The housing crisis has led many councillors to rethink their conception of housing in order to find workable solutions. West Kerry councillor Michael O’Shea (FF) came across the idea to convert an old hospital into living space while watching an episode of Nationwide on RTE.
The programme, which aired last May, featured the work done by Respond Housing Association to St John’s College in Waterford. The building of St John’s is a gothic style former seminary that fell out of use in 1999. It was purchased by Respond seven years ago, and in 2014 construction began on its redevelopment into 21 self-contained units for older community members.
Not only has St John’s provided much needed housing, through the work of Response it has become much more. It offers common rooms and kitchens, a day centre as well as support from the wider community. It’s build with level access, lifts, mobility factors, and security in mind. It is a short term response that has become a long term solution, and it now serves as a model for similar developments.
It is because of the success of St John’s that Michael O’Shea has made the proposal to acquire the disused Dingle hospital with a view to creating housing for seasonal tourism staff and single locals.
Dingle’s current housing problem is one that many Irish towns might envy. The tourist trade running through the town is now booming; tourism has grown, the traditional fishing industry has declined and morphed into Fungie boats and ecotourism. This sector switch was helped in no small way recently by the filming of Star Wars in the south of the county, as well as a new influx of visitors travelling the Wild Atlantic Way. However, all this has meant a shortage of accommodation for staff – particularly seasonal staff who stay in Dingle just for the summer.
The proposed property for repurposing is a three-storey building overlooking the harbour. It began life as a workhouse in the 19th century and later became a hospital. It then closed in 2010, when the west Kerry community hospital opened. There has since been calls to convert it into an arts and education centre, but the housing situation has now given it a new possible purpose.
As Mr O’Shea describes, the housing problem in Dingle reaches beyond seasonal workers: “Dingle had ‘a very large bachelor population’ and older people on their own find it next to impossible to get social housing in Dingle.”
Elsewhere in the country over 100 HSE properties lay vacant. However, many of these have already been earmarked for use by the HSE, with a number of buildings been held vacant, maintained but unassigned, for future possible use.
The repurposing of old hospitals or other vacant buildings, unlike modular housing, offers a solution that can well outlive the current crisis. These aren’t buildings that have been constructed to alleviate an emergency; these are buildings that have survived in the heart of communities despite a temporary loss of purpose. Buildings that were made to serve times like these.