The UK Cohousing Network is running a series of cohousing lunchtime webinars (see www.cohousing.org.uk for the programme).
The second webinar was by Karl Hines, Community Housing Project Manager of Aster Homes, a group of housing associations or RPs (registered providers) with a stock of around 28000 homes, based mainly in the West Country. The Aster Group has joined forces with Synergy, the housing association landlord for social housing at the Threshold Centre, a small cohousing community in Dorset. Synergy is also busy developing a cohousing community in Bridport, Dorset and Aster is active with a number of Community Land Trusts. For detailed information, visit the UKCN website recording.
What was singularly refreshing and cheering about this presentation by Aster was the RP’s positive philosophy regarding community-led housing.
“Community development is the future’” Karl stated robustly, arguing that work with community-led housing is “a return to a housing association’s roots, expressing an ethos it should have”. Involvement with such groups offers the RP, he suggests, “an opportunity to give something back to the community”. It also presents opportunities for staff development, where personnel have to develop different and complex skill sets.
Karl set out a range of options on offer to cohousing groups – one of general advice and signposting by the RP; secondly, development agency services where, for instance, Aster would advise and assist a group for a pre-agreed fee; and thirdly, full partnership projects where Aster would take all the financial risk, attract grant funding and build out and manage the homes. As an RP it could reduce risk and also borrow at favourable terms. Aster appoints consultants with input from the community group and “in future joint appointments are likely to become the standard”.
Among the lessons Aster has learned so far are:
‘establish Heads of Terms early’,
‘ensure all consultants understand that the cohousing group is an equal partner’, and
‘ensure that the cohousing group understands the RP’s internal decision-making process from the outset’.
Clearly this is a housing association that understands and has taken the ethos of cohousing to heart and sees positive advantages for its own organisation in doing so.