Support, capacity and power-building for community-led housing

While the process of developing community-led homes is far from simple, there is more support available now – to groups, local authorities and development partners – than ever before.

At the penultimate event of Future of London’s Foundations for Community-Led Housing series, we took the opportunity to hear from the organisations working to support development and build skills, understanding and capacity.

National Community Land Trust Network

National Community Land Trust Network (NCLTN) was set up in 2010 and initially hosted by the National Housing Federation. An independent charity since 2014, it works with government, local authorities, lenders and funders, providing funding, resources, training and advice for Community Land Trusts (CLTs).

Samantha Jones, Head of Community Led Homes Programme at NCLTN, set out the vision to “see a Community Land Trust in every community that wants one”.

For this to become a reality, making the right support available is key. While resources do exist, the plethora of websites offering advice can cause confusion. Gaps in funding and availability of enabler support, and an overall lack of coordination at a national level were all factors holding community-led housing.

Community Led Homes

In response, NCLTN came together with the Confederation of Co-operative Housing, Locality and UK Cohousing to launch a one-stop advisory resource, Community Led Homes.

Community Led Homes is a single point of access for groups and partners, connecting with regional hubs to provide funding, support and advice. Community Led Homes National Advice Centre Manager Eliza Platts-Mills made clear that the central and regional hubs cover CLTs, new and existing cooperatives, cohousing communities and self-build projects.

Graphic courtesy of Community Led Homes

Much of the central hub’s work is geared to streamlining processes, identifying barriers and developing tools in response. Resources in development range from software to help groups navigate development stages to templates for leases.

Eliza brings a legal background to the organisation’s approach, transposing the principles of “client centred lawyering” whereby the professional recognises the knowledge of the client and views the lawyer’s role as that of a technical facilitator.

Community Led Housing London

At Community Led Housing London, work with groups and local authorities begins with the question: “What do you want to achieve?”

Coordinator Gemma Holyoak exemplified the hub’s work by way of their journey supporting Zahra Housing Coop, a project seeking to build affordable homes suitable for multi-generational living in Harrow.

Having secured funding for a feasibility study from LB Harrow, Zahra approached the hub for advice on commissioning consultants. The hub helped the group to identify expertise needed and draft tender documents. Zahra also attended the hub’s workshop on finance and were subsequently able to approach a lender, ultimately securing a mortgage in principle for their development.

More than 42 groups are now in discussion with the hub, and boroughs such as Croydon, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest are taking a proactive role in bringing schemes forward. Community Led Homes London can support authorities with policy advice and drafting and work closely with officers to realise development opportunities.

Image courtesy of Community Led Housing London

RUSS School of Community Led Housing

Lewisham has a long history of community-led housing in the borough, as highlighted by a recent exhibition at the London Festival of Architecture. The exhibition was organised by the RUSS, a community land trust in Lewisham, now on site with their first self-build project.

Since securing their sites, RUSS have been inundated with requests for advice and interviews. The suggestion was made: “Why don’t we start a school?”

RUSS School of Community Led Housing now exists to share knowledge through structured but informal events, offering attendees the chance to learn and network. Since the 2016 pilot they’ve hosted 10 workshops, involving 200 participants and working with organisations such as New Economics Foundation and Community Led Homes London.

The School’s programme offers modules aligned to the five stages of community-led housing development and based on RUSS’s own experience. Modules one and two are currently available, with three to five in development. Anne Kennedy, Workshop Coordinator, hopes to be offering the “happily ever after”, living-stage module by 2021.

Graphic of RUSS School modules; images courtesy of RUSS, diagrams courtesy of Architype.

In the afternoon’s workshop, we delved into two new topics – relational power and community-led housing as part of larger schemes – and revisited a recurring theme, co-production.

Summaries of each are provided below.

Power and community-led housing

By Lianna Etkind, Campaigns Manager, London CLT & Costa Christou, Chair of the Advocacy Academy’s Housing Collective

The workshop focused on thinking strategically about how power plays out in campaigns to secure community-led housing. How can groups grow their power through the relationships they build? Costa told the story of London CLT and Lambeth Citizens’ campaign for a CLT on Christchurch Road in Streatham, and key moments when the group used testimony, turnout and knowledge to build power. Lianna led a power-mapping exercise, designed to help analyse people and constituencies to influence, and a discussion allow attendees to ask questions and reflect on their own experiences of power.

Key points:

  • You can have the most beautiful designs and plans in the world, but without being intentional about growing power, you won’t get far in making them a reality
  • Relational power comes from building relationships with people: both decision makers within organisations and local residents who might be interested in supporting your plans
  • Storytelling has been a key part of our campaign in Lambeth, making our shared experience of housing insecurity public, as has bringing on board the experience and talent of people living around the site who have joined our steering group.

Community-led housing as part of larger schemes

Facilitator Stephen Hill, Director of C2O futureplanners, presented an overview of two schemes which included a component of community-led housing, St Cements in Mile End and the Citu Climate Innovation District in Leeds.

Participants worked through a series of questions, particularly asking local authorities and housing associations to consider why they might want to help develop community-led housing, and how it could support their aims.

Key points:

  • A commitment to enabling and supporting community-led housing is a real step towards fixing our broken land market. Even if numbers are small, a community project has often been a political ‘good news’ story with much wider effects
  • CLH/CLTs can unlock difficult sites or tricky heritage areas, help gain support for ballots, aid planning committee decisions, and satisfy high level political aspirations
  • There’s a real alignment of interest between communities trying to shape their housing choices and councils and professionals willing to be open to new ways of working. How can we make co-production, and the sharing of power in relationships, easier than it currently is?

Towards co-production

As explored in previous Future of London events, co-production – the idea that those who use a service or good are best placed to help design and deliver it – is central to community-led housing and has potential to deliver better outcomes in the built environment more broadly.

Led by facilitators Charli Bristow, Future of London and Eliza Platts-Mills, Community Led Homes, delegates identified examples of co-production in action ranging from community-led housing projects such as Marklake Court in Southwark to the role of users in planning for the redevelopment of a youth centre.

The concept does represent a new, and sometimes challenging, way of working. Co-production requires new partnerships, often between authorities and community groups. To ensure community decision-making carries weight, new legal and policy structures may be required.

Key points:

  • The first challenge is getting all actors on board – building support for partnerships, securing the political will for change and gaining trust
  • Even with the best will in the world doing things differently can be challenging. Complex bureaucratic systems, knowledge gaps, a lack of resources and pressures on staff time can all contribute to delays or to a breakdown in the work
  • Bringing legal expertise in early can help, as can transparency, regular communication and a clear timeline for the work ahead.

This was the final event in Future of London’s Foundations for Community-Led Housing series and the report for this project will launch in October. Join the mailing list to receive an invitation to the event and stay up to date with our other projects.