Bioregional has teamed up with Transition by Design to design a new approach to achieve truly sustainable and affordable housing that can be delivered at scale across the UK. Emily Auckland explains why, and how
Community-led housing needs professionalism as well as passion
The market consistently fails to deliver high-quality, sustainable new homes which are affordable for lower and middle-income groups. By taking on this challenge, community-led housing groups can ensure that people living in those homes can have a real stake in them – emotional and financial – and a say in how they are managed.
Mismatched priorities and negative perceptions
But after spending two years of research into community-led housing with Transition by Design we have found that well-intentioned groups often struggle to get their projects off the ground. The obstacles they face are many and great, the majority connected to the fact that they are outside the housing mainstream.
The various businesses, professionals, financiers and public bodies who get new homes built in the UK are largely unfamiliar with the notion of community-led housing. Competition with powerful, conventional developers, a lack of planning regulation supporting community schemes and the high cost of land are all obvious issues.
Our research also suggests that built environment professionals tend to perceive community-led housing groups as unprofessional and high risk. This makes it much harder for them to succeed in getting their projects financed, approved by planners and actually built.
Community groups are often led by volunteers with limited time and resources and gaps in their skills and knowledge. Often, their priorities do not match those of the professionals they have to deal with in order to succeed. They might talk most passionately about how they want to live their lives once they get into their homes. But the local council whose support is vital to their scheme will attach far more importance to its overall contribution to the local economy, its aesthetic, and its impact on surrounding development and infrastructure (both existing and planned).
Breaking down the barriers
If community-led housing schemes are to grow, they need help to become more effective at engaging target audiences and breaking down perceptions that they are risky or unviable for partnerships or financial backing.
As charitable professionals who work in the built environment, we are able to help community groups move their schemes forward. We support groups in shaping a coherent and well-rounded vision that speaks to a range of stakeholders, selecting the appropriate pieces of information to match the audiences they are trying to engage, and understanding what they need to reach agreement on and by when. We help them deal with the professionals and consultants they need to work with, write development briefs and produce development appraisals.
- Through our One Planet Affordable Living service we use a design-led approach to support community-led housing groups. We’ve framed the stages of the support we provide around the traditional and mainstream development process, as set out in RIBA’s plan of work.
- We’ve used our One Planet Living framework as a way to help groups prioritise their decision-making and activities during these stages.
- Our aim is for any group we work with to develop a clear, coherent vision for their development at the outset. We then help them turn this in to a decision-making tool to help their scheme become a reality.