Bright future ahead as Downend House conversion begins

December 21 2018

WORK is under way to transform one of Downend’s most historic and best-known buildings to prepare it for a new life.

Downend House is the birthplace of WG Grace, the renowned England cricketer. The landmark building on the corner of North Street and Salisbury Road had been in steady decline in recent years, with only the ground floor occupied before it was sold two years ago.

But in the spring it will reopen as managed, supported housing for people with mental illnesses and disabilities.

Contractors for charity the John Turley Memorial Trust started work to refurbish the building in November.

Once their work is complete around April, the building will provide nine self-contained flats with en-suites, kitchens and living areas, with those on the ground floor accessible to people with physical disabilities.

The people who live at Downend House will be adult long-term residents, identified by the council.

A manager will be based on the site during the day, with tenants having access to 24-hour support via a helpline.

Trust chairman Bruce Simmonds said the building would provide much-needed supported housing in the community.

Mr Simmonds said: “We would all want to see people who have sadly got some form of mental illness happy and moving forward, and given a decent place to live. I am sure they will be seen in the community as worthy people, with the community supporting them.”

Residents will move out if and when they no longer need supported accommodation and are able to live independently.

The trust will be choosing a provider to operate Downend House on its behalf in the near future.

Its previous home in Clifton was run by charity Rethink Mental Illness but had to close because the building had become uneconomic to maintain.

Since then the trust has been looking for a new site and when Mr Simmonds, who ran a chartered accountancy and property management business in Badminton Road for 30 years, saw Downend House was on the market, he realised its potential.

He said the Grade II listed building, where Grace was born in 1848, has needed extensive renovation work, removing dry rot, asbestos and unsuitable structural alterations made over the years. Part of the refurbishment will include recreating the house’s original staircase.

The trees on the site are protected by preservation orders.

Mr Simmonds said he was proud to be associated with a project to return the house to a healthy state, while providing a much-needed service for the community.

He added: “The finished product will be something we can be proud of and I am sure Downend will also be proud of it.”

Although former England and Gloucestershire captain Grace found fame as a cricketer, he was also a doctor who had a practice in Easton.

 He was known to often waive the bills of people who could not afford to pay him and treated workhouse inmates for the Bristol Poor Law Union.

“It’s fitting that this doctor’s birthplace will now provide a place for people who need help and support today,” said Mr Simmonds.