Housing provision, the community-led way

Today has been put aside in my diary for some voluntary work (and some final tweaks to a grant application) on behalf of my local Community Land Trust, for which I occupy the post of secretary.

CLTs are part of a growing movement for what is called ‘community-led housing’, the idea being that bottom-up community efforts can bring much-needed housing to meet local needs which the commercial property market is failing to tackle.  Given that today also sees the government’s Housing White Paper published, it seems very appropriate as a focus for my blog.

I can also use the opportunity to get in a plug for a new booklet from the Confederation of Co-operative Housing, which provides a useful introduction to the subject (CCH prefer to talk of ‘cooperative and community-led housing).  You’ll find their report, New Co-operative and Community-led Homes, here.

CCH is one of a number of national organisations engaged in this field (Locality, the Cohousing Network and the National Network of CLTs are among the others). It has to be said that there is a slight element of overkill here in terms of national support networks.  At some point, a little appropriate amalgamation might be in order.


At last! Cohousing initiative has the success it deserves

Enormously good news today from the Older Women’s Cohousing Group, which for years and years (and still yet more years) has been battling away to try to turn their vision of a self-managing housing community into reality. It has been a truly epic initiative, and – against what seemed so often to be heavily stacked odds – the story ends this week in success, as 26 women in the group, aged 50-87, take possession of a block of twenty-five newly built flats in Union Street, High Barnet, north London.

Cohousing is a growing movement, and one which I think has great potential for the baby-boomer generation as it tries to find housing solutions in older age which don’t involve the commercial imperatives of companies such as McCarthy and Stone. The Barnet cohousing community (based, it says here, on “shared values of neighbourliness and mutual support”) includes a mix of home-owners and social renters.  They add that they “want to act as a demonstration project to encourage other older people to plan their later lives and develop similar initiatives”.

CAMRAH: the campaign for real affordable housing

Having (mis)appropriated the concept of the Living Wage the current UK government is doing something similar with another term which, you’d think, would mean what it says: affordable homes.

The government’s idea of what constitutes an affordable home is certainly not mine, and I wonder whether we need to coin a new term, one which celebrates the original idea behind the public provision of ‘council’ and ‘social’ housing for people in our communities who are on lower incomes.

I’m looking forward to being at the National Community Land Trust Network conference in London in a couple of weeks, along with I’m sure a whole host of people from CLTs and from the wider cooperative housing movement. Maybe we should launch a campaign for proper, sustainable, genuinely affordable housing for rent, led from the grassroots. Maybe we should stop talking of ‘affordable housing’ and start talking about community housing.

Cooperative housing past and present

Something of a follow-up to my last blog about Community Land Trusts.

Britain, unlike other countries, has a relatively small cooperative housing sector, although there are signs that this may be changing. It’s good to see, for example, the growing interest in cohousing solutions (communities run by residents who have their own private homes but also share facilities and resources held collectively). I have recently been able to visit two very inspiring cohousing projects, LILAC in Leeds and Lancaster Cohousing, beside the river Lune in Lancashire.

It’s encouraging, too, that students in a number of cities are starting to explore the idea of student-run housing cooperatives. The Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative is a good example.

There is in fact a long, and forgotten, story of cooperative housing in Britain which I began to uncover when I was researching my recent book on early productive cooperatives. (There were cross-overs between the cooperative I was particularly researching and the so-called ‘tenant cooperative’ movement as well as the early Garden City movement).

Nineteenth century cooperative societies engaged quite actively in house-building (partly because many were acting as informal local savings banks for their members and had more capital than they knew what to do with). The tell-tale signs of their activity are still there: streets (particularly in northern England) with names such as ‘Co-operative’ or ‘Unity’, or named after early cooperative pioneers such as (George Jacob) Holyoake, (Edward Vansittart) Neale or (JTW) Mitchell.

By 1907, when at the request of the Co-operative Union around 400 societies reported on their housing initiatives, they had between them lent £6.5m in mortgage loans to members with which 32,600 houses had been bought, had themselves directly spent £1.2m on building over 5,500 houses which were then sold, and had also spent approaching two million pounds on building 8,530 houses which they were renting out.

But as well as all this activity, there were also the ‘tenant cooperatives’ or co-partnerships, in places such as Letchworth, Ealing, Sevenoaks, Bournville and Manchester. Arguably the tenant cooperatives were the direct antecedents of today’s housing coops and their story deserves to be known. The best account I have come across is the paper from Johnston Birchall, Co-partnership housing and the garden city movement, published in the journal Planning Perspectives in 1995. It is available (unfortunately at some expense from the journal publisher online) or for those with access can be obtained through university libraries. I’d like to see it much better known.

Community and cooperative housing and the Right to Buy

The government’s proposed extension of tenants’ Right to Buy to housing associations (to be introduced in the forthcoming Housing Bill) could potentially have a very serious negative effect on the work of community land trusts. Depending on how the legislation is drafted, other types of cooperative housing might also be affected. My piece on this issue for Co-operative News has been published online today and will be in the print edition shortly.

Conference to debate the way forward for co-ops

I will be off on Friday to Manchester for the third of the Ways Forward co-operative conferences organised by Co-operative Business Consultants. I’ve been asked to chair the session on democracy in the Co-operative Group, which should make for a lively debate…

I’ll also be heading off to the workshop on co-operative housing, a topic which is increasingly engaging me because of an involvement I have locally in helping establish a community land trust.

The programme (and booking details for last-minute attendees) is at http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ways-forward-3-a-new-era-for-co-operative-development-tickets-14243421457

Photo project to celebrate coop movement

The Pioneers Museum at Toad Lane in Rochdale have come up with a terrible word (‘coopography’) but really quite a good idea.  They’re inviting people to contribute photos of coop buildings (past or present, though I suspect the old ones will be the most interesting) for an exhibition they’re putting on later in the year.  Photos need to be sent to coopography@co-op.ac.uk, or via Twitter or Instagram (#coopography).  The museum’s manager Jenny Mabbott told me this week that the deadline for photo submission is fast approaching: Sep 20th.

I’m minded to contribute myself – perhaps a few snaps of Co-operative Terrace, the little row of houses put up by a village coop society a few miles from here in the late nineteenth century, at a time when housing was increasingly on the agenda in the  cooperative movement.

More details here.