Community-led housing: top of the agenda!
Image: Saffron Acres community-led development
Building housing for local people is a dream that probably crosses the minds of most community groups, but for growing numbers within Locality’s 600-strong member base, dreaming just isn’t good enough – action is top of the agenda.
Saffron Lane Neighbourhood Council
Take Saffron Lane Neighbourhood Council in Leicester: in a remarkable example of determination and ambition, this relatively small community organisation has delivered 68 top quality eco-homes on a deprived city estate and is planning to build yet more.
Image: Neil Hodgkin on the Saffron Lane Estate
Their impressive passiv haus standard development included the far sighted asset transfer of 12 acres from Leicester City Council who were keen to see an exemplar housing development in return. In reality, ‘exemplar’ barely describes what has actually been achieved. Saffron Heath is a spacious, beautiful development of bright, highly insulated homes that through their design and build, have slashed average heating bills by an astounding 80% for the new residents. The homes themselves are a mix of one, two, three and four bedroomed properties – seven with wheelchair access.
Houses cluster around two greens and surrounding avenues, and have large gardens and parking spaces. They back onto an open space – Saffron Acres, where fruit trees grow produce for a jam making operation and local people learn horticultural skills. Alongside this area is another site earmarked for a further 20 new homes.
The houses were built to the renowned passiv haus standard by Westleigh Partnerships Ltd and the whole development is managed by East Midlands Homes, a housing association that secured the £9million funding needed to take the project forward.
Saffron Director Neil Hodgkin said, “Community-led housing really is an achievable option for community groups wanting to help local people. I would never say it’s easy, but it’s definitely worth it when you see new residents moving in.
“For us, it was about doing something more than just talking about the need for housing. We wanted to make sure that we could build the kind of houses people want and really deserve. These homes are affordable rented properties and they offer a real opportunity for those people who could not otherwise have found a home. This site is open, bright and full of promise. We’re delighted to have been able to make it happen.”
In Hull, another ground breaking project is taking shape in the form of eye-catching and contemporary new homes. This development on the city’s Great Thornton estate, relies on the technological advancements made in the modular homes sector, for these houses are descendants of the pre-fabs that were such a feature of the housing scene in decades past.
The Goodwin Trust
The Goodwin Trust, a long established and forward thinking community organisation, decided the new version of modular housing was exactly what was needed to provide affordable housing for the people it also cares for in many other ways.
Built to a very high standard of energy efficiency, each of the five houses they have completed so far is made up of four pre-fabricated units. The result is truly inspiring and more are planned, because not only do they offer good design flexibility and better quality control but they are also speedier and less disruptive to build.
Pre-fabs aren’t the only option open to community groups considering community-led housing. To date, the Goodwin Trust has successfully refurbished another 60 homes under the now closed Empty Homes Community Grant programme, and it also offers these as rented accommodation to local people most in need.
As the Trust Chief Executive Peter McGurn put it, “We’re a poor estate in a poor city. We try to look after people in the best way we can.
“Sometimes that’s working with young mums or ex-offenders; sometimes it’s providing allotments or a conference venue; sometimes it’s running a food distribution operation or rescuing a church and turning it into a public space for local people to use. But in this case, it’s housing – a project that not only helps local people but also brings in revenue to the Trust, reducing its reliance on public funding and helping it to reinvest in other community projects.”
Granby Four Streets
Goodwin and Saffron are relative newcomers to community-led housing but over in Liverpool, Granby Four Streets is a Locality member whose name has become synonymous with determination in the face of adversity over many years.
Granby Street was once a thriving High Street in one of the city’s most diverse communities, but decades of decline combined with wholesale regeneration saw almost all of the local Victorian terraces levelled, leaving just the Granby Four Streets standing. Even these were in a perilous state of decay, with few remaining residents and many homes boarded up.
Image: Courtesy of Diane Jansen and Nerve Magazine
But if anyone thought local people would give up on these streets, they were wrong. Over 20 years, a group of residents took matters into their own hands – part of a concerted and resourceful campaign to save their local streets and rebuild their community. They cleared rubble, repainted frontages and undertook ‘guerrilla gardening’ before forming their own community land trust in 2011. They were then able to strike a deal in partnership with Liverpool City Council to take on 10 of the empty homes and so prevent the demolition of the remaining four streets.
Today it is a non-profit, community-based organisation run by volunteers to develop housing, workspaces and community facilities to meet the needs of the community. The facilities they provide are owned and controlled by the community and are made permanently available at affordable levels.
What started as a desperate attempt to save threatened homes has now grown and developed into a wide ranging community organisation, including the likes of Granby Street Market, the Granby Workshop offering local artists a base, and the Granby Four Corners Project to revive failing buildings on the edges of the streets.
There’s even a bold and inspiring project underway to build the Granby Winter Gardens – a meeting place and an indoor garden soon to revitalise two of the most damaged houses in the area.
Building and strengthening community
It is this aspect of community-led housing that encourages so many community groups to take the significant step needed to become homes providers. They see housing as offering multiple benefits, not only providing much needed affordable homes for those most in need, but also allowing them to address the other needs of residents; to support them through local service delivery; to build community cohesion and identity; to help families raise their children with dignity and hope. For most, the potential for raising a small income through rentals is also a clear incentive, allowing them to invest in other community projects which could never otherwise have gone forward.
As the national network for community groups, Locality recognises the huge benefits that community-led housing can bring to communities and is encouraging more by helping start-up groups find their feet through its own Early Stage Support programme, funded by the Nationwide Foundation. In addition, it manages the DCLG Community-led Buildings programme which offers revenue funding to groups moving toward a planning permission, part of the Neighbourhood Planning programme which it also delivers. And all the time, its own community-led housing members group is gaining strength, shaping policy calls, identifying issues and sharing best practice along the way.
Two of the most enduring points raised by these members are the need for more capital grant funding from central government and the importance of local authority support. In response, Locality continues to push for more and higher levels of funding, support and local authority partnerships, to help community-led housing as it moves surely and steadily from the backwaters to the mainstream.