We had the chance to talk with Hannah, a member of Forest Community Land Trust to hear about their plans to build sustainable homes in Waltham Forest. Discover why she got involved, and how Community Led Housing London helped to motivate and inspire her.
A place to call home?
Hannah loves her home in Walthamstow. As a single mother, Waltham Forest has everything she needs: great schools, beautiful parks and a wonderful social atmosphere.
The only problem is that like many other parts of London, the housing situation is spiralling out of control. Rents have skyrocketed, while new developments are marketed towards high-earning city-slickers. This is pushing local residents out of town.
“It makes my blood boil,” Hannah tells me. “I love this place, but I fear it’s dying. People can’t afford to stay here.”
Housing for the people, by the people
After seeing many of her own friends and neighbours priced out of town, Hannah started to look for alternative options online. That is where she discovered Forest CLT.
Forest CLT has been around since 2018 and was founded by local residents Tanja Pfitzner and Sue Higgins who both dreamt of creating sustainable community housing in Waltham Forest, and have seen members coming together behind this vision.
Hannah explains the land trust is united around “a framework that takes everything from mental health to ecological sustainability into account”.
As well as building homes controlled by its members, Forest CLT is committed to working with the community to add public resources such as cafes, yoga spaces and accessible toilets.
“We want to build a community hub,” Hannah tells me, “not just for ourselves, but for everyone who lives in the local area.”
Getting the fire started
Hannah says the trust’s proposed development in Walthamstow will comprise of over 50 properties, to support the community facilities.
“Our dream is to create an affordable, mixed tenure community,” she tells me. “We’ll have social housing for council tenants, affordable rental properties where the rent would be based on people’s earnings, and some properties for sale at reasonable prices.”
The first stage in achieving this dream is to access a suitable site. The Trust has identified several sites and is negotiating with the council to develop these.
They are being supported by Lev, CLH London’s Director. Lev has attended the Trust’s board meetings and discussions, helping to steer conversations and offer advice where it’s been needed. “He has been instrumental in our success,” Hannah tells me, “helping us put together a plan for sites we have our hearts set on, looking at how and what we’d build.”
Crucial support from CLH London
“Community Led Housing London has been essential in galvanising us and giving us momentum,” Hannah continues.
Forest CLT have also produced a robust financial model, helping to prove the long-term value and financial sustainability of their project. It became clear that Forest CLT should also consider a pilot scheme in Leyton.
If successful, Forest CLT could use this scheme as a springboard for a much larger project in Walthamstow. The first stage in this process is to bid for land, which they could develop into a small community space with homes.
Hannah can’t tell me too much about the progress of this project just yet, as the Leyton site is yet to be released, but she is confident Forest CLT’s model will prove robust.
A growing membership
As well as working closely with CLH London, the group has been able to successfully apply for various pots of funding. “The National Community Land Trust Network were offering funding called ‘Cohesive Communities’,” Hannah explains. “I helped to work on that funding application, with some other Forest CLT members, and we won it.”
Forest CLT is using part of this funding to grow its membership, focusing particularly on recruiting members from more diverse backgrounds so that it can be more representative of this part of London.
The group has recently hired a professional to help build connections within the local community. It is also making a short film and redeveloping its website to help spread the message.
“The drive is going well,” Hannah tells me. “We already have around 100 members, but ideally we’d like many more, especially people from more diverse backgrounds who are eager to get involved.”
Looking to the future
Hannah hopes the trust can achieve its ambitions, not least “so that we can be an inspiration to others.”
As she puts it: “There’s massive power in people coming together and having a voice. People are very powerful when they join forces. The way housing in London going is not sustainable. There needs to be an alternative.”
For Hannah and many other members of Forest CLT, community led housing not only provides a way to escape London’s unaffordable and unattainable housing cycle, but to take back ownership of their community.
And they’re delighted to have so many resources there to help them – especially the expertise and support available from Community Led Housing London.
“Community Led Housing London has taken us seriously, supported us and encouraged us. They’ve had confidence in us, which has helped us feel confident in ourselves. They’ve played a key role in helping us move forward.”
Find out more about Forest CLT
Forest CLT’s short film introducing themselves and their ideas:
You can read more about Forest CLT by following their Facebook page. There is also a monthly ‘Meet Forest CLT’ zoom catch up on the first of every month – joining details are on their Facebook page.
Have you got an idea for a community led housing project in London?
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