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First look inside Cork's modular homes as Mahon prepares to welcome Ukrainian families

Jun 13, 2023Jun 13, 2023

Some of the Rapid Build Homes for housing Ukranians at Mahon, Cork. Pictures: David Keane

It's may be a small suburb in Cork city but it's got a big heart and is ready to welcome Ukrainian families who have fled war into the state's first rapid-build modular homes development for refugees.

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That was the message from community leader Michelle Buckley on Friday as the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, confirmed that the first families are due to move into the new 64-home 'estate' in Mahon within days.

The homes are the first of an estimated 700 such homes which are due to be built for Ukrainians on various sites across the country.

Each modular home in the newly-named Ballinure Way can accommodate four people, which means that up to 256 people could be living on-site within a few months.

Ms Buckley, a Foróige youth leader in the local youth club, moved to Mahon in 1981 aged nine, grew up in the suburb, and is now raising a family there, said locals are ready to welcome them.

"Mahon is a very small community but we have a massive big heart. We are a welcoming and open community," she said.

"When Mahon was being developed in the 1980s, the people who already lived here welcomed us into Mahon, and I don't see why we shouldn't be doing the same now." She has been among several local representatives liaising with the department and the OPW ahead of the first arrivals in relation to the provision of local supports.

Speaking during a site visit to Ballinure Way on Friday, she dismissed concerns that the area and local services may not be able to cope with such an influx.

The area is well-serviced with shops, a credit union, two chemists, and several GPs and medical centres, so there should not be any undue pressure on services, she said.

"There are plenty of services here that will be able to help. And there is a good amount of clubs and activities that will help the children, and the adults integrate," she said.

Several local sporting clubs are already planning a combined open day at the local community hall to welcome the new arrivals, with Ringmahon Rangers FC planning a specific family day towards the end of the month.

As part of the State's humanitarian response to the Ukrainian crisis, the government agreed last June to roll out a rapid build housing programme to provide accommodation for families fleeing the war in Ukraine.

The programme aims to build some 700 units to provide short-term accommodation to 2,000 Ukrainians at several sites across the country.

While hundreds of state-owned sites were put forward for consideration, less than 15% were deemed suitable.

Contractors moved on site in Mahon on November 7, 2022 and began extensive site clearance, including the removal of Japanese knotweed, and installing services.

Seven months on and the site is fully landscaped and looks like a holiday village. Each two-bedroom unit measures 45sq m and can accommodate four people, comfortably.

While rapid-build homes will initially be used to temporarily house people fleeing the war in Ukraine, they have the potential to be used in the longer term to address other accommodation challenges, including social housing, student accommodation, and older people villages.

"This is very new to everybody. It's a real opportunity in the eyes of a crisis and has given us an opportunity to think about doing something really new and this has huge potential for all kinds of things afterwards," a spokesperson for the department said.

The units have a lifespan of 60 years and will be managed by an approved housing body.

They have been built to an A2 energy standard, have a shared kitchen/living room space, a bathroom, with toilet and shower, and two bedrooms, with a bunk bed and a built-in wardrobe, and the other two single, or double beds, depending on requirements.

The units will come fully furnished, with sofas, a kitchen table and four chairs, and white goods, including a fridge freezer, a washer dryer, an oven, a microwave and toaster, with bedlinen also included. A TV will not be provided.

The homes have a small back garden, which has been seeded, and a clothesline will be provided.

Offers have been made to the first potential occupants.

A spokesperson said the allocations policy sought first to identify families of four in emergency accommodation as close as possible to the site, and where accommodation contracts were close to ending. Officials then began "moving out in concentric circles" to identify others.

"In all of the sites all round the country, that will be the process," a spokesperson said.

The International Organisation for Migration is liaising with the families on the relocation process, and with schools in the area on school places.

The department says it has also been liaising with local services and groups, including family centres, local development networks, the department of education and health, on ensuring supports are in place for the first occupants.

A senior official insisted that people will not be plucked from hotels in other counties and relocated against their will under the cover of darkness.

"They will be helped by the International Organisation of Migration to come here, and will be ensuring that their arrival here is safe, and in the knowledge that they are fully welcomed by the people here," the spokesperson said.

"The important message is to say by and large, the vast majority of people in Ireland warmly welcome these people. They should not be subjected to any kind of unwelcome attention.

"These are people fleeing war, they are traumatised people, missing families. They are on edge every day wondering what kind of news they will get from Ukraine. They deserve the support of the local community and I know that here in Mahon, they are absolutely going to get that. They are going to be fully integrated into community.

"Once we move out of here, this will become a road just like any other. In a month's time, this road will just be like any other road, there will be children playing ball, skipping and hopping.

"Communities and voluntary groups around the country are working very hard to ensure that this is an island that welcomes people who are fleeing war." The Mahon site is one of seven being delivered in the first phase, with units in Cavan Town (28), Claremorris, Co Mayo (28), Thurles, Co. Tipperary (62), Doorly Park, Co. Sligo (22), Rathdowney, Co. Laois (42), Clonminch, Co. Offaly (64) due to complete over the coming weeks.

Further sites are being assessed under a programme of works to deliver 700 such units around the country.

The OPW said it has learned a lot from the delivery of this first modular homes site, and so too has construction industry.

"And on the technical side, we are now working on developing a two-storey unit, which will have national benefits," a spokesman said.

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