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.

Interview: Adam and the power of connection with self and others

Hello Everyone,

Back today to introduce another member of our group, Adam, a 32-year-old inspiring trainee woodworker. 

With the ups and downs of lockdowns and restrictions, Adam and I met over zoom… Experiencing this new way of connecting from the comfort of our home.

Tell us more about you, Adam…

What led you to choose woodwork?

So I have done quite a few different things over the years… My degree was in Film Studies. Around the time I was finishing this my daughter Maya was born. So whilst I thought about working in the film industry ( festival programming or cinema management) and made some moves in this direction, having a young daughter I needed to work so I moved into teaching. I tried some supply teaching, but it was a nightmare – I was too young and self-conscious to be standing in front of a classroom full of teenagers. 

Alongside this I worked for a street food vendor called ‘Fish &’, making ‘alternative’ fish and chips. I really enjoyed cooking generally and I really enjoyed working there.  So then when I moved down to Birmingham (primarily to be close to Maya) I became a full-time Chef for a few years. It was an exciting job and I learned a lot, but the hours weren’t great, and for the final year at least, I was a vegan working in a steak house and so it didn’t feel right. 

During this period I had started to work on myself and reflect on my life and, feeling inspired by the progress I had made and the help I had received, I decided to try working in mental health. I spent a year as a clinical support worker on a CAMHS  unit. It was intense and the pattern of night shifts was difficult. My own mental health dipped so I looked for something a bit less intense. I got interested in outdoor work – gardening, forestry or conservation, that sort of area – as it seemed inherently less stressful. But being in a competitive industry and living in a city I was unable to find work. I needed a job, any job. And one idea was woodwork. I made a few calls, had a job by the end of the day, and so I suppose just kind of fell into it!

Tell us more about what are your other interests? 

I really like art in its broadest sense. Film, literature, photography…particularly narrative art I suppose. I take a lot of meaning from it and so it’s something really important to me.

One of the great things about woodwork is that I am also learning to create my own ‘art’ a bit more too…I think that was lacking in my life. I was more a consumer or a receiver and now I have this extra dimension of creating. It feels very good.

What motivated you or led you to be part of the Community Project?

Around 2014 I started to go to the Buddhist centre where I met two of my current friends who lived together with eight other guys in a Buddhist men’s community called Punyaloka. A place came up there and having spent some time there and being quite heavily involved in the Buddhist movement at the time I decided to give it a try. So I joined them, along with Maya who was 4 years old at the time. This was an interesting experience and my first of community living. Before I visited I had expected a squat or something quite radical…but it was actually a very warm, homely, and welcoming place. I was there for 2 years before it started to become apparent that it was no longer quite right for my situation, particularly regarding its suitability for Maya as she continued to grow. That and I had stopped practicing Buddhism. And so I decided to move on.

At around this time, my housemate and friend Damien and his partner Katha offered me and Maya to share a house with them, as they were expecting a child of their own but wanted to continue living in a communal setting and so we then all moved to our current home on Taylor rd. 

Damien had also been talking about building a bigger community for some time before this, and having had quite a bit of interest from others about how we were living, the project as it is now was born. So in a certain sense, you could say I’ve found myself in the right place at the right time. Although there have certainly been a number of conscious choices that have led me here too.

I guess the main factors that led me to community living are people and friendships/human relationships, rather than because of a big ideology about ‘how we should live.’ And I think it would be good for other people to be able to enjoy some of what we have now. 

What do you think is good about ‘community’?

It potentially gives a bigger dimension to your experience of home – It’s a way of sharing life that isn’t necessarily dependent on the norms of family. I am naturally introverted so I would easily live alone and spend a lot of time in solitude, but actually, really enjoy the benefits of living with others. It comes with challenges and compromises but you gain so much more than you have to give up that it is worth it.

Who has been the 3 most influential in your life?

Well obviously my mum and dad have been the biggest influence of my life, through my life – I literally wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for them. But if I think of myself now…

The most influential person is undoubtedly my daughter Maya. I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you if it was not for her having been born. Being a parent is an incredible responsibility and you are forced to rise to it. It’s very uncomfortable and challenging at times but a huge growing point. It’s utterly joyful too. She has an uncanny ability to remind me what is important by her mere presence and her willingness to be a constant source of honest feedback. She is by far the biggest influence on me!

Then I’d say Damien – he’s a very close friend and has been incredibly supportive to me since we’ve known each other. He is a kind and understanding person but also boundaried and honest. He is a friend, a real friend, the type who is not always mollycoddling, saying what I want to hear,  honest and supportive. 

And finally Laura, my current therapist of the past two years. It has been a time of change and growth and I feel that I have resolved a lot of issues that have been limiting me and causing me suffering for a long time. Although it is a therapeutic relationship, it is still a very real, human connection. It has been an intense journey involving a great deal of deep reflection, but one that has been of immense value to me.

What are the best resources that have helped you along the way with people? 

Connecting with myself! I need to have a good routine, exercise, eat well, wear clothes I feel comfortable in…understanding my own needs and ensuring that these needs are fulfilled help me to then connect with others. I think maintaining connection with people is about finding the right circumstances for you as an individual, as an introvert or extravert, finding what suits you. 

It is also a positive feedback loop. The more you nurture your relationships, the more you get back from them, and with time it just builds and builds…but the important starting point is connecting with yourself!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow a similar path to yours? 

Don’t have too rigid an idea of what you want something to be. Lower your expectations and let things grow organically. 

If your path towards yourself led you to connect more with others, what would you say to someone who wants to connect more with themselves? 

There is so many ways that can work depending on who you are. The more I get to know myself the more I believe in the value of the basics: exercise, healthy food, etc. But I also believe you need a ‘mind’ element. If you’re depressed, say, and someone says ‘just get some exercise’ it’s not always possible to achieve just like that. You need to gain some awareness of your mind to fully meet the needs of your body. I have personally found therapy particularly helpful but there are other ways to achieve this connection with your mind. Meditation, yoga, focusing to name just a few.

What myths about community-living would you like to debunk? 

We’re not necessarily a bunch of hippies living in a crumbling old squat. On this project, we are all professionals, living fairly ‘normal’ modern urban lives.

If you could step into my shoes what would you have asked yourself that I didn’t? 

I don’t know! What’s your favourite flavour of jam? What’s your favourite meal?? 

Well, Raspberry Jam. Obviously! Strawberry is too sweet, raspberry has a decent kick to it. And my favourite meal would probably be a Mushroom and Bean Curd Udon dish from a Vietnamese restaurant that is now unfortunately closed. Boooo!

Interview completed by Marion and Cara

February 2021

We carefully (maintaining social distance, etc.) gathered the signatures needed for the incorporation forms. Sent them all off, with an explanation of how we expected to ensure democratic control (Consensus Decision Making – CDM – and a little Sociocracy). We thought that noting these in our Standing Orders would be sufficient, and that we wouldn’t need to formally incorporate them into our Rules.

However, the Financial Conduct Authority felt that this would not be sufficient. So we spent a bit of time discussing this, and changing the Rules accordingly:

  • We explicitly changed the text in a few places to require a consensus as opposed to traditional voting;
  • There are a few places where traditional voting does make most sense – e.g. for adding, removing committee members, etc. (though we changed the Rules to use Single Transferable Voting for voting for new committee members).
  • We decided to leave the word “vote” in the text of the rest of the Rules, because it is a concise way to say “give one’s final opinion on a matter, after hearing everyone and taking all views into account”.

We also wrote the threshold for people blocking consensii into the Rules.

Work continued on the business plan, fleshing out the risk register with reference to the project plan. And work started on the financial projections, also based on the project plan.

We had our usual social meetings over Zoom.

And we attended a couple of seminars over Zoom, the most useful of which was one on finding a site, organised by the good people at wMUCH (West Midlands Urban Community Housing).

January 2021

Had a good chat with Blase Lambert of the Confederation of Co-operative Housing. He answered some remaining questions on Co-operatives UK’s new MHOS model Rules. I believe we’re ready to roll now.

We also chatted about financing projects. Current alternatives include self-build-specific mortgages brokered by BuildStore (currently only applicable to freehold single homes, not housing co-ops); mortgages via e.g. Co-operative bank and Ecology building society (max limit too small for a medium sized co-operative such as ours); commercial loans via e.g. Triodos bank (commercial interest rates, much higher than mortgage rates). The Ethex ethical investment platform was discussed, as was a more distant possibility of a fund set up by leveraging monies held by mature housing co-ops.

We attended a couple of seminars, one on finance and partnerships, another on managing money.

And, as usual, we had a couple of social meetings over Zoom.

December 2020

We had our final meeting to finish discussing the new MHOS model Rules. Some queries remain.

Our payment to join CCH was confirmed in December, so we’re now officially signed up. Now to book some consultancy time to clarify the MHOS model Rules.

Our usual social Zoom calls were held.

We had a very useful “health check” meeting with West Midlands Urban Community Homes (WMuch). The main things that need attention now are:

  • Carry on with the Business Plan document (project plan, financial plan, risk register).
  • Work up a “case” document to explain to stakeholders (council, financial, etc.) why we are worthy of their support.
  • Work up a “community homes” document to outline the type of buildings we will need, to fit onto a site, and to ensure that we meet likely council requirements for site density.

One of us drew up a useful potential floor plan for one of the smaller one-bedroom units – 40 sqm.

To live with intention

Written by Laura Hacket

Image: Healthy Rural Community Living by Malakai Schindel.

If I were to think of a moment that solidified my desire to live in a way that’s more mindful, more considered and more intentional, it would be the day I moved into my current house. I remember with clarity, meeting my neighbour for the first time and her words to me. She said, “It’s nice and quiet around here, everyone keeps themselves to themselves”. She said this as though it were a good thing! My heart sank at the prospect. People, living side by side, with no interest in each other. No desire to reach out, to connect. How hollow. How boring. Recently, I have written about the benefits of everyday micro-interactions for social cohesion, trust and well-being. The experience of spending the best part of 2020 in lockdown, on a street with people keeping themselves to themselves, has reinforced my need to be part of a community. So when the opportunity to be part of Birmingham Intentional community Cohousing project presented itself earlier this year it felt serendipitous and I jumped at the chance.

My social need was coupled with a sense of material necessity.

This year I have moved beyond merely knowing about the Climate Crisis to waking up to the reality of it. The realisation that the shit is going to hit the fan has made me recognise that living in small scale, sustainable communities with connections to local food supplies and autonomy over one’s energy production is the best thing we can do for our children’s future, for each other, and to have some resilience to what’s coming down the road. We also need to move away from the current Thatcherite housing paradigm that views homes as mere investments and has contributed to the current housing crisis where 40% of the population are being priced out of homeownership with little adequate alternative in place.

Of course, I don’t expect that all issues around affordability, community cohesion, food security, and energy security will magically be solved by community housing projects, however, I’m so excited to be involved and be a small part of the solution. Community Cohousing is gradually building momentum and there are now 19 built cohousing communities in the UK. A further 60+ cohousing groups are developing projects and new groups are forming all the time. To my mind, Community Cohousing is about shared values. This doesn’t mean everybody being the same, but rather recognising and working with differences; cooperation, community and saying yes to living together in a way that’s considered, mindful and intentional. As someone who cares deeply about the planet, the emphasis on sustainability means that Intentional Community cohousing is another way my actions can align with my values. During a time of uncertainty and anxiety about many aspects of the future, it feels like a positive journey towards a better way of living. So here’s to 2021 and another year closer to making Birmingham Intentional Community Co Housing a reality.

By Laura Hackett

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