New shelter offers at-risk mothers hope of a better life
The aged Pembroke Rest Home building on Parsons Road had sat empty for 12 years.
Its floors and ceilings were falling in and the wiring and plumbing needed a complete overhaul.
Edward Fox, a civil service engineer, who sits on the board of Habitat for Bermuda, saw the potential.
In 2020 he contacted the Women's Resource Centre about its plans to transform the 63-year-old building into a shelter for 12 at-risk mothers and their children.
“What drove that was the need for such a place,” said Mr Fox, who estimated that it would be easy to find 70 at-risk families within a one-mile radius of the property. “Poverty is not something we talk a lot about in Bermuda but people are staying anywhere from basements to cars. That is why I am involved. Knowing what I know working in government, we need to block up those societal holes the best way we can. It is a collective effort, big time.”
Habitat for Humanity partnered on the project with the Women's Resource Centre, H & H Plumbing and Mechanical Bermuda, K H Maintenance, Greymane contracting, Sunny Side Solar, Baptiste Limited, Vanguard Construction Services, Pembroke Paint Company and SAL Trading.
The Transformational Living Centre opens in a few weeks.
“Today, 16 months after, we have a facility that is fit for purpose, exceeding all expectations,” Mr Fox said.
The shelter offers families a home for up to one year, during which time they have access to "a range of developmental, educational and therapeutic programmes that are designed to heal, empower and transition with a goal of achieving self-sufficiency and the capacity to thrive successfully within the broader community".
Mr Fox, a senior project manager for government, worked with architects Geoff Parker and Akilah Swan on the build, which is coming in a little under the original budget of $1.3 million.
The ceilings and floors were all repaired and new windows fitted. The bedrooms were refurbished and painted and new carpeting installed.
“Someone said how far should we go with the bedrooms,” said Mr Fox, the project manager for the build. “I said make them so that you would want to stay there yourself.”
There is a restaurant-grade kitchen and communal dining area. Much has been done to make the place energy-efficient.
Belco put new lines under the property, Sunny Side installed 24-solar panels.
A sign on the front porch has a picture of a woman interacting with a young child.
“When we have meetings we often sit outside on the porch under the sign,” he said. “I wanted it to remind everyone of what our purpose is.
“The work that the WRC will do afterwards with the women will be the hard part. Some of the women will come from abusive situations, so a safe room has been added.”
He hopes that the building's communal set up will give the place a family atmosphere where mothers work together and help each other.
“I grew up in Portland Square, Sandys,” he said. “Back then you weren’t just raised by your parents, but also by your neighbours.”
As a student at Warwick Academy, he was drawn to architecture.
“In university, I studied construction engineering and construction management,” he said. “This involves deep understanding of the technical components of building along with managing contractual matters, including understanding legal aspects of architecture, engineering and the construction process. Along with deep knowledge and experience in the construction industry, I have also been fortunate over the years to have worked in the oil and petroleum industry, and later as a certified professional project consultant for companies offering global manufacturing, military, civil and industrial technology applications.”
He returned to Bermuda in the 1990s and was project manager for Texas billionaire Ross Perot's home in Tucker’s Town.
“I have built a lot of homes but, despite their contract value, the centre had way more value for me,” he said. The most challenging part for him was keeping everyone motivated during the pandemic.
The project was put on hold for a week due to suspected exposure to Covid-19. Every surface, nook and cranny was professionally sanitised before it could reopen. It was a false alarm.
“This pandemic has set multimillion-dollar projects back,” Mr Fox said. “This project, by the grace of God, has been able to continue. The challenges have been met because I have been fortunate enough to work with some very good people on this project.”
A few months ago thieves made off with industrial washers, a dryer and nine ceiling fans.
“It was pretty awful to have to come here in the morning and meet with police,” Mr Fox said. “There were drag marks across the floors where they pulled the appliances. You have to feel that something like that was planned. It was disheartening.”
His vision is to one day pop by and see happy children playing in the yard.
“What matters most is what happens in the home,” he said. “This project once realised, is far more than just a worthwhile effort by people with a shared vision. It will continue to bear fruit over time and offer tangible societal benefits, and to this end, I am privileged to be a part of it.”
Habitat for Humanity is already looking for other properties around Bermuda to renovate.
For more information, visit habitat.bm.