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!

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!