The charity which runs the historic Penrose Almshouses in Barnstaple is considering building the first new almshouses on the site in almost 400 years.

The allotments at Penrose Almshouses in Barnstaple are being considered as a site for new almshouses and reshaped gardens.The allotments at Penrose Almshouses in Barnstaple are being considered as a site for new almshouses and reshaped gardens.

The trustees of Barnstaple Almshouses are carrying out a feasibility study and consulting with residents of the Grade I listed homes on proposals to reshape the existing gardens and allotments and build additional almshouses on some of the land, which they say continues the usage of the land to provide home for those in need in Barnstaple, as benefactor John Penrose originally intended.

They say it would allow the 22 mostly elderly residents to get more use and enjoyment from the gardens and bring in additional finance for the charity.

Some allotments are rented by non-residents and they have told the Gazette they don’t think any development should come at the expense of ancient allotments that have been there since the almshouses were built in 1627.

The two external renters were given a year’s notice to quit in January, but have not been able to visit the site since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Penrose Almshouses in Barnstaple, built in 1627. Picture: Barnstaple AlmshousesThe Penrose Almshouses in Barnstaple, built in 1627. Picture: Barnstaple Almshouses

The board of trustees has said it is considering ways to enhance the gardens and secure the long-term financial stability of the ancient buildings.

The board has had pre-application discussions with North Devon Council and Historic England to see how the existing gardens can be updated and reshaped.

Chairman Mike Ford said the project was in its ‘infancy’. He said: “We want to create something really lovely for our residents and, if local authorities and Historic England agree, build some additional almshouses that fit with the existing environment and enable us to provide homes for more people in genuine need.

“The income generated would support the growing maintenance cost of the main buildings.

“We are blessed with a large garden area and, as demand for cultivation space amongst residents has fallen over recent decades, we feel it’s justifiable to consider using up a little space to provide additional homes for those experiencing hardship.”

A statement on behalf of some allotment holders and other concerned parties said: “We are speaking on behalf of a group of local people who heard from three separate sources that preplanning had been submitted for several houses on this site.

“We became anxious because the site is unique and especially important historically. After research and verification at local, regional and national level with different organisations, we feel we have a moral obligation to future Barumites to speak out against any developments here.

“Whilst those of us who are allotment holders were devastated to be given notice to quit, we would stress that we are not against much needed social housing. However, it should not come at the expense of these ancient allotments.”

The charity operates both the Penrose and Horwood Paiges almshouses in the town.