It’s been a busy year working on community-led housing. Having just completed my annual report to the Nationwide Foundation, who continue to provide us with stoic and unwavering support, it’s a good time to share some reflections about where we’ve been and (more importantly) where we’re going.
Reflections on Year 1
There’s no doubt that working together can be hard work. It can also be amazingly productive. I often hear people throwing the word ‘collaboration’ around as if it’s some well-defined activity, but the reality is very different. If I had to pin down three lessons from my experiences over the past year, it would be these:
Lesson One: Collaborative activity needs leadership. I don’t mean a ‘boss’, someone who has unilateral decision-making powers or just ploughs on without listening to anyone. I mean somebody who has the time, energy and inclination to gather all the threads together and start making sense of it all. Managing and navigating input from lots of people is a time intensive, exhausting process which can’t be underestimated. That’s why I believe that this project has been important in supporting collaboration.
Lesson Two: We are our own biggest barrier. Money is out there. Land is out there. Support is out there. Skills are out there. People who want better housing options are definitely out there. The problem is people (as in ourselves!). We get stuck in a rut, we don’t read things properly, we forget things, we misinterpret things, we overcommit so we don’t have time for things, we talk ourselves out of things. We’re all human, but we seem to find it hard to forgive each other for that! If we accept that we are our own biggest problem, suddenly the solution is within our control.
Lesson Three: We are our own biggest asset. Community-led housing inspires me so much because it shows what people are capable of when they get out of their own way and work together. The problem is people, but the solution is too. When people are motivated, engaged and inspired, they can work wonders together.
What’s coming in Year Two
We want to crank things up a gear (or two) in year two of the Nationwide Foundation project. The journey so far has led to three clear demands on the community-led housing sector:
1. Solve the Google* problem.
When people want to understand and explore community-led housing do they find what they’re looking for? Some do… many don’t. The only way to solve that problem is to get better at understanding and responding to what people are looking for. And a good way of doing that effectively is by working together so we can build a clear picture and provide a clear response.
*Other search engines are available
2. Solve the ‘doing everything’ problem.
Not everybody (in fact perhaps very few people) has the time or inclination to be involved in delivering their own home to the point where they do absolutely everything themselves. It’s unfair to suggest that’s what community-led housing should be about, and if we took that view I doubt we’d see much growth. Community-led housing is about choice, real influence and real control over housing and places, and the way they work for us, the people that live in them.
There is huge untapped support for something different in housing. We all know it. Community-led housing is something different. We have to find ways for people to get involved in different ways, without expecting too much. That is where all of the years of expertise and experience of people who speak housing, and speak community, should come in.
We need more innovative delivery agents like Leeds Community Homes
3. Join things up
It’s very clear to me that people could benefit hugely from working together in a variety of different ways. Whether that’s sharing a website, giving advice, responding to requests for information, making and managing funding applications, scanning for new opportunities, developing resources, keeping abreast of policy changes, data collection, developing partnerships, or any number of other things, there is so much time that could be saved. The outcome would help everybody, increasing capacity so people have more time to be proactive. But it’s never that simple. Finding common ground and agreement on how joining things up could work in practice is a massive challenge for year two… and the solution is far from obvious or easy.
Eyes on the prize…
The challenges in scaling up community-led housing are numerous, complicated and exhaustingly time consuming. But not insurmountable. And the prize is worth the trouble. Housing is too big a problem for just one solution. Community-led housing is many solutions, all evolving and adapting and responding to change in a way that centralised housing programmes never could. It is unlimited in its potential. We just have to work together to unlock it. You can find out more by looking at our Programme Activities.