A HOMELESS shelter is set to be transformed - if it can get planning permission.

Branches day centre and night shelter is in the process of buying its building in Forest Road, Walthamstow, and is seeking funding and planning permission to turn the centre into a place for rough sleepers, with the aim of reducing further homelessness.

The building was not designed to be a hostel and the 27 night shelter users have to share bathrooms and a bedroom with up to four others. There is also a curfew, which users say make it feel “like a prison”.

Branches plan to demolish the centre and build 25 individual ensuite rooms with a key, self catering kitchens, and an improved day centre and staff rooms - with the objective of making it feel more like modern student accommodation than a hostel.

Branches chief executive of operations, Peter Baldwin, said: “It is better than being on the streets or church floors, but we are trying to get away from that to promote greater independence. Currently people have to being at 8pm and cannot come and go, it is like having an ASBO.

“One of thing people keep asking for is a key. The thing about dormitories is if you don’t feel safe you will leave quickly. Some people leave after a week and we don’t know where they have gone. But if they had a key they would stay longer and sort themselves out.”

He continued: “We have 150-180 people every year using the hostel and more than half are re-housed, so it is good getting people off the streets. It can be anybody - men, women, young, old, teachers, nurses - it can happen to anybody. It is not about the classic street drinker who cannot get off the streets, it is more than that.”

The initial plans were drawn up following consultations with users, staff and trustees, and users will continue to be involved in the planning. To get a better idea of the needs of the centre, the architects even spent a night there.

In April, Branches was successful in their bid for £200,000 from the Communities and Local Government Places of Change Programme to kick-start the project. Branches will bid for additional funding from the Housing Corporation once a decision on the planning application is received by Waltham Forest Borough Council by November 10. If approved, it Branches hopes building will start in Spring.

Mr Baldwin added: “It is another quantum leap. We started in 1997 with users sleeping on church floors, and moved to this place in 2005 and now we have to take the same kind of leap.”

*Branches has 16 staff, but relies on 200 dedicated volunteers for help. If you would like to volunteer contact: Peter Baldwin on 8521 7773, or email: pbaldwin@wfcbranches.org.uk. For more information visit wfcbranches.org.uk