Directors' report - Spring 2022
Maddy Longhurst, Rachel Butler and Lynn Carroll. 31st March 2022.
Since last Spring we have been on such a journey together. Our wider membership has grown to over 130 and our active membership has really evolved. Some of us have been working together for over two years now!
We’ve been on a very steep learning curve with each other: about the housing crisis and the multitude of incredible solutions being created and about how we’re no longer teetering on the edge of a precipice of dramatic change, but have fallen forward into it.
We know that change is coming and it will come faster than expected, and that the work we need to do is in building the rafts and the lifelines that we can hold onto together as we do the necessary regenerative work.
The regenerative work is about building homes but it’s so much more. It’s about reimagining our purpose on Earth in relation to nature’s ecosystems and all our more-than-human neighbours, it is about care, repair, healing, listening, power transformation, trust, celebration, sensing, courage, play and imagination.
Early in 2021 we gained ‘preferred bidder’ status on ‘The Matrix’ a double infill site up in the suburban neighbourhood of Sea Mills.
Since then we have secured funding to get us through to planning, from Power to Change, as a grant, and from Resonance as a CLH investor. We have held two community engagement events in Sea Mills, created a Sea Mills newsletter, and connected with local groups and neighbours, and we have worked with the Council (co-shaping the process where we can) on our Heads of Terms, the Community-Led Housing Finance & Governance Standards documents and the Homechoice register, exploring what role Community Led Housing groups might play in addressing the city’s housing need, in all its forms.
Through it all we’ve been hugely supported by Susan Cataldi at Community Led Homes West, our West of England hub, who has hand-held us with great humour, patience and professionalism through this unfamiliar terrain. We must also thank Hilary at the Cooperative Assistance Network and Cliff at Westworks procurement consortium for being such generous and reliable allies.
We are very excited to announce we’re now welcoming Noah Fagan to the crew who will be working alongside Rachel and Maddy to project manage the Sea Mills scheme. We’ll all be teaching each other and learning from each other. One of THCB’s aims is to empower and enable our members through encouraging them to step into roles and responsibilities. We have created an internal pay policy that enables us to use our funding to build people’s capacity and develop skills where we can. Creating and sustaining capacity in the project is an ongoing challenge. Funding people’s time will help with this.
So we’re using a hybrid model - putting experienced external professionals together with less experienced THCB members to work on things together. This isn’t every project manager or architects cup of tea, especially as they will be learning and using sociocracy alongside us in our circles, and this is a very different way of working, but we believe it can create better outcomes, better processes and better relationships without really slowing things down, and that there are professionals who are ready to step into these more collaborative, equitable and mutually inspiring ways of working.
A lot of the work we’ve done this year originated and was nurtured under the trees on the land we call our Rebel Base, or The Spring site up in Stapleton, and our unending thanks goes to Anna who, back in 2019, invited us to be co-stewards of her land there. This year there will be opportunities to join in with work days and courses, events and workshops scattered over the year, coordinated by our members. It’s a place to ground ourselves, be with nature, learn skills, be more embodied and celebrate together.
With Sea Mills underway, we’re looking once again to the horizon and thinking about where our next sites might be. Perhaps we’ll partner with a private landowner, or Bristol Community Land Trust, or other Community Led Housing groups we’re connected to. Something’s coming!
The work of finding a new site depends upon us having the capacity to do so. So we’re really excited to have recently met 32 new members who are looking into how they might get involved. This is how things happen!
Zooming out, the housing, ecological, climate, health, military and economic crises show no signs of abating, on the contrary. News tells us that there could be 4 million refugees coming from Ukraine and many thousands of UK households are wanting to help provide safe havens (why the UK government didn’t have the same response to Syrian refugees is another question…). There is an urgent task ahead - to provide high quality, low-impact homes for people who need them, and the numbers will keep growing.
Community-led housing groups, modular house builders driven by a sense of ecological and economic justice, ethical funders, landowners, permaculture inspired designers and ordinary people must come together to create a shared framework for the creation of Regenerative Settlements that are 100% affordable and community owned in perpetuity. Settlements that create belonging, respite and safety, restore ecosystem integrity, provide nutrient dense food, create meaningful livelihoods, shareable spaces and resources, and integrate circular technologies to meet our essential needs that are accessible to all.
This is our challenge and one we invite all political parties to get on board with. Where the market and the state provision has failed to meet needs, the people step in, collaborate, innovate and create. We build community wealth and restore Commons through dynamic, inclusive management and decision-making.
By using Sociocracy, a framework for dynamic, transformational governance, we don’t just build homes, but build, each of us, our own capacity to bring our energy and our wisdom to something greater than ourselves, that meets our own needs and the needs of our fellow humans and all more than human beings on whom we depend for our survival every day.
This year we will be bringing people together, with the help and support of Tom Renhard, Bristol’s Cabinet member for housing, to explore how we can possibly meet the needs of the 16,000+ people on Bristol’s housing register, and address all the poverty that exists as a result of the injustice of the housing system, in a way that also helps us adapt to climate change, and builds a new infrastructure for a more resilient and just society and local economy. We’ll be introducing Bristol to the Regenerative Settlement framework and a number of other brilliant tools.
The more we do this work, which is both very simple in some ways, and very complex in others, the more we can see the importance of the role we play as THCB and the space we hold for people to start engaging with the question of how we exit Business as Usual in the least painful ways.
Thank you to everyone for being part of this vital journey. Don’t forget, in the maelstrom, to get your feet on the earth, plant seeds, talk to the birds, marvel at a flower, ask a young person, and an elder, and cultivate humility and wonder in the present.