Community Led Housing in Herefordshire

We talk to Nancy Winfield, project manager for Herefordshire Centre for Community Led Housing, to understand what kind of opportunities are available to self builders in the area.
by Charley Ward
19th December 2018

What is the Herefordshire Centre for Community Led Housing?

The Herefordshire Centre for Community Led Housing started as an independent service to advise groups who are interested in setting up collective initiatives in their area.

It was enabled thanks to the government’s £163m Community Housing Fund, of which Herefordshire council was allocated £503,000.

Part of my job is to look at the area’s Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDPs), which were set up to give parish councils greater control over local housing decisions.

Read more: Five Community-led Housing Groups Win Free Advice from Right to Build Task Force

These allow residents to put forward recommendations for areas they’d like to see developed and what kind of accommodation they think should be built, via a referendum or questionnaire.

Some NDPs specify land for self build and others simply put in policies that encourage projects. With these NPDs, we also visit the sites and establish settlement boundaries. This opens up a lot of locations in rural areas that could be used for one-off or collective projects.

Herefordshire council is using this process to find land to ensure its quota of self build plots, as identified via its Right to Build register, is released.

I also work with groups who might need to finance an affordable housing development. This could be achieved by selling some land to individuals for one-off homes, for example.

What drew you to take on this role?

I’m working with the centre because I believe in community led housing. Group custom build and self finish projects can be very affordable ways of creating permanent homes for people.

Providing properties for those who aren’t eligible for social housing but have fallen by the wayside is a huge challenge at the moment.

This could be anyone from self-employed individuals who have a reasonable income overall, but are refused a mortgage because it fluctuates month to month, through to those with a big deposit but a low salary.

What kind of financial support is available for community-led housing?

The Community Housing Fund has been guaranteed for the next two years, and local groups and centres like this one can apply for it. The government has just brought in some capital grants as well.

Personally, I think that if you’re a self builder, the best way to access this money would be through a group project. 

My goal is to bring together people who are interested in starting their self or custom build journey, and help them find a suitable site and some funding. A few of these projects have been completed very successfully.

Women from OWCH in the homes in North London

Learn more: Older Women’s CoHousing in North London

When you’re involved in a collective build, you make friends and create community through that process.

If you just buy a plot or a home, you might live in the area you want to be in, but you won’t necessarily know anyone.

When you’re working together, you make connections as it happens. That’s a really positive outcome of taking on a collective self build.

How can people get involved with community led-housing projects?

It would be a good idea to approach me and we can take it from there.

I work a lot with the Herefordshire Community Land Trust, who want to know about people who have expressed an interest in taking on a building project and what locations they’re keen on.

If there are local housing groups working in those areas, I can link them up; it might provide opportunities for cross financing.

What level of interest have you had from members of the public and the local community so far?

There is constant interest at the moment. The fact that central government is putting money into this is opening up possibilities for small firms and locals to change the way they think about housing.

It also gives centres like ours the chance to tell people about opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise know about.

What advice would you give to people who want to start a community-led project?

Consider custom build – it can be a very affordable path to property ownership.

One popular route is where the developers will complete the shell of the house, but you do a lot of the internal work yourself. This means you can save a lot of money in labour costs.

Deputy Housing Mayor James Murray with community self build group RUSS

Learn more: RUSS – Lewisham’s Community Self Build Legacy

As a group, you can also share skills. This has been successfully achieved in the Fishponds project in Bristol with people who wouldn’t otherwise have had access to secure homes.

A total of 12 affordable houses were built by Bristol Community Land Trust members, who were involved from the very beginning of the scheme and did the self-finishing together with training and supervision.

As a result, there is not only virtually no crime on the site, but the new residents have all already become friends and so look out for each other.

With projects like this, it’s not about creating an individual grand design. It’s more for those who haven’t thought about self build as a reality before, and might not have the same sort of funds or skills that you’d possibly need to take on a large scale project like this.

Top image: Bristol CLT’s Fishponds community self build features 12 homes built by local residents

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