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Community-led initiatives needed to combat UK housing crisis

Yesterday (30th March) a panel of experts came together at a Big Tent Digital event to discuss ways to solve the ongoing housing crisis in Britain. The session was chaired by Helen Nicol, a consultant and previous civil servant who co-authored the National strategy for estate regeneration, who set the tone of the discussion by asking the panel what specific role communities can play in developing the resilient and affordable housing that is currently in short supply across the UK.

Toby Lloyd, a UK housing policy expert and chair of the Commission into Prosperity and Community Placemaking, started by highlighting the dual challenge facing local authorities around the country; lack of affordable housing in many areas and not enough public investment in some areas that can keep house prices up. He argued that getting out of the crisis will therefore require both community-led initiatives, and more concerted efforts from the public sector to support locally:

“We need to stop things being sold on the open market before communities have a chance to have a look in.”

“Communities up and down the country are just getting on with things despite the government and housing industry not knowing how to support it.”

On a positive note, he envisioned growing involvement in housing schemes as more people see them popping up in their area:

“Seeing is believing – people need to experience a well-designed, community led scheme and see what it looks like. We can then see more people getting involved.”

Rt Revd Dr Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington and Vice Chair of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community, brought a philosophical perspective to the discussion, saying what is needed is a “rediscovery of the revolutionary idea that the primary focus of our love should be our neighbour.”

Reverend Tomlin, who got into housing due to the Grenfell Tower fire, shared how that experience opened his eyes to the situation facing many Britons:

“We don’t need to just built more housing, we need to build more communities. The housing crisis is due to people who are living in unaffordable, unsafe accommodation.”

He also argued that the Church of England needs to play a bigger role in pushing a more equitable housing agenda, sharing that while it owns almost 100,000 acres of land only 10% of churches are involved in meeting housing needs in their area.

Chief Executive of the National Community Land Trust Network, Tom Chance, explained why he thinks many previous community-led initiatives have not had maximum impact:

“The case for community housing is very difficult to make –  it’s easy for community projects to fall foul of one test or another.”

Chance shared how Community Land Trusts are a way of getting around that roadblock by changing the way institutions work, focusing on communities first. By letting anyone that wishes to partake in housing projects the priorities of the local community can remain at the heart of decision-making, he argued. He also recommended the Community Led Homes partnership project as a starting point for communities to access support and build a lasting community led housing movement. 

Finally, Sue Hunter, a Chair of the Distington Big Local Land Development Group, shared her experience of getting involved with community-led housing initiatives in the village of Distington in Cumbria.

In 2016, when 1.7 acres of land became available for sale in the middle of the village, the community asked if it could be bought by the villagers. The request was accepted, launching a long process of turning it into an affordable housing development for elderly people.

Hunter highlighted the difficulties facing community-led initiatives up and down the country, sharing how her group in Distington have been able to share their experience with others:

“I say to community groups, be brave, it’s hard, but if you can get there, it is a wonderful legacy for your community.”

Big Tent Ideas Festival

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