Work is underway to breathe new life into an old school building, which will provide much-needed homes for vulnerable adults in Sunderland.

Sunderland City Council has instructed contractor Brims to carry out the restoration and extension of Washington Old School, on Albert Place, which will deliver 15 new specialist apartments.

The project, which will take approximately 12 months to complete, is part of the local authority’s £59m Housing Delivery and Investment Plan (HDIP), which saw the council return to housebuilding in 2019.

Under the HDIP, the council is buying empty properties across Sunderland, and returning them to use, as well as constructing new homes.

Plans were submitted to the city council’s planning committee in summer 2021, and now work is starting to bring the building – originally known as Biddick School – back into use.

It was built in 1893, with the school closing in 1993 after which the building temporarily housed the Washington Church of Christ before being left vacant.

JDDK Architects drew up the designs for the building, which will see a new mezzanine floor added to some of the apartments to make the most of the existing space, light and roof height.

Four new apartments have been designed to extend and complement the existing building and the council’s Housing Development Team have championed the use of renewable energy throughout the development, with the addition of solar photovoltaic panels and air source heat pumps, to reduce energy bills for residents and lessen carbon emissions.

The school has stood empty for 20 years, and neighbours a cluster of new bungalows that the council developed last year to boost the number of homes for older people and those with physical disabilities in Washington.

Councillor Kevin Johnston, dynamic city cabinet member, said: “We’re really thrilled to be starting work on the conversion of this beautiful old building which has stood empty for 20 years.

“The HDIP is helping us restore disused buildings, to breathe life into disused homes and – most importantly – to deliver high-quality homes for residents in Sunderland.

“We’re proud of the Programme, which creates jobs and opportunities for local people and businesses, and will improve the lives of people who eventually move in.”

The 15 units are designed for medium to long-term accommodation and to provide a vital sense of ownership for the residents.

The scheme also includes overnight accommodation for support staff and office and meeting space and can also be adapted to house older and vulnerable residents on a more permanent basis, to provide flexibility depending on the needs of its residents.

Richard Wood, director at Brims Construction – which has a base in Sunderland – said: “We are extremely pleased to be undertaking further construction work with Sunderland City Council and to be delivering a project such as this one with the added importance of the benefits which will be provided to the end users and tenants.”

The HDIP set out plans to bring forward 193 accessible properties by 2025. It will deliver 210 general-needs homes – suitable for families –through conversion of empty homes across the city, and the council will place further focus on supported accommodation, designed to help people who are taking their steps towards independence or who are at risk of homelessness, targeting 171 supported homes by 2025.

So far, the council has spent or committed £23m of the £59m it has allocated for this project.

The council – as part of the HDIP – has also delivered specific supported accommodation for people at risk of homelessness or escaping domestic violence.

It has created a Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP), which will deliver six 1-bed homes as Move On supported accommodation to help people at risk of homelessness as well as the Sanctuary Dispersed Accommodation Project, which has delivered three properties for use as accommodation for those surviving domestic abuse.