In December RUSS’ Board and Project Team spent a day in Bristol visiting innovative projects to tackle the housing crisis in the city. We were invited by Bristol Community Land Trust (BCLT) on a board-to-board knowledge exchange funded by the National CLT Network’s See-It-And-Believe-It grant programme. In preparation for our first project at Church Grove– and as a team-building day for our newly elected board of directors for 2016– we toured three exciting recent initiatives to provide affordable self-build opportunities in Bristol.
In the morning our motley group from Lewisham met Bristol CLT’s Development Officer Anna Maloney, who lavished us with croissants and showed us around the construction site of their first project at Fishponds Road. In the north-east suburbs BCLT are building a new terrace of six family homes and converting an historic workshop into a further six duplex flats for younger people. These twelve new homes will be self-finished by their residents, learning new skills and saving money whilst organised in working groups focused on particular trades.
Next was a visit to the longer-established Ashley Vale self-build neighbourhood, where residents bought a former industrial yard and built a characterful cluster of timber-framed homes surrounding a shared green space and a row of affordable bungalows. At the entrance to the community, an existing office building has been repurposed and environmentally upgraded to create a community centre with flats above. We visited the Ashley Vale home of BCLT’s self-build manager, and had a delicious lunch at the local city farm café.
Last on the list, RUSS met up with the Abolish Empty Office Buildings group at their construction site in the east of the city, where the group is converting a commercial garage into new affordable flats with a communal living space and shared garden. Without public funding this ambitious group are looking to offer homes to Bristol’s residents where the market won’t provide: simple, affordable flats with a sense of community and shared spaces where neighbours can come together to eat, chat and relax. In the early evening we joined Bristol CLT’s board meeting at United Communities Housing Association to see first hand how the group organise, make decisions and tackle the work of building innovative new projects.
The trip was all about skilling up our new board of directors to meet the challenges of an ambitious year ahead for RUSS. We all agreed it was a hugely interesting and inspiring range of examples to draw ideas from. Thanks to our Group Facilitator Sam Brown at Jon Broome Architects for organising the trip!
Feedback from the RUSS board and Project Team:
Emma Gittus (RUSS Project Manager for Church Grove): ‘I was very impressed by the organisation and progress on site [at Bristol CLT’s Fishponds Road site]. I learnt a considerable amount from their Project Manager Anna and I think this trip was invaluable for me and RUSS.
Tony Rich (RUSS Community Director): ‘I found the visit to Bristol very helpful in showing some of the challenges likely to be faced by RUSS in the future as the project progresses.  Some of the key messages I took from the visit were that the length of time it could take for the homes to be ready for occupation means that some people may have to drop out and we will need a waiting list of potential residents, and that importance of the on-site contractor understanding the rationale behind self-build so that they can work productively with self-builders’.
Chris Carthy (RUSS Stakeholder Director): ‘I was inspired by the range of different approaches being taken in Bristol to harnessing people’s enthusiasm and skills for home building, from plot-by-plot self-build at Ashley Vale to the whole-group workforce idea for self-finishing BCLT’s Fishponds Road project. It’s great to see a spread of working options that RUSS can pick and mix from.’
Sam Brown (RUSS Group Facilitator): I came away from the trip with a heightened awareness of the support network and strategic guidance that it is necessary for RUSS to put in place around its project manager and any future staff it may employ. Whilst Bristol CLT’s project is challenging, RUSS’s project at Church Grove is a more complex undertaking still. Practical methods we can use to establish adequate support include mobilising volunteer members and coordinating their efforts (which we have begun to do under the ‘Teams’ and ‘Champions’ structure), but also thinking about the working environment and wider resourcing for our Project Manager.’