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15 minutes with…Beth Boorman of the National Community Land Trust Network

Beth Boorman is communications manager of the National Community Land Trust Network, a charity that provides funding, resources, training and advice for CLTs across the UK. She spoke to Thomas Barrett about why momentum is growing for the CLT movement.

 

 

You have just returned from a CLT event in Keswick. What was that about?

We do showcase events of CLTs across the country where fledgeling CLTs can come and see a project in the flesh and speak to groups who have gone through the whole process. Keswick are onto their 4th project now, getting on quietly and doing some really great work up north. They’re producing really unique projects each time, thinking about what space is available and what’s the best way to use it.

What’s top of the agenda?

Top of our agenda is the Community Housing Fund, which was recently announced. It’s been a very long time coming.

We’ve been working with a number of other partners and Government to ensure the future design of the Fund can create a real legacy. Unlike the first year of the Fund, where the money was allocated to certain local authorities, the money will now be allocated to groups via Homes England. And it’s now available to groups all over the country too.

We’re also hoping that funding will be provided to invest in work that will support the long-term sustainability of the movement. This includes a single website for community-led housing and support for existing and future Enabling Hubs.

Where community-led housing is a grassroots movement it’s vital that this work strengthens the bottom-up nature of the movement. We feel very strongly that this ethos must remain, and that a top-down approach will not work.

What advice do experienced CLTs give to those just starting out?

CLTs that succeed today are complete pioneers. They have all done it in their own little ways. With Granby 4 Streets, they started with being so fed up so started guerrilla gardening projects.

I’ve heard so many stories where something has just snapped, and that’s it, a community comes together to bring about something different. The advice I hear over and over again is to get as many people on board as possible, knock on doors, put on events, make friends with council officers – get your project out there and show why it’s necessary.

I love the events that Heart of Hastings CLT put on: chilli cook-offs, film screenings, tidy-up days. They always sound like so much fun.

Granby 4 Streets had fierce battles with Liverpool City Council to save their homes from demolition. How can councils and CLTs work best together?

It’s ironic with Granby because they have inspired a new wave of council projects to follow their model.

The Cooperative Council Innovation Network produced a toolkit for best practice where councils supported community groups to get projects off the ground. It provides lots of case studies that groups can take to their own local council to highlight that community-led housing is happening and the positive impact that a supportive council can have on the process.

The small sites program is incredible news. Land has been earmarked for CLTs, that’s probably how we’d like to see things going forward. Cambridge and Cornwall are also supporting rolling loans for community-led housing. That’s really positive.

How do CLTs in rural areas differ from those in urban areas?

At the end of the day, there’s a lack of genuinely affordable housing in both areas. Rural communities need fewer houses but they still face the same issues of unaffordable land or getting the community on board.

CLTs roots were in rural areas. At one point it was said that CLTs will never work in urban areas, but that’s been proved wrong. They can work really well.

What’s really exciting is the projects that have been developed with huge amounts of housing, such as St Anne’s in Tottenham. It’s turning it on its head and is revolutionary. The Mayor of London has bought the land in Tottenham, and there’s hopes the relationship with StART will get stronger and there’ll play a leading role in delivering that.

Is there too much doom and gloom in the media about housing?

Community-led housing isn’t going to solve the housing crisis, but it’s one solution that can play its part.

When you talk to these groups [who started a CLT] and hear their stories it’s so energising. They are always so modest. They’ve worked so hard and they’re passionate. The media is completely dominiated by crisis, we want to go with a different story, that there is hope, and there is lots of good stuff about community-led housing.

What misconceptions are there around CLTs?

The main one is it’s the idea of ‘I can’t do that’.

Anyone can do this. You don’t have to have a housing background and there’s so much support out there with technical skills and direction and people to support you. If you have the drive to make a change then that’s all you need to get started.

Community land trusts can be used in so many different ways. It doesn’t have to start with housing. There’s Homebaked that started with a  bakery, there are save the post office campaigns or community pubs. Community land trusts can give that power to protect things of community value.

Community land trusts don’t just have to be about housing either, they can be used to protect anything of community value. There’s Homebaked that started with a  bakery, Norton-sub-Hamdon saved its Post Office, and half way through the Lyvennet project their local pub closed down so they took that on too.

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