Over 200 people filled the Brighthelm Centre on Wednesday 21 February for the launch of our Community-Led Housing Programme.
With support from Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC), Brighton & Hove Community Land Trust (BHCLT) is supporting local people who want to start their own community-led housing projects, including co-operatives, cohousing and self-build.
We want more truly affordable and stable housing in the city, with more people gaining control over their housing situation. The enthusiasm at Wednesday’s event showed that we’re not alone.
Stephen Hill, Director at C2O futureplanners, gave a useful overview of the national picture for community-led housing, including examples of exciting projects such as LILAC, a cohousing community of 20 eco houses in Leeds and OWCH, a group of women over 50 who have created their own community in a purpose-built block of flats in North London.
Stephen introduced the idea of ‘market disrupters’. ‘Communities are spending huge amounts of their time trying to put together housing projects that nobody else will,’ he said. ‘The fact that people like you are here today is some kind of witness to the fact that policy and the market has failed so many people.’
For him, part of the excitement around community-led housing is that the unexpected always happens. ‘Every project has a little bit of magic in it,’ he said. ‘You give people the opportunity to do something amazing and all sorts of bits of creativity and innovation come to the fore – things that you can never possibly imagine would happen.’
Councillor Anne Meadows, Chair of the Housing & New Homes Committee and a Labour & Co-operative representative for Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, paid tribute to what the city has already achieved: ‘In some respects I feel it’s national thinking that has caught up with Brighton & Hove,’ she said. ‘We have had an innovative and active community-led housing sector for many, many years.’
In recent years, Martyn Holmes of Bunker Self-Build Housing Co-op has been one of the people behind that innovation. He told the story of Bunker’s beginnings – two neighbours chatting over the garden fence, both living in private rented housing that they were struggling to afford and fed up with their housing situation. Along with their families, they are soon to start work on two modular houses in Brighton, making use of a small and difficult site that a big developer wouldn’t be attracted to.
For Bunker, part of the reason for choosing a self-build project was the money they would save. Martyn explained that group self-build schemes can result in cost savings of up to 40% or more. ‘It is hard, but it is worth doing,’ he said and urged others not to give up, particularly as the Community-Led Housing Programme could help reduce some of the barriers that Bunker experienced early on.
Housing groups get to know each other
Stephen also emphasised that the rewards will come eventually. ‘You shouldn’t underestimate the difficulties,’ he said. ‘If you’re going to do this it will take over your life… but I’ve never met anybody who regretted it.’
Community-led housing is not just about building homes from scratch, as our Programme Manager, Andrea Jones, explained. ‘The problem with housing in this country is not just about supply and numbers of houses, it’s about the unequal distribution of it,’ she said.
Andrea explained that people are beginning to think about housing differently, going against the instinct that people should follow the trajectory of buying their own place, or renting somewhere with boundaries from others. ‘If we can open the debate up about how it’s possible to live and how it’s possible to live well then we can release some of the housing stock that isn’t used well or imaginatively,’ said Andrea.
Throughout 2018 we will be working to raise awareness about the potential of community-led housing for Brighton & Hove, as well as holding more events and practical workshops for groups at all stages of the journey.
Do you want to keep up to date with our news and events? Sign up to the BHCLT mailing list here.
Find out more about the Community-Led Housing Programme here.
A video from the launch will be published on our website over the coming weeks.
Photos: Tim Andrews and others.