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Exploring community-led housing and assets with Middleport Matters

For Middleport Matters, a fairly young community group in Stoke-on-Trent, long-term sustainability means getting serious about acquiring assets and getting on the housing ladder.

Regular viewers of the Great Pottery Throw Down would instantly recognise the area from aerial pictures of Middleport Pottery, which hosts the show. But despite some national attention for the area and some notable local successes, the group needs to grow from an unincorporated pressure group to become an established community business, employing staff and managing its own property.

Middleport Matters

With help from Locality and funding from the Nationwide Foundation, the Early Stage Support Programme has provided governance and legal guidance, as well as help to scope the housing development opportunities in their community.

“The funding was crucial in getting help from a local community enterprise consultant to help us understand the various business structures and guiding us through the incorporation process” says Middleport Matters’ Chair, Amelia Bilson.

A series of workshops has prompting the group to take important decisions about the sort of organisation they want to be, exploring their aspirations for the business as it develops over the next five years, and plotting their social, organisational and financial development using a balanced scorecard exercise. In a further workshop, a technique was used by the consultant Andy Perkin for comparing potential community assets. The technique uses a number of different criteria to compare a range of potential community assets such as land, buildings and heritage sites. The criteria are agreed with the group in advance and can include attributes such as availability, location and whether the asset can satisfy an established local need. The resulting league table of assets sees practical and pressing projects bubble to the top and difficult pipe dreams sink to the bottom.

The group now has a relatively straightforward incorporation process to complete, with all the important questions answered, and a hit list of community assets on which it can invest its precious resources to explore their feasibility.

Middleport Matters is currently looking into renting a small shop on the high street before moving into a refurbished house which will be provided to them as office space for a modest rent by the supportive Middleport Pottery – the venue for BBC show ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’. The longer term plan is to develop an approach where Middleport Matters take on void renovations and manage a small housing portfolio, starting with three houses which will provide good quality affordable housing as well as providing a rental income for Middleport Matters.

“Community groups often have passion and great ideas but can lack knowledge and skills which often prevent them from expanding and becoming sustainable.  We have been so blessed with winning this support grant so that we can be helped through an unfamiliar process, and end up in a much more secure place in the future!” says Middleport Matters’ Chair, Amelia Bilson.

Nationwide Foundation