December 2022

A quiet month in the lead up to holiday festivities.

We attended a forum held by the Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CCH) about new Tenant Satisfaction Measures (TSMs) that the Governmental body, the Regulator for Social Housing (RSH) will be bringing in in April 2023. Large providers of social housing (> 1000 homes) need to report TSMs to the RSH every second year. Smaller providers need to keep track of TSMs, but don’t have to report to the RSH. Some measures are taken by tenant survey: overall satisfaction; satisfaction with repairs, time taken to do repairs, home maintenance and safety; that the landlord listens to tenants and acts, communicates well, treats tenants well, handles complaints well, keeps communal areas safe and clean, makes a positive contribution to neighbourhood, and handles anti-social behaviour well. Some measures are gathered by the landlord keeping stats about: homes meeting Decent Homes Standard, repairs done on time, safety checks done, incidents of anti-social behaviour, complaint numbers and responses.

At this forum we also heard that the position of Health and Safety Officer will become a compulsory board-level position, alongside Chair and Secretary.

We briefly attended a forum hosted by the UK Cohousing Network (UKCN), at which Wrigleys Solicitors spoke about the public benefit that cohousing brings, and how to make sure policy makers and local decision makers can be made aware of this. Unfortunately technical issues caught up with us, and we didn’t hear the main part of the talk. It’s recorded; must catch up…

We had a chat with Barbara Jones of Ecococon, to clarify our request for an estimate of costs for a notional build of 21 homes plus community house using their technology set.

We hope everyone had a good holiday season.

November 2022

One of us went up to Sheffield (by train) to attend a set of presentations made by architectural students of Sheffield University. The program is run by Sam Brown, who was our advisor on behalf of West Midlands Urban Community Homes (wMUCH). It was a surprisingly entertaining day. The students are divided into 18 groups of 12, and assigned real-life projects to work on with partners in the community, for a period of six weeks. There was a great variety of projects. Urban renewal, in terms of beloved but tired buildings, and in terms of street scenes. New buildings for e.g. schools and parks. Studies into sources of finance, and into Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). In every case, these real-life clients had their expectations exceeded. CoHoWM would like to take part in this program in the future.

Over the course of the day, I had a lot of informal chats, and people were intrigued with the idea of cohousing.

We also attended a virtual cafe hosted by the UK Cohousing Network to talk about the launch of their updated Practical Guide to Cohousing. This version has much more helpful information and advice about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – and its available both online, and in hardcopy.

We did a lot of work designing one of those pull-up banners, for when we start having public meetings. This is the latest version of the banner. The banner is an exercise in storytelling in the broadest sense. We hope it will tell the story of the fundamental point of the CoHoWM project; of the kind of community we want to build; and something of our attitude towards nature. Comments gratefully received.

October 2022

We attended the Midlands Sustainability Conference in Birmingham, to see if we thought it would be good for CoHoWM to have a stall there next year. A good conference, and many folks we chatted with through the day were intrigued by the idea of cohousing. In the end, we concluded that it would be better if there was a general cohousing stall (at £300). We wrote to the UK Cohousing Network (UKCN) and suggested the idea to them.

We attended a workshop put on by UKCN, ‘starring’ Grace Kim, an American architect who lives in a cohousing community. The workshop was on the design of the community house. Many good tips, from the practical (sound management) to the use of the space (Grace has observed that the more frequent that common meals are, the better the community prospers).

We continued to refine ideas for a CoHoWM banner through our regular business meetings. Lots of useful feedback for the designer. This banner will be used at various formal and informal publicity events.

September 2022

Hi folks,

An interesting month. Tangentially, one of us attended a workshop on using Open Data for Green purposes. Fun. We also attended a briefing on the implications of GDPR (privacy law) for housing associations.

Had another chat with someone interested in cohousing – and coincidentally bumped into a few former members at the same cafe! So the chat was a bit richer than it would have been otherwise. Later on in the month, we had a chat with a chap who’s interested in making a “factory” for smoothly churning out housing co-ops. As it turned out, he wasn’t interested in the MHOS type of cohousing model, but I referred him on to the Confederation of Co-operative Housing.

Towards the end of the month, we attended the launch of a housing-centred video art project. Footage from the sixties onwards. Showing some shocking stuff, including at least one video of poor housing conditions at the time here in Birmingham.

One of us did quite a big piece of work about financial modelling. In 2021, the then Birmimgham Community Cohousing had an estimate of the costs of building works prepared, on the basis of five houses, 11 apartments, and a separate community house. Those costs were unaffordable. We’ve had an intuition that things would be more affordable (and thermally efficient) if the whole project was developed as two sets of apartment blocks, with community spaces contained within the apartment blocks. So we re-developed the spreadsheet, using the new scenario and the old costs (with an allowance for inflation) in the hope that it would be more affordable. And the answer was… yes… but only marginally. The next task is to get some new estimates, perhaps from people using different build technologies. Watch this space!

We also had our usual business meetings.

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.