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Determination to change things on the ground

26 February 2021

The Coming Home report identifies several examples of good practice by churches and Christian groups

keswick community housing trust

Members of Keswick Community Housing Trust’s board (l-r): Bill Bewley, Joyce Swainbank, and Peter Roberts in front of one of their developments

Members of Keswick Community Housing Trust’s board (l-r): Bill Bewley, Joyce Swainbank, and Peter Roberts in front of one of their developments

Keswick Community Housing Trust, Lake District

IT ALL started with six meetings of Keswick Churches Together about the issues facing the town. Housing kept coming up in these discussions. People who were born in the town, had gone to school there, and were now working there, were living in substandard housing at unaffordable rents, or being forced to commute from outside the Lake District National Park. Local estate agents reported that more than half of the properties they sold were for second homes or holiday lets.

Keswick Churches Together was determined to change things; so a working group was created to come up with solutions. The Vicar of St John’s, Keswick [then Canon Stephen Pye], offered the community a piece of land adjacent to the graveyard, and so the hard work began to form a Community Land Trust, commission an architect, and secure planning permission and funding.

Led by Bill Bewley, the group had no specific expertise, except for sheer determination. Keswick Community Housing Trust started with the development of 11 homes at St John’s, and has now followed that with three more developments.

They soon discovered that, with a well-constructed business plan and a combination of community shares, Homes England grants, and loans from building societies, it wasn’t difficult to secure the necessary funding. About half the homes are for shared ownership, and the other half are let out at rents that are truly affordable in perpetuity — measured in relation to local earnings, not market rents.

When Bill and his team proudly showed us around their developments, it was clear that they knew every resident by name. This is exactly the sort of outcome that the Archbishop of Canterbury has in mind when he talks about the need to build homes and communities, not just houses. As we continued our tour past several underused plots of land, it was clear that this group isn’t finished just yet.


St Barnabas’s, and Christ the Saviour, Ealing

IN EALING, many people are struggling to pay high rents. It’s a desirable location, but key workers essential to the life of the area are frequently in low-paid and insecure jobs. Few can dream of buying a house to put down roots. Even those who can afford to buy often have to work long, unsociable hours to pay the mortgage.

st barnabas and christ the saviour, ealingMembers of the congregation of St Barnabas and Christ the Saviour, Ealing, present a list of “asks” for candidates at the 2018 local elections

Realising that they needed to change something, St Barnabas’s and Christ the Saviour started a campaign about affordable housing. Both churches are members of Citizens UK, an alliance of local community institutions, including faith groups, schools, and other third sector organisations, who work together for the common good.

Together, they represent many people in the area, and their institutions are integral to the community. They wrote a list of “asks” for candidates at the local elections in 2018, and presented them at an assembly, where people also shared their own housing experiences.

The power of these stories, and of the coalition, meant that all the candidates agreed to their demands, including requiring developers to provide 50 per cent affordable housing on all new developments in the borough, extending selective landlord licensing across the whole borough, and identifying a piece of land on which 50 Community Land Trust homes could be built.

The Vicar of St Barnabas’s, the Revd Justin Dodd, explained that community organising is a natural extension of the churches’ mission — combining direct services, such as night shelters, with “dealing with the systemic issues”.


St Silas’s, Blackburn

ST SILAS’s, Blackburn, had a problem. The PCC wished to find a new purpose for its church hall, which was not being fully utilised. At the same time, Nightsafe, a charity working with homeless young people, was looking for dedicated accommodation for its youngest clients, aged 16 to 18.

st silas, blackburnThe Revd Sheelagh Aston with Nick Knowles, the presenter of the BBC television programme DIY SOS

Together, they had an opportunity. Rather than simply repairing the hall, St Silas’s took this opportunity to think about the best use for the building. The Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Sheelagh Aston, was introduced to Nightsafe, and they realised that they had a shared enthusiasm for making a difference in the local area.

This gave them confidence to move forward with what would be a complex project: renovating the hall to create a home for six young people at risk of homelessness. This work would have an impact in an area where up to 50 young people sleep rough every night.

At this point, a unique opportunity arose when Children in Need approached them with an offer: a free renovation of the property through the show DIY SOS. Although the project was already progressing, this helped to accelerate the renovation. Over the course of a few months, plans were drawn up, leases were signed, and the whole space was rebuilt.

The accommodation is stunning: the church community at St Silas’s joke that it could be an expensive AirBnB. Space is ample: each resident has an en-suite, and a mezzanine floor for their bed, separating the sleeping and living areas. There are also communal areas, where residents can eat together and are taught accredited skills, from cooking to finances. The young people say that “It’s like having a family around me.”

The project benefits both the church and the charity. St Silas’s found a use for its church hall, the lease from which provides them a small revenue stream, while Nightsafe was able to secure purpose-built supported accommodation at an affordable rate, and a supportive community for its young people.


Hope4All, south-east London

MANY people do not know their rights, which means that they endure unacceptable living conditions, lose money, or even end up being evicted without good cause.

Adeola Ogunade saw this first-hand, working as a Housing Resettlement Officer with the probation service. She thought she could do more to help people in this situation; so she brought together a group of people from her church and beyond, who also had experience with the housing system. She started the Hope4All housing surgery, providing free training and support on housing issues.

Hope4AllA Hope4All adviser gives housing advice to a client

The meetings start by advising people what they should look for when they first move in, such as a protected deposit scheme and a gas safety certificate. They also explain how the evictions process works. People often don’t realise that they don’t need to move out within the notice period given by a landlord, because a tenant legally needs to leave only once the landlord has been granted a court order. This can lead to people becoming homeless unnecessarily, especially if they feel intimidated by their landlord.

Hope4All wants to reach as many people as possible. Rather than trying to advise everyone directly, they train church leaders and volunteers, who then pass this knowledge on to their members and local communities. By January 2021, they had trained more than 500 people.

After five years, they are ready to expand even further. They were recently one of the two winners of Project Lab 2020, a competition run by the Cinnamon Network, in partnership with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Housing Commission, Andrew Charitable Trust, and the Mercers’ Company.

They’ve been awarded a £30,000 development grant and a place on the Project Lab Incubator, which will help them to grow and replicate what they are doing elsewhere. The hope is that many more churches will be able to equip their communities to be resilient in the housing crisis.


Read the full report at www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/priorities/coming-home

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