Producing more homes resurrecting empty properties

Reunited after more than 25 years apart, Karen and Paul soon found themselves on the streets of Manchester in the middle of winter. They explain how they got to within touching distance of their happy ever after.

Romance often gets a bad press: it’s the stuff of pounding hearts, dramatic sighs, and bright pink verse. Paul and Karen’s story is reinforced with backbone and grit – and they’ve needed every bit of it. 

Chapter one of their story sounds familiar. Love blossomed in their teens and grew until Karen’s parents moved from Salford to London, putting more than 200 miles between them. Karen was 15, Paul was a few years older.

They kept in touch and Karen always said that if Paul came back into her life, it would be him and only him, but the distance between the Irwell and the Thames proved too much. 

Fast forward to May 2022. Now in their 40s, Karen was miserable in London and Paul was sofa surfing in Salford. 

‘I was here, there, and everywhere. I wasn’t secure or stable,’ says Paul. Then, Karen got in touch and asked if they could meet. She wanted to leave London and move back up north. They met in Manchester, moved in with Paul’s friend and became inseparable. But in December 2022 the dream turned sour. 

One night, soon after Christmas, Paul’s friend kicked them out. ‘It was 4 o’clock in the morning and he threw us out. It was freezing.’ They had a change of clothes and very little money. They walked the streets for a while, sat in a bookmakers shop to get out of the cold, and eventually went to a spiritualist church to warm their bones. 

‘They helped us so much,’ says Paul. ‘They kept the church open until 7pm, gave us a number for an organisation that could give us a room for the night, and money for a taxi. One day I’m going to go back and thank them; stand up and tell everyone what they did for us.’

‘The things Cromwood has done for us and helped us out with are unreal.’


At first, they stayed in emergency accommodation. They had a roof over their heads, but they didn’t feel safe. Eventually, they were assessed as being statutorily homeless. 

‘Statutory homelessness means that they have a duty to rehouse you, but there’s nowhere,’ says Paul.

This, too, is a familiar story. Councils across the land have a duty to house homeless people but don’t have the stock to meet burgeoning demand, or the resources to develop new housing. Working around these constraints, Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, launched A Bed Every Night (ABEN, see box) to tackle homelessness and keep people off the streets.

An ABEN partner since its inception in 2018, Cromwood provides housing and housing management, while the local authority provides tenants and tenant support. Paul and Karen are effusive in their praise for their ‘supportive and helpful’ housing worker from Salford Council and for Cromwood’s housing officer, also called Paul.

In February 2023, the couple walked up the path to a 2-bed redbrick terrace managed by Cromwood as part of the ABEN scheme. 

The minute they met Paul, they instantly felt at home. ‘He was here to meet us. He said anything you need, any problems, we’ll sort it out. He made us feel so good and welcome.’ 

When Karen (who is awaiting an operation on her foot) said she found it difficult to climb the stairs, Paul offered them a downstairs room and furnished it with a new bed, bedding, blinds, and curtains. When they had a leak, it was fixed the next day. The ‘ropey’ carpet in the living room was swiftly changed, and the broken lock on the back door was quickly sorted out.

‘The things Cromwood has done for us and helped us out with are unreal,’ says Paul. 

In return, Paul, Karen, and the couple they share with, keep the place so pristine that when the cleaner arrives to spruce up the communal area, there’s not much to do.

ABEN doesn’t offer a secure tenancy, but it’s several steps in the right direction. ‘The council has assured us that we’re not going to find ourselves on the street, so we have peace of mind,’ says Paul. 

Their current housemates – an Iranian couple in their late 30s – have been there since August 2023. Paul praises the work Cromwood has done to match them with people with similar values.

‘They are nice, polite, clean, genuine people,’ says Paul, ‘They’re people you can sit and talk to and interact with. They both go to college and they don’t nick toiletries or food, which is a small thing and the best thing in the world!’

They are currently at the top of the queue for their dream home, and while there’s no guarantee that they’ll get it, they are optimistic about the future. 

‘He was my first love and it never went,’ says Karen. ‘It takes the worst to bring out the best and everything we’ve been through has made us stronger. We can cope with anything. We are finally going to get our home together.’

A Bed Every Night (ABEN) was set up by Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester. It supports people sleeping rough or at risk of sleeping rough. Cromwood has been a partner since its inception in and currently has 23 ABEN properties.
People live in shared houses; some properties are single sex and others are for couples. Initially, rooms were shared between two individuals who didn’t know each other, but since COVID it’s one person or one couple per room. People have their own lockable bedrooms and share the bathroom, kitchen, and living room.
Cromwood provides furniture, bedding, pots and pans and a kettle as well as property maintenance including weekly cleans of the communal areas. The local authority provides personal support e.g. help to register with GPs or access mental health support.
People can be moved with very little notice or stay for years. When people move out, Cromwood aims to turn properties around within 24 hours. In 2023, Cromwood housed 1,252 tenants in Manchester: 427 people through the ABEN scheme, 735 under the Nightly scheme, and 90 offenders.