Getting Started

Setting up a project as large as a community building project for the first time can be a daunting prospect, but it has been done by communities up and down the country and there is plenty of help available, including small grants to set up your project. The MyCommunity website provides a lot of details and cases studies on local projects ranging from building a dozen or so new homes to running the local post office!

The help available and the process can vary from region to region so the following information is only a very brief introduction to some of the issues and resources available to get you started. Have a read and follow the links or contact us and we will attempt to point you in the right direction.

Get organised and engage your community

Having got a group together you will need to understand and agree what it is you want to do and find a way to engage with the wider community. Whatever you decide upon you will need to put forward a legal entity that can represent your community. Most common are:

Community Land Trusts (CLT) are an established means for communities to get together and deliver an identified local need. The National CLT Network website provides very useful resources to communities set up their CLT and there are experts available to advise and assist in many regions of the country. This is a popular way forward for many communities.

Parish Councils where they exist are often the starting body for the whole process as they are probably involved in the Neighbourhood Planning process (if not might be a good idea if they were…). Parish Councils are also recognised as an eligible body under the Localism Act. They are also able to access Local Authority funding for Surveys and Referendums where required.

Often a CLT and Parish Council will work together on a project.

Partners

Housing Associations: Whilst there is grant funding available to set up a project it does not fund the detailed design or building work. So any community projects will need to partner with established organisations such as a local Housing Association.

If your goal is to build affordable homes to meet an identified need, then a local Housing Association is the obvious partner. Many Housing Associations will not only develop properties for affordable rent, but these days many also develop houses for sale as a means of raising extra capital – so deals can be struck.

A point to note, however, is that not all Housing Associations are prepared to undertake community projects and even if they do they will have their own constraints and needs. So talk to them and thoroughly explore what is possible before committing to a contract.

The Local Authority responsible for housing in your area will have a list of Housing Association active in your area on their website.

The Law - Power to the People?

Community Right to Build Order is a mechanism set up under the Localism Act that allows communities to take control of their own planning decisions. In effect the community can decide what gets built and where. It is not just limited to housing, so the potential for community action under the Act is significant.

There are limitations, any plans have to be in line with national and local policy and this is assessed by independent review, but provided these are met the Act gives a lot of control to the community. The advantages are that;

  • Any profits made from the sale of open market housing must be reinvested in the community;
  • Affordable Housing can be protected as such by various legal means ensuring that the community benefits in the long run;
  • And, of course any extra housing can help to bring new business and fresh support to local services.

Points to note are that any decision under the Community Right to Build Order is subject to a local referendum. If there is a straight majority then the development can go ahead.

Also the Localism Act is still new and in many ways little used. The up side of this is that there is still much exploration and testing of the limits to be done, so there is a lot room for innovation. The down side is that things might take a little longer, or little more effort, but the rewards can be significant and lasting.