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History “This is somewhere that has been on the market for ten years with little or no interest… It has suffered terribly from vandalism and theft over the years and is likely to sit like this for another ten years if permission isn’t granted…” (Ed Alder, Regional and Land Planning Manager). Homelands Hospital was built on the outskirts of the small village of Helmington Row in 1903, as a fever hospital to treat diseases such as tuberculosis, typhus and smallpox. Its isolated location was ideal, and specifically selected to prevent the spread of disease to larger towns and cities. The location was also deemed suitable owing to the fresh air rural surroundings yield; during the early 20th century one of the favoured methods for treating lung diseases was to use nature as a form of therapy, to move patients away from the smoke and smog of industrious cities. A number of trees were planted around the buildings after the initial construction of the hospital, to increase the supply of oxygen and create a more picturesque setting. Today, the vast majority of the trees have preservation orders, protecting them against any planned demolition of the site. In later years, the facility was modernised and redeveloped into a general health care unit. Although the original buildings adhere to a municipal design criterion, the interior features of the buildings were altered extensively; all of the surfaces were covered by more hygienic materials that were approved by health and safety guidelines. Unfortunately, the hospital was closed in 2004. Owing to its rural location and the construction of much larger general health care units in bigger cities, Homelands hospital was deemed superfluous. Since 2004 the facility has remained derelict. In spite of the site costing £20,000 a year to maintain, and although several applications have been submitted to demolish the existing buildings and build houses, Durham County Council have, to date, rejected all plans. The main reason for the stalemated negotiations are down to local residents who have, so far, objected to every development proposal. Many have raised concerns around the trees and potential drainage issues. For councillors, there were further concerns surrounding the lack of affordable housing that would be generated from each of the suggested projects. Our Version of Events A couple of hours before visiting Homelands Hospital we did a little research to see if it had ever been done before. As it turned out, a couple of other reports had been posted back in 2011. To our disappointment, the buildings looked a bit fucked back then, and it also looked as though there wasn’t much inside them. However, since we’d already planned to head over that way, we thought there was no harm checking the place out… Having said that, the reports we did find all suggested that this was a hard place to get in and out of successfully – without getting caught anyway. According to one source, the place ‘[was] PIR censored up to the eyeballs, and set to a silent alarm’. With such censoring in place, we took a moment to remind one another not to use any bad language while out on this explore – after all, the wireless PIRs must have been place to supress all such activity, and we’d taken note that there was a silent alarm to try and catch us out. On top of this, ‘6-8 officers with 3 riot vans and the dog section’ – Crook’s entire police force – seemed to be on call if the alarms were tripped. Other reports made reference to some sort of control room, where guards sit and watch you on CCTV, so we knew some proper stealthy moves were of the essence. After finding a subtle parking spot, right outside the front gate of the building (because it looked like it was about to rain), we hoped no one would notice us and ‘masked up’, preparing our disguises to avoid the hardened security measures that were in place. Just before we hopped the front gate, Box phoned his grandma to arrange bail in the event we got caught. Thankfully, she agreed, and even offered to bring cheese and pickle sandwiches and a flask of tea if we ended up behind bars. Feeling much better that we’d secured our bail, we jumped into the main courtyard and attempted to imitate some classic 90s Power Ranger moves as we ducked and dodged the CCTV cameras. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as well as we would have liked, and very quickly we found ourselves staring directly up at one of the cameras. Knowing that the clock was now ticking, and that we had around ’30 minutes’ left before certain capture, we made a mad dash across the site, frantically searching for a way in. Fortunately, we didn’t have to race around the site aimlessly for too long until we found a suitable way inside. By this point, however, we realised we only had around 20 minutes left before ‘the boys in blue’ turned up. We set about setting our tripods up as quickly as possible, hoping to get a few shots in before they arrived. As the last leg of my tripod clicked into place we could already hear the distant barking of what sounded like dogs – and they sounded pretty fucking big! Inside the central corridor leading to the wards, and, in fact, every other part of the site, security lights suddenly flashed across us, which was very strange considering it was daytime. The three of us quickly ducked and crawled along the old red carpet that’s mostly green these days. It squelched and wheezed, and emitted an incredibly foul-smelling odour, but we didn’t care – the dogs were right outside now, trying to sniff us out. The mossy damp carpet stench would cover our scent perfectly. Loud barks and growls filled the rest of the air around us as we desperately struggled to pull ourselves along the floor without scratching our lenses. At the bottom of the corridor we soon discovered that the PIRs were the least of our worries. It seemed that the previous explorers had failed to notice the ex-Soviet AK48 Russian bear trap that was preventing us from accessing the lowered buildings and, ultimately, our only means of escape. It was only then that we noticed the second ex-Soviet Russian AK48 bear trap to our left. It looked as though it was originally positioned to prevent access to a kitchen area, but another unfortunate urban explorer seemed to have fallen victim to the barbaric mechanism. Held inside the trap firmly at the legs, a fully clothed skeleton was lying on the floor, clutching a dark chocolate KitKat in its left hand. Clearly this explorer had stopped to take a break, and in their excitement to taste the splendid mix of chocolate and wafer had failed to see the deadly trap. It was a tragic sight, and a struggle to fight back the deep sense of sorrow that was welling up inside each of us. However, knowing that we couldn’t hang around long we decided to move on. Fortunately, Mayhem, having absconded from the Soviet Union back in the 80s, had some experience in safely dismantling bear traps, so he set to work disassembling it like a pro. Meanwhile, myself and Box were hungry, so we decided to make use of the leftover KitKat. We shared the last two sticks with one another. There wasn’t enough for Mayhem, and he was busy anyway, so we ate it swiftly before he had time to notice. After that, since Mayhem still hadn’t quite finished with the trap, we had a quick look inside the skeleton’s camera bag. Inside we found a 64gb SD card, which Box wasted no time in swiping, a packet of ginger nuts and a damp wallet. Gripped by a burning sense of curiousity, we opened it and took a peek. Inside there was £4.69 in change, a flavoured condom and some form of ID. A familiar name was displayed prominently on the ID, it read: ACID-REFLUX. The pair of us gasped in shock. Before we could grieve, though, a loud bang erupted from somewhere behind us. ‘The boys in blue’ were there, at least twelve of them too, all dressed in full riot gear. Fortunately, however, and we might add rather conveniently, Mayhem had just managed to diffused the trap, so we all made a run for it. I grabbed the ginger nuts in the brief second before I bolted; there was a chance we might need them for the journey home if we made it back to the car. Not a single one of us dared to look back, we kept running until we reached the car. Box fumbled with the keys for several seconds, but eventually managed to ram the key inside the lock. Everyone jumped inside, and a moment later and the car roared to life. ‘The boys in blue’ were exiting the building now, but Box hit the accelerator and we sped off down the lane. Only a thick cloud of dust appeared in the car mirrors now. Although we regretted leaving ACID’s skeleton behind, cheers and shouts of joy erupted inside the car as we’d managed to evade capture and hadn’t ended up inside a bear trap ourselves. In other words, nothing particularly interesting happened the entire time we were exploring Homelands hospital. Other than finding many toilets and sinks, there’s wasn’t an awful lot else inside any of the buildings. While various parts of the hospital are quite photogenic throughout, it’s probably only worth a visit if you happen to be in Crook or Helmington Row, perhaps visiting relatives? Indeed, we did come across some old CCTV cameras and a few sensors, but, as far as we could tell, none of them appeared to be working. Having said that, we did come across an alarm panel which was still switched on, and the words ‘armed’, or ‘active’ (something along those lines), were contained in the display panel. So who knows, maybe our stealthy skills paid off in the end… Explored with Ford Mayhem and Box. *ACID-REFLUX was not harmed in the making of this report, we did not steal his ginger nuts, and to our knowledge he is still alive and well. 1: 2: 3: 4: 5: 6: 7: 8: 9: 10: 11: 12: 13: 14: 15: 16: 17: 18: 19: 20: 21: 22: 23: 24: 25: 26: 27: 28: 29: 30: