An official opening ceremony was held on Tuesday July 26 for 11 new ‘Stepping Stone’ apartments for people with various levels of learning difficulties on a site at Brimhay, Dartington.

The Elmhirst Court apartments on land owned and managed by South Devon Rural Housing Association (SDR) were completed in the summer of 2021 and the first tenants are now well established in their new homes, which for many are offering the first taste of independent living.

The opening ceremony, which was attended by key stakeholders in the project, had to be postponed from the original date due to Covid-19 restrictions. Dartington Councillor Jacqi Hodgson cut the ribbon.

The project forms part of SDR’s Brimhay Development Scheme and is a collaboration with Devon County Council (DCC) and South Hams District Council (SHDC).

Elmhirst Court has been funded by a £400,000 grant from Homes England and by the sale of market-value homes on the Brimhay Gardens development, with the surplus gift-aided back through SDR’s development arm, Rural Homes Ltd.

Construction work took around 18 months, with some delays caused by lockdowns and supply problems associated with the pandemic.

The building was formally handed over by Totnes contractors Coyde Construction in July and the first set of tenants for the new apartments were allocated in August.

SDR agreed with South Hams District Council that the apartments should be named Elmhirst Court – in honour of the Elmhirst family who founded the Dartington Hall Trust.

As the flats neared completion, SDR worked with Devon County Council’s Locality team to identify and shortlist the first set of tenants, many of whom took part in the opening ceremony celebrations.

Chief Executive Christine Candlish said: “We felt it appropriate to give our new project a name reflecting and sustaining all that’s been good about the area for the past century since Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst purchased the neglected 14th century Dartington estate in 1925.

“These fantastic homes are providing tenants with a safe, secure place to live. For many this is their first taste of independent living, away from families, offering a chance to develop and grow in confidence. They continue to be supported by their care teams as they adapt to a different lifestyle”.

A spokesman for Homes England commented: “We are committed to supporting South Devon Rural Housing Association’s ambitions to build new homes, and our investment through affordable housing grant allows us to do that. This funding will make a tangible difference to the town, enabling SDR to deliver much needed new homes, with a real focus on community-building”.

Devon County Councillor James McInnes, Cabinet Member responsible for adult social care, said: “Elmhirst Court is a great example of the difference partnership working can make. Homes are a critical foundation in all our lives and for people with a learning disability the range of options to live as independently as possible is often limited. Elmhirst Court is helping to address this inequality and we are delighted by the positive response of the first tenants as they take their first step towards a life of greater independence and connection in this new development”.

Councillor Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council and Lead Member for Housing, said: “I’m so proud we’ve been a part of this much needed project. Together we’ve made sure more local people can access a safe and comfortable home that truly meets their individual needs without having to move far from friends and family. It’s great to be able to celebrate at this official opening and see first-hand how our commitment to delivering the homes that local people need can really make a difference”.

Councillor Jacqi Hodgson, South Hams District and Devon County Councillor for Dartington, who performed the opening ceremony, said: “The ‘Stepping Stone’ apartments at Elmhirst Court are a real boost for meeting a wider range of housing needs for our community. These 11 new homes mean we can now offer more local people the chance to live independently and confidently in bright and comfortable accommodation”.

SDR Chief Executive Christine Candlish added: “The range of properties that make up our soon-to-be-completed Brimhay Project symbolises the broad spectrum of ages and needs that South Devon Rural aims to cater for going forward.

“I’m delighted these 11 apartments are now helping tenants to experience independent living, many for the first time. It’s the human element that makes any building come alive and Elmhirst Court is now fulfilling the potential we knew it would offer.

“Our mission is to continue delivering genuinely affordable housing in the South West for clients with a wide range of ages and needs. Providing this type of home in a village setting is vital in enabling local people to stay close to family and friends and to feel part of their local community”.