FACLT chair Roger Saunders talks about a recent visit to CLTs in Brighton and Hove

In an effort to learn more about what’s possible for community-led housing (CLH), board members recently visited the thriving and creative Brighton & Hove CLT. During our visit, which was hosted by their Co-ordinator Andrea Jones, we met with a range of enthusiastic, experienced and committed community activists, visited a fantastic self-build project, and came away inspired and buzzing with ideas.

A key difference from Frome is that Brighton & Hove CLT (BHCLT) covers an area much larger than ours, and is a hub for a range of local projects, rather a single entity. Judging by the different projects we learnt about, Brighton & Hove clearly has a rich tapestry and culture of community-led housing, and particularly of housing co-ops. These include Bunker (of which more anon), Sea City – which aims to help members of the LGBTQ community to live in a mutually supportive, co-operative setting, various co-housing organisations, and other projects aiming simply to provide affordable housing. One striking feature of the Brighton & Hove experience is that many of the projects are led by people who are themselves in serious housing need, and are using the CLT to support them in initiatives which they are shaping and leading for themselves: enlightened self-interest rather than philanthropy.

We spent a couple of hours visiting work in progress (well, nearing completion actually…) at the Bunker Housing Co-op. Bunker has been set up by a small group of low-income, self-employed people who have decided to take back control of their housing situation by forming a fully mutual co-op and ‘self-building’ permanently affordable housing on ‘infill’ sites. We met one of the families due to move into one of the co-op’s first two homes, who proudly showed us around these beautifully designed homes. While the physical building work is being carried out by professional contractors, the future tenants are intimately involved in the design and specifications. The homes are located in the middle of a ‘traditional’ social housing neighbourhood, and the self-builders have received considerable support and encouragement from the surrounding tenants, their future neighbours. With land for development in Frome now in such short supply, the Bunker model might well have a lot to teach us.

A key principle behind all of BHCLT’s work is a commitment to community outreach and engagement – an approach for which it won a national award in 2019. The CLT employs community organisers, skilled in running participatory events and programmes. Allied to this is a commitment to sharing information and learning; and so the CLT has run workshops on themes ranging from financial planning to housing design, and videos of each of these sessions are available on their website. The community-led housing projects also help one another access funding by, for example, sharing completed application forms.

In FACLT we have so far been envisaging an approach based upon partnership with a Housing Association. The advantage for us would be that we will hopefully create genuinely affordable homes that would not otherwise be built, they can be prioritised for local people in housing need, and they will remain affordable in perpetuity. Limitations, however, would be that such projects are dependent on the established (and limited) opportunities for social housing capital finance, and the Housing

Association will control most of the design and build process, and will become the landlord.

And so it was fascinating for us to learn how some of the CLH projects in Brighton and Hove have decided to establish themselves as Registered Providers, thereby taking on the leasehold and becoming community-led landlords, albeit on a small and local scale. They have also been experimenting with alternative sources of finance, such as loanstock and community shares.

For me, the visit made me realise that there are many options for the way our CLT develops, that we must continue to be creative and flexible, that we are part of a movement, and that we must never stop learning. We are grateful to Andrea and her colleagues for giving us such a valuable insight into their dynamic work.