A MAJOR refurbishment of Huntingdon’s almshouses has been completed, on time and under budget.

The eight Victorian properties in George Street were built to house "poor widows" but are now rented to single women in need.

The project has taken two years to come to fruition and was funded in part by the Huntingdon Freemen's Charity, who presented the Huntingdon Municipal Pension and Almshouse Charities with £125,000 towards the final cost of the project. Originally tabled to cost half-a-million pounds, the building work came in under budget at £450,000 and Mike Baker, chairman of the almshouse trustees, credits this success to contractor Edgley's of Ely.

"When I saw the inside of the almshouses originally, some two or three years ago, they were damp, cold and had no central heating. They had tiny, tiny kitchens and tiny, tiny bathrooms and while they weren't squalid they were pretty grim and well below decent homes standard."

He said he and the other trustees were determined that the properties should be "homes we ourselves would be happy to live in".

He said: "I think they are now very nice, comfortable dwellings with central heating, double glazing and yet they still retain the original front elevations, still reminiscent of the original buildings that are a part of the heritage of Huntingdon."

Before work began, only two of the properties were occupied. The tenants were moved into nearby Luminus-owned homes while the existing 1950s, single-storey extensions were demolished and replaced with larger, two-storey extensions. The homes now benefit from bigger kitchens and upstairs bathrooms.

Mr Baker said: "The grant from the Freemen's charity gave us the confidence to go ahead and I also want to say I'm grateful to the other trustees who all made a major contribution to the development, especially Peter Menczer, who headed up the building project."

He said: "Edgley's of Ely went out of their way to do a fantastic job and were really careful to maintain the heritage of the building."

The Almshouses are on the edge of the soon-to-be-redeveloped Huntingdon West area of the town centre, and will back onto a proposed new Sainsbury's superstore. The new tenants moved in on December 4, with an official ceremony for residents, trustees of both charities and the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire High Duberley taking place on last Wednesday (December 14).