August 2022

August was a quite month. We had a chat with someone who was interested in the idea of cohousing, had a couple of business meetings, and did a little work on updating our prospectus!

June and July 2022

June

We attended a seminar put on by the Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust (HACT), about an upgrade to a tool that allows HAs to calculate the social value their organisation brings to the table. This is useful when applying for grants.

We attended a BuildIt expo down in Bicester, where we talked with Barbara Jones who wrote the bible about building in straw bales. She now works with EcoCocon, who supply structural straw-filled panels. We talked to a number of other eco-friendly building suppliers there, and had a good chat with the folks from Ecology Building Society. They were impressed with our ambitions for the project.

We had a chat with Eddy, from West Midlands Urban Community Homes (wMUCH), and Cath from the Birmingham Social Housing Partnership (BSHP). The topic was about finding Housing Associations (HAs) who might be interested in forming a partnership with us, to fund and build the social housing part of the community, and to be a Registered Provider on our behalf. BSHP had a pre-covid workshop with a number of HAs about this, and has passed on to wMUCH a list of those who were interested.

We attended the Fight for Home Festival, which was mostly talking about the struggle for decent rented housing, whether rented from the Council or from private landlords. Some inspiring people there. Salma Yaqoob who now works for the West Midlands Combined Authority was there.

July

We had a personal tour of the Zero Carbon House (ZCH) in Balsall Heath, led by John Christophers, who was the architect, and is now resident in the ZCH. (John worked with the group a year or two ago to help us refine our architectural thoughts, and produced a feasibility study which was passed to PMP Consultants to get feasibility costings.) The tour was a profound experience, and John explained the ins and outs of various design and materials decisions.

This was followed by a lovely picnic in Cannon Hill Park.

In late July we had a meeting with two representatives from the Birmingham Diocese of the Church of England (CoE). The CoE recognises the gravity of the housing crisis, and is determined to play its part in helping to resolve this problem. A wonderful report, Coming Home, was created by an independent commission, and issued in the name of the Archbishop of Cantebury. One aspect of the report is a mission for the church to facilitate the building of affordable, sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying housing on any spare land the Church owns. In particular, national representatives of the Church are working with the Community Land Trust Network to see how they might support Community Led Homes. Another direction of travel is for the Church to form its own Housing Association(s). Altogether, the meeting was of great interest to both sides, but sadly Birmingham Diocese doesn’t have land that meets our criteria. (It was rural, rather than urban / suburban – but we want to be close to shops, and other facilities, and to public transport.)

Besides this, in June and July we had our usual scattering of business meetings.

May 2022

Technical work continued on merging the two groups. Emails from the old Cohousing West Midlands (CoHoWM) account have been tidied and are ready to import into the new CoHoWM account. Emails are now being automatically forwarded to the new account.

We attended a number of events:

  • A locality event about relationships between Local Authorities and voluntary organisations.
  • The Confederation of Co-operative Housing’s AGM.
  • A seminar on Passivhaus hosted by the National Self Build and Renovation Centre.

In addition, CoHoWM had its own AGM, and some of us had an informal get-together at Balsall Heath City Farm on a lovely fine Saturday afternoon.

April 2022

Hi folks, another quiet month (at least on the cohousing front!).

We had a catchup with one of our West Midlands Urban Community Homes (wMUCH) mentors. wMUCH folks helped both the Birmingham Community Cohousing, and the old Cohousing West Midlands group, who have joined forces to create the new improved Cohousing West Midlands group. We got some useful pointers on where to go next.

We’re very keen to get back to face-to-face outreach meetings, but the continuing level of COVID is concerning, as several of us are in touch with vulnerable people. …As Soon As Possible…

We had just one mixed business / social meeting.

One of the background technical tasks required for the joining of the two groups was completed – copying files over to a consolidated cloud file system.

March 2022

March was very quiet. Not much happening externally. Some work going on under the covers to amalgamate the groups’ finances and files. A couple of Zoom meetings.

February 2022

We fielded a couple of queries from folks who are distant, but thinking of moving to the area – a couple from Kent, and someone from Oz!

One of us attended a Zoom coffee evening put on by the UK Cohousing Network (UKCN). Representatives from Bridport Cohousing were talking about their experience with Sociocracy, which I take to be a way to efficiently structure Consensus Decision Making. Apologies if I’ve oversimplified these two concepts beyond recognition!

We’ve done more work sorting out and debugging our IT infrastructure. We’ve merged our bank accounts and are in the process of ironing out the relative financial contributions of the two original groups. We’ve had some run-throughs of our financial model, which has revealed some bugs, weaknesses, and things that just need to be thought about a bit more. Getting there ;o)

One of us spotted a very interesting property that has been vacant for some years. It turned out to be the old Billesley Police Station. Taking our cue from that, one of us has created a list of all Birmingham Police Stations that have been shut down in the last ten years. Should make for interesting reading…

Two of us had an extremely positive meeting with Bournville Village Trust (BVT), which is a Housing Association (HA) with knobs on! We want to partner with an HA so they can: act as a Registered Provider (RP) for the social housing aspect of our community; perhaps funnel prospective members our way (who would go through the normal membership process); and fund the construction of the proportion of the community which is given over to social housing members. BVT can’t offer us a partnership within the next several years; nevertheless, it was very heartening to see the solid commitment that the Chief Executive and the Director of Communities have to seeing a wide variety of self-build projects come to fruition. They gave us some useful leads which we will follow up.

Last but not least there was a mini social, which included, amongst other things, the lopping of dead branches at one of our homes, followed by a lunch of spicy Indian treats and an investigative trip to the old Billesley Police Station site.

It’s all feeling like we’re getting back some of the pre-Covid wind beneath our wings ;o)

January 2022

Birmingham Community Cohousing (BCC) and the old Cohousing West Midlands (CoHoWM) groups agreed a framework for merging the two groups. We’ll keep the CoHoWM name (rather than BCC or a possible third option), and we’ll keep the CoHoWM registration with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), since CoHoWM is already registered as an MHOS. It’s agreed that the community will be more like the size that BCC envisaged. Geographically speaking, we’ll be much more Birmingham focused, but sites just over the border can be considered if transport links are good. As a matter of practicality, we’ll keep the CoHoWM bank account. We’ll keep the BCC IT and project control infrastructure.

We set up a list of specific tasks to do to merge the two groups. Keeping the blog up is one one such task!

BCC looked at a site in Wythall last year, and even had an initial site layout and estimate for building works made. One of us is working at putting those numbers into a spreadsheet. We will then be able to play with the parameters to look at affordability options and housing mix, etc. Once that is done, we’ll be able to feed the results into our Business Plan documents, and into our Individual Illustration spreadsheet. For this latter, a person’s income and housing requirements are entered, along with any extra lump sums they might be able to put in up front, and a deposit and “mortgage” / equity acquisition schedule is produced. All go!

We had a meeting with an officer of Bournville Village Trust, a Housing Association. They very much like the idea of CoHoWM, and sound very interested in being involved. They would act as our Registered Provider, and nominate people to socially rent. These folks would be keen on the idea of cohousing, and we’d go through the usual membership process of sounding each other out. (I.e. BVT has no interest in forcing people on us who would not be suited for community living.) BVT would pay for the development of a small number of units.

One of us attended a meeting hosted by the Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CCH), with the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH). This was about a government white paper on Tenant Satisfaction Measures. As mostly smaller organisations (< 1000 homes!) housing co-ops are unlikely to be affected directly – wouldn’t have report to the Regulator. However, many co-ops felt disappointed by this, that they’d like to be able to show that their Tenant Satisfaction is very high… Nowt to stop us from surveying our own satisfaction!

One of us attended a meeting hosted by the UK Cohousing Network (UKCN). This was about “Right Group, Right Brief, Right Site”. Perhaps the most interesting bit was looking at a Google Map Sattelite View of a (random) area and seeing if we could spot potential development sites, and their potential positives and negatives.

The old CoHoWM had never gotten to the point of briefing architects, so we had not gotten down to much detail about how we’d like the community laid out, etc. In response to our merger with BCC, we finally got around to having that conversation, so now we’ll be in a position to make sure we have a consensus across the whole of the new CoHoWM.

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!