Ellie came to Frome in 2016 to take up an apprenticeship in building conservation and masonry. After living in the town for 4 years and working on the buildings here, she now has nowhere to live and is counting on the generosity of friends who are letting her stay on their sofa. The pandemic might not have been the whole reason, but it was the tipping point.
Ellie had been introduced to the preservation of historic buildings by a friend and was drawn to the idea of working outdoors on something worthwhile. She lodged in a house with a live-in landlord and a few other tenants. She loved the affordability of the arrangement but there was no agreement or lodger’s licence. She said, “It was really cheap rent, so I was happy with this, plus I often travel for work so the flexibility suited me at the time.”
The job proved to be everything she had hoped. She said, “I loved it and have stayed in Frome since, caring for and working on the buildings in Frome and surrounding areas.”
The job and the lodging worked well for the next 4 years, during which time Ellie’s boyfriend moved into the house because he couldn’t afford the rent increase in his own rented room. There was a spare room in the house Ellie lodged in and the landlord agreed on a short-term basis, which led to longer term as he was unable to find an alternative. Problems started to show, especially when the landlord decided to start building work on the property and then the pandemic came to the UK.
Ellie said, “The landlord became unhappy with the arrangement. His son had moved back in because of Corona and one of the builders was going to be staying with us too. He said that someone had to move out because building work was starting, and the house was feeling ‘too full’ for his comfort. My boyfriend and I had also broken up by this time. I asked him to move out, as I had lived in that property for 4 years but he refused as he also had nowhere to go. It was becoming a very toxic environment to be in.”
Ellie felt trapped but saw a way out by taking a job in another county for a while with some temporary accommodation. Covid restrictions had meant that holiday lets were being used for temporary rentals across the southwest and she was able to stay short-term to clear her head whilst still earning. Sadly, she suffered an injury during this period and is no longer able to work full time. The holiday let had insufficient heating and internet, so she returned to Frome to stay with friends.
Ellie is trying to pick herself up by re-training as a counsellor and massage therapist, starting online courses from her friends’ house. When I asked Ellie to describe what is hardest about trying to find accommodation in Frome, she outlined lots of problems which we know are very typical all over the UK in recent years and have been made worse by lockdown. Insecure work contracts, no rental agreements, reduced options for financial help after injury and rising rents. The rest of the story is in Ellie’s words.
“I have been without a home since February, I don’t have an address which is making it super hard to get any Government support and I wasn’t on any paperwork for my previous accommodation.
Luckily I have very kind friends, which is another reason I don’t want to move away from here. Plus my work is super specific to the type of stone we have here.
I am self-employed and don’t have regular income so going through the estate agents is a bit tricky. Though this has never been a problem before now, I see people offering above market value for homes when they could live anywhere because they work remotely. My stuff is all in my car and not having a sense of home is beginning to erode my sense of identity.
I work hard for my money and am very skilled at my job but have been living away from home since I was 16 and I am beginning to get worn out. I don’t want to go through social housing because I am not priority as far as I am concerned, and there isn’t any anyway.
I don’t need much space but I need light and a small garden so I can keep my tools somewhere and do odd projects, a well fitted flat wouldn’t suit me. I could live in a tiny home, I have the skills to build one myself but I can’t afford land to put it on and where are the options to rent something like this.
What I find the saddest thing about trying to rent in Frome, other than the subtle change of language on the rentals sites luring Londoners down, is that I came to an artisanal town, to learn a craft where I could be a custodian of the town I lived in. That is of monumental importance to me. To be of use to my town. Now people who work remotely for business elsewhere are driving up the prices and I can’t afford to live in the town I love, where I have been a part of healing the buildings that make up the town.
My family don’t live anywhere near me and I can’t couch surf with friends forever. But where do I go? My client base and whole social support system are here and I love this town.”
This article was written by Polly Lamb, the story is real but names of those involved have been changed.
Fair Housing for Frome along with the Frome Area Community Land Trust are campaigning for more social housing in our town. The need for more social housing is becoming desperate with around 500 applicants from Frome on the housing waiting list and many not even bothering to register as they consider that they stand little chance of being allocated somewhere to live. Registering on Homefinder Somerset is crucial, even if you are unsure of your eligibility, if people don’t register then Mendip District Council don’t know the true picture. To register go to https://www.homefindersomerset.co.uk