Pam Johns, Partner and Rural Services Team Leader at Coodes Solicitors, reflects on her involvement in the Community Land Trust movement as she steps down from the Board of the National Community Land Trust Network.
I recently ended my term as a Board Member of the National Community Land Trust Network (NCLTN), a position which I have served for six years. My commitment to the Community Land Trust movement stretches back further, however, to its informal and small-scale beginnings.
A community land trust is set up and run by local people to develop homes or other assets. Homes remain genuinely affordable in the long-term, based on average wages of ordinary people in the area.
From around 2004, I was part of those early gatherings of people interested in developing affordable housing for local people in and around Holsworthy in north west Devon. I was a founding member of the charity Holsworthy Community Property Trust (Homes for Holsworthy), of which I am still a trustee.
As I reflect on my time with the NCLTN and my ongoing involvement with the movement in and around Holsworthy, here are some thoughts on how the movement has changed and its impact on the lives of people in their local communities.
The growth of the Community Land Trust movement
Spearheaded by Bob Paterson, Holsworthy Community Property Trust was one of the first and it has paved the way for many others. Ten years ago there were just 20 or so community land trusts in the UK and there are now 350. This was helped by the establishment of the Community Land Trust Start Up Fund, which helps projects get off the ground, and latterly by the Community Housing Fund.
Increased national influence
When I was first involved in community land trusts, it was viewed as a fringe movement and had little or no clout at a national level. This has really changed over the last decade. It took time for the movement to be recognised, but when we could demonstrate the impact schemes were having on people in their local areas, the tide began to turn.
The NCLTN now lobbies nationally on affordable housing issues, attending Party conferences and meeting with MPs and Lords. This is helping the voices of people in their local communities to be heard.
Impacting on housing policy
A key success during my time on the Board was when the NCLTN achieved exemption from Right to Buy legislation for its schemes. This means that any property built as part of a Community Land Trust remains affordable forever. When occupants choose to move on, the house is priced at a genuinely affordable level for the new buyers, who must meet the Community Land Trust criteria.
The NCLTN also played a major role in the collaborative efforts to secure the Community Housing Fund from Government. We are now watching closely for this to come to be continued.
Protecting community assets
Community Land Trusts were initially set up to develop affordable housing schemes but their remit has expanded. There are now many examples of Community Land Trusts being used to buy community assets which are at threat of closure. These include workspaces, green spaces, such as woodland, and pubs.
An example that is close to my heart is Holsworthy Youth Club, which is held by the Holsworthy Property Trust for the community, with sessions (before Covid-19) being successfully run by volunteers.
Part of the housing solution
While there are now many more community land trusts, they cannot, on their own, be the answer to our housing crisis, but they can be part of the solution. While other providers of affordable housing, such as cooperatives or self-builders, are addressing many of the same issues as community land trusts, they do not place the same emphasis on local needs.
Community land trusts serve a particular and important purpose – helping local people to stay in their communities.
Greater challenges for our communities
While the movement has grown and become more influential and professional, it is sadly needed more than ever. The disparity between wages and house prices has widened considerably since the movement began. Since the last recession, mortgage lenders are more risk averse and it is increasingly challenging to get a foot onto the property ladder. For many young people, buying a home in their locality is just a dream.
The events of 2020, with growing concerns over job security, means the Community Land Trust movement feels ever more relevant than ever.
In places like Holsworthy, where I live and work, providing housing that’s affordable for local people is vital to our future. Having been involved in the movement since its modest beginnings, I have been privileged to see first-hand the difference it makes. Speaking to people who have been able to continue to live and work in the area they call home, thanks to the housing created through a Community Land Trust, makes it all worthwhile.
For more information or advice contact Pam Johns, Partner in the Rural Services team at Coodes Solicitors, on 01409 253425 or firstname.lastname@example.org