Community-led housing – Maria Brenton

In late January, HACT (Housing Associations Charitable Trust) and Locality (the national network for community-led organisations) collaborated to run a very interesting day’s programme on community-led housing, a sector which is gaining increasing interest from government.

The workshop arose from concern at how dysfunctional the housing market is and how seldom it appears to build the kind of housing that people actually want in terms of either design or affordability. The Community-led sector is rowing against the tide in challenging the lack of capacity in mainstream housing.  It reflects growing political interest in the capacity of small builders to meet a need for diversification, and anticipates greater strains on supply presented by the ageing of the population.  That’s where Cohousing Woodside comes in, folks!

The 70 or so participants showed how diverse the sector is, coming from such organisations as the Rural Urban Synthesis Society, Poplar HARCA, The London Tenants Federation, West Ken Gibbs Green Community, Homebaked Community Land Trust and, of course, Cohousing Woodside. On the funding front, organisations such as the Tudor Trust, Unity Trust Bank and Charity Bank were represented. The day kicked off with an overview of community-led developments by Catherine Harrington from the National Community Land Trust Network and then Anthony Brand, from the Homes and Community Agency.

As a participant, I was immensely encouraged to find myself among so many people who passionately believe in the ordinary citizen’s right to have a say on their housing and to shape how they will live. The backdrop for the workshops was a belief in the need for and the potential benefits of national partnerships to support and grow the Community-led housing movement. The workshops focused on topics such as Community Right to Build, Partnerships in successful community-led housing projects, Neighbourhood Planning and the things that can go wrong in projects.

The workshop I attended, on ‘The role of housing associations in supporting Community-led Housing projects’ was a subject very close to my heart.  It was led by Kevin Hartnett, a director of Hastoe, a small West-country housing association which is clocking up a creditable record in working with community groups. Alongside other West -country housing associations like Teign, Yarlington and Aster, Hastoe ‘gets’ community-led housing, seeing it as a valuable form of community engagement. Kevin described his experience of building positive partnerships with community groups, particularly with Community Land Trusts in rural areas hit by house-price inflation, to which Hastoe brings development expertise and access to funding. They have learned that an early requirement is to establish mutual credibility, to trust people’s motives and to ‘listen both ways’ in making legal partnership agreements, allowing more consultation time and longer lead-in time. The participative design process has met difficulties here and there, with a need ‘to set parameters’ and Hastoe, Kevin felt, has had to ‘learn to let go’. It was very refreshing to hear from a housing association such a positive ‘take’ on ordinary people’s involvement in designing and building homes.