December 2021

December was a quiet month – at least on the Cohousing front. CoHoWM had a Zoom meeting, and Birmingham Community Cohousing had a meeting with one CoHoWMer attending live and another by Zoom.

We look forward to restarting our activities in the new year.

November 2021

This month we attended the regular UK Cohousing Network coffee evening. We heard from the director of a Housing Association which is prototyping a Cohousing-style approach to some of its housing for seniors in the Midlands. We also heard from Portaferry Cohousing, Northern Ireland’s first Cohousing community.

One of us had a chat with a representative from Maldaba, the software company which wrote the software package that allows Lilac to manage their Mutual Home Ownership monetary calculations, and any repairs that are required on homes, etc. We talked about licencing fees, and they seemed very reasonable.

One of us attended a meeting organised by HACT (Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust) about the relationship between housing and health in general, and about building relationships between Housing Associations and NHS Public Health bodies in particular.

One of us attended a very useful Practitioners’ Forum put on by Co-operatives UK. Many, many useful sessions, it was hard to choose which to attend. In the end we attended sessions on: “Communicating your co-op’s USP”; “A Guide to Grant Funding for Co-ops and Community Businesses”; “Governance/legal update”; and “Financial Distress – role and responsibilities of the Board and Warning Signs and Options”. One hopes that careful attention to detail will mean we won’t need to much advice from the latter forum!

Besides this, CoHoWM had its usual business and social events. We also attended a hybrid face-to-face and Zoom meeting between Birmingham Community Cohousing, and had a joint park / playground / cafe meetup, which everyone enjoyed. Exploration is continuing, but we think it will likely be a good thing for our groups to join forces. Very positive!

October 2021

We attended various events this month:

  • Cohousing cafe, featuring some researchers talking about the relationship between cohousing groups and immigrants / refugees in the UK. (Mostly, cohousing groups seem willing, but uptake from immigrants / refugees is still low.)
  • Two webinars on finances for co-operatives, put on by Co-operatives West Midlands. A useful overview of cashflow, income & expenditure accounts, and balance sheets.
  • Potton webinars on Timber frame versus Structured Insulated Panels (SIPs); Explaining the build process; and Understanding building regulations.

We also had a few less formal discussions:

  • with the UK Cohousing Network about improvements that could be made to their Members directory page.
  • with a financial modeller, via wMUCH, about providing us with a Priced Scope of Financial Modelling Services.

We had a lovely chat with some members of Birmingham Community Cohousing in Kings Heath Park, and the next day went some of them to view a property in Acocks Green that was of interest. We all decided that that particular property wasn’t for either party, but it was in the right kind of ballpark.

And as usual we had a couple of Zoom meetings, split between social and business.

September 2021

Well, September was a busy month. Let’s see…

The Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CCH) set up a meeting with the Regulator of Social Housing, for him to hear our views on the government’s review of how well the social housing sector is meeting the needs of their customers. One of us attended this.

The UK Cohousing Network holds a monthly Cohousing Cafe for developing groups. This month, a representative from the Church of England spoke about the Church’s desire to use its stock of land to work with community-led housing groups to provide greatly needed affordable and community-oriented housing. A very inspiring chat.

One of us attended the offsite expo in Coventry, looking at Modern Methods of Construction, where home components – from walls to completely fitted bathrooms or kitchens – are manufactured in dry clean factories, and these components are slotted into place on site, like lego. Lots of interesting ideas.

We had a chat with the CEO of a group that empowers women from a black or minority ethnic background, looking for ways to reach out to the BAME community. Watch this space! ;o)

One of us attended a meeting about reaching out to and including people from an immigrant and refugee background in the Collaborative housing sector. Some good research going on here. And it was interesting to be bumping into folks again – including someone met during the recent XR demonstrations in London.

We reached out to some estate agents with our Site Finding Brief; contacted more professional organisations with requests for Priced Scopes of Services; and began reaching out to organisations whose members might be interested in CoHoWM.

We’ve updated our About Us page to reflect the current group; restored a link to our Facebook page; and corrected some old links.

We had our usual business meetings. And as a social, some members and former members attended an outdoor movie event that focussed on homelessness.

Congratulations to Shabrana Hussain, who has become the new Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods, and sits on the WMCA Housing & Land Delivery Board. Shabrana replaces Sharon Thompson.

August 2021

Lots of progress this month with the documents we will present to people outside the group. We followed our consultant’s guidance, but one of us had some further great insights which we need to work in to our Partnership Pitch documents. We had a summation meeting with our consultant to reflect on the work we’ve done together, and to reinforce our direction over the next six months or so.

One of us attended the third webinar put on by UK Cohousing Network on their recently issued Cohousing Guide, about Finance Models; and a webinar put on by Potton on Assessing Planning Potential. Unfortunately they missed a couple of useful webinars due to being in London for the first week of the XR protests.

We built a database of potential commercial partners, and made first contact with a number of them. We had a follow-up meeting with representatives of a Financial Modelling firm.

We had the usual Zoom meetings, but topped the month off with an in-real-life social event: attending a socially-distanced village picnic where one of our number lives. We decided that we should set aside every third meeting to a social event of some kind.

We discovered – by accident at an XR meeting – that there is another cohousing project in Birmingham! Check out Birmingham Community Co-housing. We wish them well, and hope to chat soon.

July 2021

Had meetings with Sam, our West Midlands Urban Community Housing (wMUCH) consultant about our Site Finding Brief and our Outline Business Plan. Further refinements were recommended, and pursued. One of our colleagues also had some excellent ideas, from their experience working with a charity, about improvements to our Partnership Pitch. Work on incorporating these improvements is in progress.

One of us attended a webinar by Potton about gaining planning permission.

We had a couple of regular social / business Zoom meetings, and a little working bee to help one of our members who’s moved into a new home (while waiting for the CoHoWM project to come to fruition).

We started work on improving our social media presence. Check out https://www.facebook.com/CoHoWM/. We’re going to make an effort to be more active with our posts – while seeking not to overwhelm people!

June 2021

This month we continued plugging away at the tasks Sam, our wMUCH consultant, had suggested for us: making our Site Finding Brief and Outline Business Case more succinct and professionally neutral. We had another meeting with Sam.

One of us attended the AMGs of Triodos, the ethical bank that we do our banking with, and of Co-operatives UK.

We re-joined UK Cohousing Network, to increase our networking opportunities.

A few of us were able to get together and spend a lovely afternoon taking in the open gardens at a local village.

One of us attended an online seminar about Eco homes put on by the National Self-Build and Renovation Centre.

We had our new business cards and some event-neutral flyers printed up. (For any given event, we print off stickers with the details, put the stickers on the flyers, and distribute the flyers.)

May 2021

There was a flurry of activity early in the month, where we discussed with our consultant the work we did in April, getting our external propositions up to scratch. This resulted in some more homework to do…

One of us attended the AGM of the Confederation of Co-operative Housing, which we are a member of.

Usual social and work Zoom meetups.

Apart from that, a quiet month.

April 2021

One of us attended at seminar by Potton, about “How much will my build cost”. Good outline numbers.

One of the requirements of our Rules is that we have a sign up outside our registered office. That’s now in place.

We’ve done a lot of work for our West Midlands Urban Community Homes (wMUCH) consultant, wrestling the information in our documents into a digestible form for other people.

We joined Co-operatives UK a wee while ago, and attended a Welcome session at the end of April. Good seeing other recently incorporated groups. And the team pointed us to useful resources.

And of course, our usual bi-weekly meetings, which have been more business than socially focussed of late. Looking forward to being able to get together again for shared meals!

March 2021

The month started with a seminar put on by West Midlands Urban Community Homes (wMUCH) on partnership working. wMUCH is the local hub for Community Led Homes (CLH). There were some great notes about working with Housing Associations (HAs), Developers, and Local Authorities (LAs).

The Housing Association session was particularly inspiring. As anticipated, a HA can act as an umbrella Registered Provider (RP) of social housing for us. They can channel folks for our social rent homes towards us. (These people will be full members of the community – though not the Mutual Home Ownership Society aspect of it – so will need to fulfil all membership criteria, like embracing diversity, etc.)

However, more than that, some HAs will fund part of the building of the community, equivalent to the number of social rent homes. (In CoHoWM, all homes will be indistinguishable in terms of build and finish.) We will own the freehold (land) and they will own the leasehold (buildings). We would have an opportunity to buy out the HA’s leaseholds, after around forty years or so. (This whole deal benefits the HA, because they can use the buildings as collatoral for further borrowing.)

wMUCH also granted us four days consultancy time. This is spread out over:

  • Creating a brief Outline Business Case, to give to a wide range of stakeholders, such as potential members, lenders, business partners, Local Authorities, land holders, etc.
  • Assembling our current membership materials into a focussed package to give to potential members.
  • Creating a Partnership Case, emphasising the reasons why stakeholders should want to partner with us – e.g. why public bodies should look favourably upon us when making land allocations available.
  • Creating a Site-Finding Brief, to firm up our own ideas, but largely to give to folks such as estate agents, who we might hire to look for land on our behalf.

Our consultant reviewed the documents that we have produced for ourselves over the last few years, and gave us a kind and gentle boot up the backside! It is now time for us to ensure that we have good and concise materials to give to other people and organisations as applicable. Much work has been done following the consultant’s suggestions, and continues to be done.

We had a very useful meeting with Middlemarch, a group that specialises in bringing together Community Led Housing groups and Registered Providers (of social housing).

In addition we had our usual social and working groups this month. Perhaps with a greater (and welcome) emphasis on working than we have had previously in lockdown.