Housing for our communities

Do you have that feeling that the housing market isn’t quite working? That developers are making money but communities don’t benefit much? Community land trusts are one way that communities are taking back the power over their housing. I spoke with Charlie from Oxfordshire Community Land Trust about their work and their latest campaign to create affordable housing in Oxford.

A community land trust protects land and property assets and makes them affordable for the community, whether it be for work, housing or leisure.

Their legal structures could be Industrial and Provident Societies for the Benefit of the Community, Community Interest Companies, Charitable Trusts or Companies Limited by Guarantee, but the principles are the same – ensure that assets benefits the community and not outside companies.

In Oxford at the moment Homes for Oxford, another community group is working with the trust to fundraise for their own housing development. You can learn more and donate to the work here.

What are some of the ties that hold us down and prevent us from living a life that we believe in, a life that benefits those around us and makes us feel fulfilled? For many people the answer is simply needing to pay the bills, being caught in a cycle of work to pay the rent. If we can remove the wealth extractors from our housing market we have a chance to create housing that benefits our communities, and helps give people more freedom to do what they think is right.

 

Welcome to La ZAD

The ZAD (Zone A Defendre or Zone to Defend) in France is variously described as an occupation, a no-go area of radical militants, a resistance community, and the proposed second airport for Nantes.  During my first visit to La ZAD I explored some of the reasons that people have made this beautiful place their home.

Cycling or driving into La ZAD you may be unaware that you have entered it but after a time you may come to a signpost which no longer has a place name, but instead has ‘ZAD’ spray painted pointing in each direction. Or you may come across a road with artistic barricades, a burnt out car with plants growing through it, or damaged tarmac. Whilst now, all is peaceful farmland, gardens and communities of hand-built houses, it’s clear that something big happened here a few years ago. If you want to orientate yourself and begin to explore this special place, the best place to start is La Rolandiere.

ZAD map

 

The approximately 1600 Ha of the zone is a place of creativity and independence, of living on the margins and finding a way to make it work. People build knowing that in the future the police and airport will try to tear it down, to build an airport next to another one which is only at 30% capacity. Some of the farms use machinery whilst others use only hand tools. Some choose the way they live for ideological reasons and others out of necessity. Police don’t visit the zone, but there seems little or no crime – people leave their doors unlocked and one woman told me that social disputes are discussed quickly (and at length). You won’t find a supermarket, but you can still buy your food. You can buy local vegetables, bread made with flour from La ZAD, or patisseries made with butter from the zone. If you need clothes you can go to one of the ‘free shops’ or ‘swap shops’ where unwanted clothes and objects have been carefully hung and stacked, waiting to be found by a new owner. On a Friday you can read La ZAD news about what’s been happening and upcoming events, and attend the no-market. The no-market is where people donate things and other people pay what they feel for them. The money is then used as a community fund. One of the functions of the weekly resident’s meeting is to decide on the spending of the community fund.

Each weekly resident’s meeting is attended by around 50 residents and can take anything from one hour to four, including times of silence. “I hated them at first,” Koen from Rolandiere told me, “I was really frustrated, but now I really like them. You have to get used to it, it’s a very different meeting style, it can feel very slow and like nothing has been decided. But it is important. The silences give space for people who would not normally speak to say something. And decisions can be revoked later in extreme cases if people were not present.”

To finish the week off, after building, farming or making, you can find residents swimming in the large beautiful lake (it is warm and wonderful, I checked) and playing on the salvaged pedal-lo. Yep, don’t ask, I have NO idea how they got that one.

I’ll be posting more blogs about La ZAD over the next few months as I revisit, but in the meantime you can find out more from their website.

They’ve made it in Stroud

I2015-07-17 13.43.14t’s comforting when things you love are stable, and in Stroud it was mostly the things that hadn’t changed which caused a contented smile on my lips.

The shop Made in Stroud is still thriving (but with a few more awards), still selling locally made goods and making positive influences everyday.

The Stroud Valley’s Project is still promoting conservation and offering educational courses. They recently ran a scything workshop after seeing it done wrong on Poldark! Scything is less damaging to the environment than mowing and also helps you to easily leave rare species. The day I visited they were about to run a bat ecology course and head out with bat detectors. 2015-07-17 14.23.11

Those creating positive change in Stroud had a higher average age than people I met in other towns, and had been in the town for longer. As Julie, the fundraising manager for Stroud Valleys Project says, “Who would want to move once you’ve landed here?” The town has a more stable, developed feel to the community than other places I visit. In the Stroud Valley’s Project office they have a reciprocal arrangement for work or rent with the Car Club and Transition Stroud. Transition Stroud have been running open eco-home event and open garden tours with about 1000 house visits. A new addition by Transition Stroud at the back of a closed pub is a pop-up “rain garden” to make efficient use of rainwater runoff from roofs. So simple it makes you wonder why on earth we normally pipe it all down the drain.

Stroud Against the Cuts has had a great turnout at its events and Stroud Co has become a thriving hub for selling home grown food surplus.

It feels like there are lots of people steadily making improvements in Stroud and the cumulative effect of that over many years is to have made a very special place and a very special community.

 

 

Cam and Dursley in Transition

To return to projects and visit people again has a wonderful relaxing deja vu. The memories from last year are often so clear – the places and people having been captured in my notebook, on camera and as unusual special memories. So to see the progress at the community garden in Dursley was a lovely experience. Last year the garden was a concrete pad with rubble, and a whole series of dreams and diagrams.

Now there are planter boxes made from recycled crates, a shed, a polytunnel, fruit trees, flower beds and poles for a performance stage area to be built.

Durham catherdral

There are several great projects in Durham including Fruitful Durham and  Abundant Earth, however upon hearing of Rupert’s accident, it was to the cathedral that I headed. Although many of the visitors are there as tourists, people still come to pray and contemplate in this amazing place. Despite not being Christian, during this journey I’ve found churches to be places of community, safety and care. Lighting a candle and sending my thoughts to Rupert at the cathedral, where he used to sing in the choir, felt right. A verger, I discovered, is someone employed by the cathedral to order the services and maintain the space. I also discovered them to be kindly, helpful and willing to sit with someone in distress. Where do people in your community go, when they don’t know where to go?

Protecting community spaces in York

The heritage campaign for West Bank Park has included funding bids, business mentors, public meetings, research and even celebrity endorsements. The Friends of West Bank Park and have worked to restore and preserve many parts of the park, and now the West Bank Heritage Project hopes to revive the heritage of the park and its legacy as a central part of the community.

With government cuts, the council presented residents in York with the lose-lose scenario that either parks, libraries or swimming pools would take cuts first. West Bank Park in Acum lost much of it’s funding and began to be left unlocked at night. Nearby residents conserned about the future of the park began to launch a campaign to build support for it.

One model that inspired the West Bank group is the successful Rowntree Park in York. The park has a library and cafe at its centre that attracts a lot of visitors to use the park as somewhere to meet and socialise.

When I came across Clements Hall they were running a Food and Fun event where older or isolated residents can enjoy a meal and a chat. The hall was renovated several years ago by the council following a campaign by residents and now offers many different community events and a lot of local people volunteer to keep it going. The hall was originally owned by the nearby St Clements Church where Edible York have created a public vegetable garden.