We’re following the story of Anne, mother of six boys who is building a home for her family and one for the grandparents on the same site. They used the Right to Build to help them escape the private rental sector, acting as pioneers for the legislation, which even the council was unsure about at the time.
Part 8: Calling on higher support
A quick recap:
Our offer for the Vicarage garden (with our partner family) had been overtaken as Council and Diocese got into dialogue. Against that disappointment things were picking up on the community building idea.
Maximising the opportunity for homes
It was 2018 and the beginning of a new year. My husband Peter spent Christmas working up a scheme for the two sites to house 5-7 units, to make the most of the site.
He was also formulating a proposal to convince the church that, rather than sell off the ‘family silver’ to fund philanthropic ‘mission’, community housing was, in fact, a mission purpose in itself, and could even be framed to support the work of the church locally.
At this point the Diocese was in the process of drawing up a scheme for maximising the number of units on both sites. It would obtain a valuation and then take the site to auction. We knew that any private sale bid would have to be 10% above the valuation, as before, but this time for the combined sites.
Only a registered charity, the Diocese Development Manager pointed out, would have a chance of bidding below market value. I could feel his discomfort, as he was trying to tell me we no longer stood a chance.
However, for some reason I did not feel uncomfortable, saying that, “Nothing is impossible….”
I had further conversations with the Council Property Disposals manager who was happy to share the plans being drawn up with the Church, but his position was similar: ‘best price’ needed to be achieved. We would have the same chance as others to compete for the scheme.
Setting our vision
It was clear that we had got as far as we could with the property departments. We needed to reach visionaries.
Consequently, we came up with a prospectus which we called, ‘Reimagining Community: a pilot scheme in N14’. This was inspired by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ‘Reimagining Britain’ in which he challenged ‘the purpose of housing should be understood as creating communities and not merely building accommodation”.
‘The housing crisis’, we wrote, ‘presents an opportunity that creative, dynamic and devoted families wanting to establish a secure base and build community need help to get started…’
My first port of call was the vicar’s wife who was encouraging. I talked through some of our ideas and she recommended that we approach the area Bishop (Bishop of Edmonton) who was interested in affordable housing and Father Edd said he would put in a good word and introduce us by email.
He also gave me the contact for the Diocese Strategic Development Manager. Community housing was of interest, but the Diocese had no policy to date and although a ground rent model was a sensible business model for the church it was one that was not recognised yet.
Father Edd was as good as his word and immediately wrote to the Bishop saying he had seen our proposals which were very interesting and should be seriously considered.
We then wrote our letter in our custom way – I draft the letter, Peter puts red lines all over it and re-writes it. We were not sure how to address a bishop but in the end decided on the old fashioned formal form:
“My Lord, … we are looking for support within the Church for our small community led housing proposal… The development would pioneer a new form of affordable housing made possible because the Church would retain ownership of the land.
Families would be able to own their own homes but not have to buy the land and instead pay a ground rent to the Church. In that respect it is like buying a flat.
The Church maintains a steady income stream and has helped create a community invested in the school and church. The houses would remain affordable in perpetuity…
The development explores the idea of intergenerational living with some of the characteristics of an extended family in which the old can provide some childcare and the young can help the elderly in various ways. The scheme also looks at how students or those starting work or just married can find their feet.
…Currently Council and Diocese are looking to marry the two sites which back onto each other and dispose of them at auction for development for luxury houses and apartments. The Council site is landlocked and the Diocese owns the access and so has the controlling interest.
Our proposal offers an alternative model which while it will not furnish a Best Price lump sum up front it will deliver value in terms of Mission, for families and the community and almost certainly achieve better overall cash value in the long run…
The approach is a new and practical application of some of the principles recently promoted by the Archbishop and by the Mayor, and would help London Borough Enfield to deliver on their new obligations on Self Build. Indeed we believe Enfield will welcome the opportunity.
They are already taking some quite brave steps on ‘custom build’ ahead of other boroughs and so this is an opportunity to give some encouragement that the great moral authority of the established church can lend.
This site offers a curiously unique symbol of cooperation of the two great pillars of Church and State to bring forward fresh answers to the biggest questions for families in Britain today…”
I received a call back a couple of weeks later to say the Bishop was happy to meet us and a meeting was set for a month’s time. It was exciting.
Our task now was to seek a similar visionary in Enfield Council, we knew there was one, he was working with Naked House, but could we reach him?
Find your self and custom build register on the Right to Build Portal.
Read the other parts of the Self Build Family Build Blog.
Photo: printed with permission of Fiona Hanson 2020©