It has been great to run CLT Connect events with Forest CLT and facilitate discussion between Community Land Trusts in London. We caught up on projects and discussed common challenges; how groups were organised, and approached their membership; how sites, tenure mixes and resident groups were agreed; and we considered development partnerships, landlord partnerships, and allocations. These took place in the self-build community hub on the RUSS Church Grove construction site, which was inspiring to see going up.
But there is nothing like seeing a scheme after it is built and bedded in. So we were very lucky to be welcomed to 325 Fishponds Road by Bristol CLT on Sunday.
We met residents who moved in 6 years ago. The scheme converted a former school building and has a mix of shared ownership houses and 1-bed studios for affordable rent, allocated to CLT members on housing waiting lists. The scheme is managed by Brighter Places HA on behalf of the CLT. So far so normal.
But as we walked around the corner we saw people clearing breakfast they had eaten on the walkway which doubled up as shared patios, piled up with the relics of family life, barbeques, benches, bicycles. These overlooked a shared garden, where someone tending the plants climbed the steps followed by a dog. Children ran around and through each others’ houses.
There was no ‘common house’ or ‘intentional community’, but this looked and felt like intergenerational cohousing. The shady rear gardens also lacked fences. An informal path ran across and linked back doors where fences would have been. Individual and common spaces were blurred throughout the scheme, and reinforced our theory that community led housing is all about gardens.
A significant part of the project had been the requirement for residents to finish some of the internal fit-out of kitchens, tiling, and flooring, although no plumbing or electrical work was expected. Whilst this translated into a small additional equity percentage or rent discount, and allowed some customisation and a sense of satisfaction for residents, it’s main benefit seemed to be that residents got to know each other before they moved in.
This neighbourliness has persisted. If something needs fixing or doing, people know who to ask. This is informal, voluntary, friendly help, without written rules. Residents often meet to discuss mini-projects, to clear-out the shed, and add a green roof, and people feel free to express any issues they have.
What is interesting is the continuation of that culture over time. The first shared ownership sale took place last year. The new residents were not involved in the self-finish work, but have been welcomed into the community. Residents hope the same will be true of a rented home which recently became vacant.
Shared activities before people move in, sociable spaces, and a lack of fences, foster these relationships. These may only be small changes to conventional housing, but the value of children growing up in this way, the sense of belonging, knowing you have neighbours who can help, or casually leaving your front door open, are hard to value.