intelligence and the potential to flourish and bloom.
“I just hope that we can see that happen. It would be beautiful.”
Dasein, one of 12 directors at EMU alongside 100 members, said the genesis of the group can be traced back to a meeting in the summer of 2017.
Locals fed up at the state of the area vented their anger at officials, complaining about the social problems to do with housing, unemployment, drug abuse and more, all of them stemming from poverty. No solutions were forthcoming.
So Dasein stood up and offered his view using the broken windows theory – an academic theory that suggests signs of crime and anti-social behaviour contribute to an environment that drives further criminality and decay.
That led to further meetings with a small group of 15 people to look at solutions before they took action one Saturday morning.
“We went out onto the street with some bin bags, we took our brushes and our spades and just cleaned the whole street up. We did the same the next week and the next week for about a year and a half,” said Dasein.
“I suppose what was more important was that we sat together for two hours every week on a Thursday evening and started to look at what the real problems were and how we might actually genuinely begin to solve them.
“One of the things we learned was that it can’t just be one thing. So the solution has to be to have everything all at once, all the time, right across the board, because so much has been pulled away.”
From there, the group’s ambitions have grown.
EMU is now employing locals as well as running community arts projects, a local magazine – the Proud East Marshian – and a podcast.
Plans have been approved to build a village hall in a bid to boost community togetherness while EMU is working with Create Streets to spruce up the “drab concrete streets” according to Dasein.
But it is the work on renovating vacant housing for renting alongside community interest company East March Construction that Dasein hopes will put down foundations for the future.
The group has currently raised half of the £500,000 they are seeking in a community share offer to fund 10 more homes. For every £100,000 invested, the chairman of partner organisation Grimsby Town FC Jason Stockwood has pledged to invest £10,000.
The funds will go towards doing up more homes to make a dent in the 1,348 homes standing empty in North East Lincolnshire.
But the dream is to do up 100 houses for renting out over the next 100 years, creating a sustainable revenue stream of £150,000 per year to fund future projects for the East Marshians to come.
In a world where Boris Johnson’s government has promised to level up communities in the north of England, East Marsh United offers a blueprint of how to revitalise and revamp left-behind areas.
“We’ve got three houses that we’ve done, really with sticky tape and glue, not knowing what we’re doing. But they’re really nice. We’ve got three fantastic families in there,” said Dasein.
“The big idea is 100 houses for 100 years because what happens to the energy that’s in our projects with the people we’ve got at the moment when the energy runs out?
“We have to look at how all this good stuff carries on through the next generation.”