A planning application is bidding to turn a unused annex at The Tree House Hotel in Fore Street into supported living for young people with special needs

Some of the young students at the Joshua Tree Project. Picture: JTP Some of the young students at the Joshua Tree Project. Picture: JTP

A heart-warming project for young people with special needs is looking to add a new dimension after taking on an Ilfracombe hotel.

The Joshua Tree Project has taken on the lease of The Tree House Hotel and has just lodged a planning application seeking to turn its annex into sheltered accommodation for the young people it works with.

The community interest company, based at Mullacott, provides training for young people with learning difficulties and makes a variety of products from wooden furniture to personalised decorations and household accessories, often using recycled materials.

Now it has submitted a bid to turn part of the hotel in Fore Street into eight apartments that would supply supported housing for the young people and enable them to begin to make their own way in the world.

Josh Bensley, who inspired the Joshua Tree Project. Picture: JTP Josh Bensley, who inspired the Joshua Tree Project. Picture: JTP

The hotel would continue to take paying guests – half the existing 20 rooms have been refurbished to a high standard and it is hoped the remainder would act as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the transformation of the annex, with Joshua Tree clients able to work on their own homes.

Joshua Tree was set up three years ago by Lee and Louise Bensley, inspired by their son Josh.

His uncle Brett Bensley, a project ambassador, told the Gazette Josh left mainstream schooling at 18, but has complex special needs and the couple wanted to create a family-owned business he could work in.

Lee, a carpenter and joiner, took him to work with him and Brett said the transformation was amazing: “The first six months saw a massive upturn in his development, where he was starting to communicate, become more self-sufficient and his well-being was a lot better,” he said.

“Three years later we have 28 students working for us and the development we see in these guys and girls is phenomenal.

“Lee saw the hotel as the perfect opportunity for the Joshua Tree team to work on, to get it up and running.

“The students have told us the next big step for them is to make the break and move away from home.”

Brett said they hoped to start as soon as possible, subject to planning permission.

As a community interest company, which is on the verge of gaining charitable status, all money made is ploughed back into the business and there is growing interest in Joshua Tree products, with contracts in North Devon and as far afield as Glasgow University.

You can find out more about the project at www.joshuatreeproject.co.uk