Land of community

A meeting of Forest Community Land Trust
A meeting of Forest Community Land Trust

Sue Wheat on how a resident-led project could lay the groundwork for a new type of housing development

It’s not a controversial view to think that the state of British housing is in crisis – in terms of affordability, quality, and its massive carbon footprint.

So when I found a group of people working on building truly affordable homes in the borough and which holds both a community ethos and environmental commitment, I was delighted. This is the style of living that increasingly makes sense to people, especially having had the experience of lockdown, where knowing and supporting our neighbours has been key to our health, safety and happiness.

Forest Community Land Trust is one of hundreds of inspiring community land trusts (CLTs) around the world. Chris Carthy, a founding member of Forest CLT and an architect specialising in community housing, explains: “When people live in a community where they know each other and help each other, life is so much easier, cheaper and more enjoyable. The housing group will decide how they want to live but they might decide to grow food together or share common things like tools, communal space, or electric cars.”

Hannah, a single mum whose current rented accommodation is cripplingly expensive and not secure in the long term, is another member. She said: “Our vision is that we will build a range of homes to buy or rent.

“The homes will remain affordable forever – so when someone leaves a property it returns to the CLT, to be re-allocated to another family for rent or sale. How great is that?”

Waltham Forest Council awarded Forest CLT a grant to develop its business proposal, while the mayor of London’s community-led housing hub also supports the project through grants and training. Forest CLT is about to bid for a small site in Leyton and is also pushing for 75 truly affordable homes and a new community hub as part of the council’s Low Hall Depot redevelopment.

“The council is about to do a public engagement exercise about the Low Hall site, so we really hope people will join us and add to our people power for our proposal,” says Chris.

“We are shouting about our amazing project from the rooftops,” Hannah adds. “We are open to all – and definitely want to reflect the diversity within the borough.”

Anyone involved in a community group, particularly BAME groups, is encouraged to contact Forest CLT in order to share information and join the project. To help spread the word, a new campaign #StrongerHomesTogether seeks to reach out to those interested in living in or supporting community housing.

There will be Zoom webinars and film nights to find out more, and as the lockdown lifts, opportunities to attend meetings and request speakers for community groups to hear about plans.

Chris says: “One thing we’ve learned from the Covid-19 experience is the value of community in helping us get through a tough time. Having a safe, supportive community that brings people together will be the most valuable thing about this project.

“And that’s what we want to continue.”

A special ‘Meet Forest CLT’ Zoom webinar will be held on Thursday 9th July and then monthly on the first day of every month.
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