An errant diarist returns

What use, you may ask, is a blogger who never blogs?

Several months have passed since my last posting here, when I announced with a great deal of pleasure that funding had come through for the workers’ co-operative archive project which a few of us had for several years been nursing into health. I’m delighted to say that a project worker has now been appointed by the Co-operative Heritage Trust to start the hard work of making the initiative a success.

Since the Spring I’ve been busy, too busy or so it seemed at the time, to blog or tweet.  I’ve been finalising the text and undertaking proofing of a new book of mine Back Roads through Middle England which will be coming out next month from Gritstone Publishing Co-operative, the authors’ marketing co-operative of which I’m a proud founder member.

The book will probably be filed by bookshops as a ‘travel’ title, or perhaps in larger bookshops with other books in the growing genre of landscape writing.  It will, I hope, interest my friends in the co-operative movement (there are accounts of a village shop co-operative in Lincolnshire, a rural community land trust in Dorset, and a co-operative market garden outside Bath), although my aims with the book are rather more general.

Here’s how the press release which Gritstone has drawn up begins, to give you an idea.

At a time when Englishness and English identity is increasingly an uncertain affair, are there clues in both the past and the present state of the English countryside to help us understand the state we’re in?

Landscape writer Andrew Bibby delves deep into ‘middle England’ in his search for answers. In his forthcoming book Back Roads through Middle England he uses the device of a journey by bicycle from Dorset to the Humber along the Jurassic limestone belt (the so-called ‘cotswoldstone’) to try to capture the essence of this much-loved landscape – but also to explore the issues he feels are relevant to England today.

Maybe I’ll say more about the book here, in the run-up to publication next month.

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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.

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.

The DIY community approach to getting the housing we need

I have a lunchtime meeting today, talking informally to other people who live locally about our neighbourhood’s Community Land Trust.

Because, yes, I do have a life away from my professional commitments and one of the things I’m engaged with at the moment in a voluntary capacity is our CLT, set up last year as a charitable community benefit society with a board of trustees elected by our fifty or so members. (Community Land Trusts are rapidly growing in the UK and all the details are on the national CLT website. They are “local organisations set up and run by ordinary people to develop and manage homes as well as other assets important to that community”).

Our own focus is both on the provision of affordable rented housing (basically, trying to fill the gaps in housing need which the commercial market is not meeting) and on holding land and property in perpetuity on behalf of our community. We have recently been gifted ownership of a local community centre, where we are working with another local charity which actually manages the centre. We are also looking at two or three housing projects, one focused on older people’s bungalows and one on a potential cohousing solution for local young people.

Community initiatives like this take time and patience. But it seems to be a necessary part of life today, if we are to have inclusive communities where everyone whatever their age or income can find somewhere to live.

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.