2023 AGM Highlights & Directors Report
Friday, 31st March 2023 marked our annual Tiny House Community Bristol AGM, with a total of 17 in attendance, online and in person. Thanks to all those who attended, as well as those who presented, led games and brought food to share.
We are pleased to report that membership has risen to 178, with 20 active members in sociocratic circles pushing the work forward. Newcomer events are now taking place on a monthly basis, providing a pathway for new members to get stuck in!
Below, we share the Directors Report which provides a fuller picture of what this past year has been like for THCB and how we plan to move forward.
Directors Report - Spring 2023
Maddy Longhurst, Rachel Butler and Lynn Carrol. 31st March 2023.
The last year has been focused primarily on 6 things:
The development of the Sea Mills scheme - building a team, designs, plans and community consultation.
The emergence of a prospective residents group for Sea Mills
Working out how best to onboard new members to increase our capacity to do the work we want to do
Learning nonviolent communication and how to work with conflict
Further embedding Sociocracy
Supporting the local community-led housing movement and strategy
Our search for new sites has been on hold, but we’re intending to resume that search in the coming year because there is such an interest in and demand for a simpler, more affordable and more collective way of living, and we’ve learnt that working in partnership with the council and meeting their needs is a very slow, disempowering and arduous process. We need to move faster than they are able.
So hopefully this time next year we’ll be able to say something about what our next site might be.
This past year has definitely had a very different flavour from the year before. We have received and spent a good amount of money (approx £200k) on the steps necessary to get our Sea Mills scheme to the stage of submitting a planning application.
Even though we will only be able to house 13 households / 30 people there (if we get planning approval) we have had to pour all our resources into it and pull resources away from other potential areas of development.
All of us as active members have realised that the standard development process is expensive, complex and highly professionalised, meaning, it has been placed out of the reach of ordinary people.
Despite all the talk of the extent of the housing crisis, our journey has not been expedited or smoothed or even really enabled by the council, which has enormous financial and organisational challenges of its own and has had to cut some of the planning services that a project like ours relies on.
Last Autumn we were invited to apply for the Council’s Affordable Housing Fund by a specific, tight deadline, which we bust a gut to do, only to be turned down. The reasons they gave were that we hadn’t put appendices in the right places. It was also turned down because we didn’t have enough information about deliverability - this is because we weren’t yet at that stage in our process where we’d have that kind of detail, but we were encouraged and advised to apply anyway. Applications were assessed - in the name of fairness - by a panel of people chosen specifically because they didn’t know anything about Community Led Housing. We scored 0 for Sustainability and 0 for Affordability.
In all, it was an extraordinarily un-user-friendly process. Not only did we not get the money but we felt disempowered, misguided and belittled by a process not fit for purpose. Still, like all these things, we take it as a learning process and we’ve been invited to apply again, starting now, and we will take care to put our appendices in all the right places.
As of now, we have come to the end of all our pre-planning funding: the grant funding given by Power to Change, and the pre-planning loan from Resonance.
Since this time last year, the CLH Hub has reached the last of its funding, Susan and Steve who have done such an amazing job of keeping it going against the odds have had to move on to other jobs, which is a huge loss, despite asking for financial support from various sources for months beforehand and receiving too little too late. But we know that things go in cycles, and compost and winter are necessary for new things to grow. So we need to help nurture the shoots of the CLH hub 2.0, to bring groups like us together and co-create. We want to offer a massive thank you to Susan in particular for her incredible intelligent and loving support over the last couple of years. Hopefully, we’ll collaborate again.
Since this time last year construction costs have at least doubled meaning it’s doubly challenging to create affordable homes and to make a scheme like ours ‘viable’ so it will attract the funding it needs.
Along with rising housing vulnerability, these changes are symptoms of a market-dominated economy and politics. Despite visions for doing things differently with housing in the city, CLH continues to be marginalised and commercial developers continue to be favoured.
Local Plan Review
Policies within the recent Local Plan review didn’t adequately address this power imbalance. Maddy submitted a response to the local plan review on behalf of THCB and supported others to do so.
The Local Plan review showed us that the Council is pursuing a policy of urban intensification - the vast majority of homes on existing urban sites, with a small number of greenbelt sites being turned into housing.
It is clear to us that if urban intensification is their chosen path, and affordability, quality and climate and nature emergencies are the problem, there is an even greater need to increase support, in both policy and financial terms and among council officers, for community-led housing. And business as usual, commercial, for-profit housing, though more familiar, must start to be unseated from its throne.
We have been working over the last year with Noah Fagan, our wonderful project manager who has carried us and the project diligently forward. A small part of the grant funding for Sea Mills has paid Rachel and Maddy one day a week to co-project manage with Noah. We’ve been a great team. Rachel and Maddy hold upright the maypole of THCB’s vision, mission and aims, tightening the guy ropes against the winds of business-as-usual thinking and processes - which is the sea we’re swimming in.
As we progress with our Sea Mills scheme, we are bringing our consultants - architects, surveyors, quantity surveyor, materials experts etc, and the local people of Sea Mills into these bigger-picture conversations. We’re presenting these challenges and working out together how to do things differently from within a system which is somewhat hostile to tiny house cohousing innovation and community-led housing more broadly, despite having a council land disposal policy for CLH.
It has been a fascinating year for those involved in the Design circle. We’ve met regularly throughout to shape and develop the scheme, from the positioning of buildings, washing machines and bins, right down to the sizes of bedrooms and the functionality of the common house.
We’ve been blessed to have a very switched-on and forward-thinking planning consultant - James Shorten to help us clarify and create the narrative to support our planning submission, supporting us to stay in the vision, uncompromised, and have confidence in what we are doing and its importance.
One more challenge we have been navigating is with the Homechoice system - this is the Council’s housing register. Because they are offering us land for £1 - which we realise is because no one else would have it - they will write into our Heads of Terms that all our rental properties will go to people on the housing register. There may be some flexibility with this, although, if we are successful in gaining a grant from their Affordable Housing Fund, that flexibility will disappear. We cannot bypass that system to directly house our members. This means anyone who wants to rent at Sea Mills has to get themselves on the housing register, if possible, and may or may not get a house at the end of it. This to our mind is symptomatic of a basic mistrust by the council that we (and community-led groups generally) will use their assets for personal profit, and that we are not really in housing need. This is the subtext.
This project, as we know, would not exist if it weren’t for the thousands of hours of mostly unpaid work that members have put into making it happen. This is still somehow unrecognised by the Council. Despite all of these challenges that we are experiencing, we continue to work together in solidarity; with love, care and compassion.
So things are not plain sailing. And this is why the support of the Hub and Susan Cataldi in particular has been so essential to the success of the CLH movement. She has helped us understand and navigate all these problems as they have arisen with great patience, tenacity and intelligence. Groups need this kind of advocate in their corner when the odds are stacked against them.
So how do we create better conditions within which THCB can thrive?
Bristol’s community-led housing movement
As directors of THCB, Maddy and Rachel have participated in a round table of the new Community-Led Housing Strategy and fed into the draft. At the round table, we, as a CLH community of Bristol, talked about the future of the hub, how it might be reimagined in a way that would enable us to cohere more around a common purpose, to collaborate, not compete, lift the whole sector, access more funding and create a pipeline of projects. It was a really positive meeting that also enabled past hurts to be heard.
These are the things we need the Hub 2.0, whatever form that takes, to take forward.
Fundraising & finance
We have started working with Jai, Noah’s partner to do fundraising with us. We’ve applied for funding to pay for a part-time fundraiser, and Jai has applied for a small grant to pay for herself to support us. We’re advertising for this fundraiser post very soon and will advertise among our members first.
Keeping the money coming in is one of the key strands of our work in the coming year.
We’ve set up a new pattern for welcoming newcomers and Lynn is leading this process as our newcomer coordinator, which is another paid role as it is so important to build our capacity.
NVC and conflict transformation
A group of us formed a study circle to learn Non-Violent Communication and begin embedding it in our organisation. It has been a fascinating, fun and really empowering learning journey of feelings and needs, that has enabled us to step into challenging conversations with more confidence and ease, feel less triggered and have some tools in our kit bag for times when we are. It has been really helpful to step into this work together, learning to connect with each other better and deeper, recognising our humanity and all of the vulnerabilities that come with that. We think that paying attention to these aspects of community building is crucial. We have also learned more about how to hold conflict transformation circles, and some of us are feeling nearly ready to hold these spaces ourselves, which is a great addition to our Regenerative toolkit.
We’ll be applying for £5k from the Tudor Trust to kick off some core work developing the justice, equity, diversity and inclusion dimensions of THCB. This will pay for us to work with Claude Hendrickson, a pioneer in community-led housing among marginalised communities, and a trained enabler. We’ll also use this small grant to do some participatory research with marginalised groups in the city to explore how the tiny house movement might meet their needs for security and community. There is likely to be a paid part-time role here for someone to coordinate and facilitate this important work. The Tudor Trust offers this small ‘development’ grant funding with a view to supporting its grantees with larger grants over the longer term, so we’re hopeful about that.
Zooming out, we’ve also had some conversations to sow seeds for some kind of national tiny house association for the UK, to move the movement forward as a whole.
We’ve been thinking about how the Stapleton scheme and Sea Mills Schemes represent two ends of a spectrum of how affordable THCB could or should approach future sites.
One, above board, expensive, slow. The other, under the radar, is affordable and quick.
What might a model in the middle of these look like, where residents do not have to hide and have legal status and security, but it is simple, quick and affordable to build homes and house people?
This is the question that we carry forward into this year.
We give gratitude to ourselves and everyone involved in the project we are rocking together. We wouldn’t be able to get to where we are now without everyone’s input.