Main objectives of the project
- 1992: Construcción
- Arquitecto: Demetri Porphyrios
Country/Region: United Kingdom
Hemsworth Court is a purpose-built, supported housing development for people with dementia and cognitive impairment. Based in Lower Shankhill in Belfast, a deprived area affected for many years by civil unrest, it has become the first dementia-friendly community in the city.
With the number of dementia diagnoses set to rise to over one million in the UK by 2025, Hemsworth Court shows how to successfully develop dementia-friendly housing. By providing 24-hour care with dementia-friendly facilities which help to avoid potential confusion and distress, residents are supported to live independently within their community.
Awareness of dementia in the local community has increased through Hemsworth Court’s wider work with charities, faith groups, schools and local businesses. This means that local people understand and interact more with residents and many take part in social events. Lower Shankhill, an area heavily affected by the conflict in Northern Ireland, continues to face challenges in health, education, employment and housing. Hemsworth Court has provided a positive boost to the whole community through training and encouragement to interact with, understand and support its residents.
Hemsworth Court, which opened in 2013, is a purpose-built, supported housing development for people with dementia and cognitive impairment in Lower Shankhill, a deprived area in Belfast, Northern Ireland affected for many years by civil unrest.
In 2009, the city’s public sector health and social care provider Belfast Health and Social Care Trust needed to provide a new facility in this part of Belfast to replace an existing building. They wanted to take a community-focused approach so the Trust worked with Helm Housing (now Radius Housing Association) to develop an exemplary, dementia friendly scheme involving much more than the building itself. The Hemsworth Court project involved a holistic approach to working with the community. The new building was delivered alongside community-wide training, with a team employed to lead on community integration. This work made Lower Shankhill – an area that for some time had suffered significant deprivation and had a poor reputation – the first Dementia Friendly Community in Belfast.
The majority of the funding for the project came from Supporting People (a public-sector programme run by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive which promotes independent living). The project was a response to a range of strategies and plans within Northern Ireland designed to improve the way the needs of older people and people with dementia are met.
The UK charity Alzheimer’s Society also advised on the development, which was completed in 2013. There are 35 modern apartments with communal facilities including a coffee bar, cinema and games room, library, cookery room, gym, hairdressers and gardens. Although Hemsworth Court itself has many facilities, that doesn’t mean that it is separated from the local community, quite the reverse. Local people are able to use many of the facilities at Hemsworth Court and social activities are arranged which involve residents and the wider public alike.
Hemsworth Court has been designed to promote independence. Support is also in place so residents can carry out everyday tasks like shopping and other activities. The people who live at Hemsworth Court are supported to live independently in their local area with 24-hour care available, so they can carry on with their lives with all the support they need in place. This is really important to the people living there and their families, as the onset of dementia and the disruption it causes to many aspects of people’s lives can be highly distressing.
The main aim of Hemsworth Court is to provide a quality home for people with dementia that allows them to live happily and independently alongside their community. They also aim to:
Dementia is a term which describes different brain disorders that trigger a loss of brain function. There are 850,000 people with dementia in the United Kingdom, with numbers set to rise to over one million by 2025. A 2013 report by the Alzheimer’s Society indicated that Belfast has the highest rates of diagnosis of dementia in the UK.
Hemsworth Court is located in the Lower Shankhill area, which has been designated for regeneration by Belfast City Council. Predominantly a Protestant/Loyalist area, Lower Shankhill was heavily affected by ‘The Troubles’, three decades of civil and political unrest and conflict in Northern Ireland which began in the 1960s. The Troubles are deemed to have ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, but the after effects are still felt in many communities. In Lower Shankhill, deprivation is high in terms of health, education and training, crime, employment, income and housing. The community suffers from high unemployment and negative perceptions of the area. A high proportion of the local population are on low incomes and have few formal qualifications. Many people who lived through and are survivors of the political conflict live in the area and have experienced problems with their mental and physical health. This has contributed to high health and social deprivation.
Services for older residents, and in particular residents with dementia, are in high demand in Northern Ireland. Research by the Alzheimer’s Society found there are over 20,000 people living with dementia across the country. In 2009, when the Hemsworth Court project started, there were 158 people with dementia on the waiting list for Helm Housing, of which 103 were considered in housing need. At that point there were no facilities available to provide supported housing for people living with dementia in Lower Shankhill. There is an ever increasing demand for this type of comprehensive facility and today Hemsworth Court is full and has a long waiting list.
In order to make sure that Hemsworth Court really became part of the local community a strand of work called the Hemsworth Court Community Integration Project was set up. This was developed through partnerships with the Alzheimer’s Society, faith groups, older people’s groups, community policing, local charities, schools and businesses. The impact of these activities has been to ensure that Hemsworth Court and the wider neighbourhood responds positively to the needs of dementia sufferers. Before and after the building was completed activities took place within and beyond the Lower Shankhill area to raise awareness about dementia and include local people in the project. These activities had a strong intergenerational and cross community focus and included:
A key feature of the development of Hemsworth Court was about understanding how dementia has an impact on everyday life and making appropriate decisions about design at an early stage to accommodate these needs. Research has shown that the cognitive impairment affecting people with dementia can be aggravated by building design. For this reason an interior design company specialising in design for dementia were used. All design and materials are dementia friendly, chosen to be familiar to residents to avoid potential confusion and distress.
Including and beyond the three main organisations (Helm Housing, the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the Alzheimer’s Society), partnership working was key to the success of this development. Stakeholders with an important role in influencing the work included:
Lower Shankill is a traditionally ‘hard to reach’ area, with many households affected by high levels of deprivation and isolation. This project has contributed to increasing social interaction locally. There is greater cooperation amongst residents, local communities and local businesses. Dementia friendly training in the local community has helped to reduce the stigma associated with the condition and being one of the first dementia friendly communities in Northern Ireland has created a sense of pride in the local community. Public awareness of dementia has increased through the wider activities like the Social Sofa art installation, which succeeded in attracting attention and addressing the stigma of dementia as an issue.
Hemsworth Court has succeeded in helping people living with dementia to retain independence and increased the acceptance and understanding of dementia sufferers in the wider community. The scheme has recognised the right of dementia sufferers to safe, secure housing.
Total capital costs were £5,025,178 (US$6,497,555), made up of:
Costs were met by a Department of Communities Grant of £4,598,128 (US$5,945,380) and private finance of £427,050 (US$552,175).
Annual running costs are covered by Helm Housing (now Radius Housing) for the maintenance of the buildings. Day-to-day running costs are funded through rent and housing benefit payments. Care costs are met by Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.
The average rent is £123.45 (US$159.62) for a one-bedroom unit and £125.35 (US$162.08) for two bedrooms per week.
Future costs are highly uncertain due to funding pressures faced by service providers and Housing Associations.
Hemsworth Court is the only provider of dementia friendly supported living in the city of Belfast. One of its most innovative features is the fact families can live together so people with dementia can get 24-hour professional care while also living with their family.
This purpose built accommodation allows people with dementia or cognitive impairment to remain independent with care and support available when needed. Residents can remain in the area instead of being forced to move into a nursing home outside of their community. This helps to maintain their well-being and ability to cope with the stresses of the condition.
The work to integrate the development with the community has helped to boost an area which has suffered from long-term deprivation and decline. While the activities carried out to integrate people with dementia or cognitive impairment were designed to ensure the well-being of the residents of Hemsworth Court, they have had a wider impact in improving the image and sense of pride of the local community.
The other activities that took place alongside the construction of Hemsworth Court, like the Social Sofa art project, helped to build links between people with dementia and the wider community. The Social Sofa captured the memories of residents through art in a partnership with local community groups, schools and staff from Hemsworth Court. It created a discussion point to bring the topic out into the open and was the first activity of its kind in Northern Ireland.
The design and construction of the housing includes several environmentally sustainable features such as baths and toilets that use less water than traditional ones, energy efficient gas-fired boilers, responsibly sourced timber, energy efficient lighting and solar panels.
Rainwater is collected in underground tanks to supply half of the toilets, with top-ups from the mains water supply. The whole building is fitted with a heat recovery ventilation system, which recycles hot air from inside while bringing in cooler air from outside. Hemsworth Court has been rated four out of six stars under the Code for Sustainable Homes.
The grounds of the building have been landscaped to contribute to local biodiversity and allow residents to enjoy the gardens. Residents are encouraged to reduce their environmental impact by using recycling bins, external drying spaces and cycle storage is provided to encourage people to cycle.
 The Code for Sustainable Homes was withdrawn by the UK Government in 2015. Elements of it have been merged into general Building Regulations
For residents, rental payments are lower than market rate and housing benefits contribute towards these costs for those households that are eligible. The services provided to residents are subsidised by the government-funded Supporting People programme and there are no significant changes to running costs anticipated in the future.
Budget cuts present an issue for the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, particularly in replicating the model to other specialised supported living accommodation. However, it is hoped that the success of Hemsworth Court will attract further funding from the public and private sectors to replicate the project in other areas.
Hemsworth Court has become a community hub hosting information days, community group meetings and health education events. The main aim is to support residents so they are genuinely integrated into their local community. The stigma associated with dementia has been reduced and there is now a better understanding of the condition within the local community.
People living at Hemsworth Court have lots of opportunities to take part in community activities and these can help develop their cognitive skills. The availability of an Activity Coordinator, support staff and the increased awareness within the local community about how to support people with dementia or cognitive impairment has increased the confidence of the residents, enabling them to live more independently.
The Social Sofa helped to achieve wider awareness about the challenge of dementia and cognitive impairment. The Social Sofa project was a collaborative project and involved schoolchildren and a local arts centre. This project really helped residents to develop artistic skills and build confidence.
The initial challenge of the programme was raising awareness of dementia and educating the community on the condition. Workshops for local businesses helped to change attitudes and integrate the community, professionals, residents and families. Amongst carers there was some fear or lack of understanding of how to care for their loved one with dementia, especially regarding safety. Belfast Health and Social Care Trust provided a training programme for carers to help overcome this barrier. This included improving people’s understanding of the condition, supporting families to accept a diagnosis and learning how supported housing works.
Although Hemsworth Court is an award-winning scheme and hugely popular with residents and the community, funding to replicate the scheme is not available from the same sources due to budget cuts. It is hoped that the high quality of the scheme and savings to health services (through the reduced need for hospital stays or nursing care among residents) may be successful in attracting investment from elsewhere.
Hemsworth Court has successfully passed two government-led inspections:
The project has received a number of awards:
Hemsworth Court has developed a template for others to adapt if they want to deliver specialist supported housing. It can be used to provide housing which helps vulnerable people to live fuller independent lives.
The dementia friendly approach of Hemsworth Court has been transferred to the town of Holywood to the north of Belfast. This is a partnership scheme between Radius Housing and Dementia Northern Ireland. Holywood is now a dementia friendly town.
Hemsworth Court has also been visited by Australian housing professionals who are keen to adopt the model.
Funding issues are a major barrier in transferring the model in the UK. The level of grant funding that Helm Housing received is no longer available from Supporting People or the government of Northern Ireland, though as the approach to caring for people with dementia or cognitive impairment offers long term savings for health services there may be potential for investment in the approach from other sources.
Granby 4 Streets developed out of a community group that campaigned against the demolition of houses and relocation of the community. It has successfully halted the demolition and provided a focus for the community using a creative approach. Its long term goal is to renovate all of the houses in the Granby triangle providing homes for 250 families who are either members of the original Granby community wanting to return home, or local families in housing need.
Granby 4 Streets and its predecessor community group have, for many years, kept the Granby community together. Its ultimately successful campaign to halt the demolition of houses provided a focus for the community but its approach was unconventional and creative. It focused on reclaiming empty houses and streets from dereliction and boosting the community’s pride in the area. It runs a street market that sells vintage clothes, cakes and Caribbean food. This has kept people visiting the area and has provided a visual presence for the community in the wider area and the city.
It organised community painting and community gardening. This work manifested itself in murals and artwork on the bricked up windows of empty houses and in the displays of flowers and vegetables planted in recycled containers along the length of the streets. This activity won the North West in Bloom Award in 2014.
In 2011, it successfully attracted funding from a Jersey-based social entrepreneur. This enabled the community to commission architects to set out plans for the area. These featured a number of highly innovative designs including turning one house with no roof into a glazed winter garden. The designs achieved significant media attention and won the prestigious art award the Turner Prize, in 2015.
In 2012, Granby 4 Streets successfully negotiated with the council for ten homes to be transferred to the Community Land Trust for renovation. Five have been sold and five retained for low-cost renting.
The work helped inspire other renovation projects to take place in Granby. A renovation programme by local housing association Plus Dane has seen work start on renovating 27 derelict houses. Liverpool Mutual Homes is renovating 40 houses and a local housing cooperative, Terrace 21, is soon to start renovating five houses.
In 2015, Granby 4 Streets set up Granby Workshop, a social enterprise based in Granby itself that makes household products, such as door handles and fireplaces from the waste and rubble left by the houses that were demolished. The composite material they produce has become known as Granby Rock.
In 2016, Granby 4 Streets successfully secured Arts Council funding for the Winter Gardens house. This, when built, will use two derelict houses to create a glazed communal space that they envisage will be used like a botanical garden to grow exotic plants. The building will also provide a common house for the community, have bed and breakfast accommodation and conference facilities to help generate income for Granby 4 Streets.
Aims and Objectives
Granby 4 Streets aims to bring community regeneration to the whole Granby neighbourhood, not only undoing the damage and neglect of the last forty years but retaining the best of what remained and building a better, stronger and inspiring area. Its vision statement describes creating “a thriving, vibrant, mixed community, building on the existing creativity, energy and commitment within the area”.
Its initial redevelopment brief described “retaining the generosity and flexibility of the original buildings”, and “creating a neighbourhood, which provides affordable housing; the greenest quarter in the city; is architecturally rich and includes the imaginative renovations of Victorian terraces”. Its long-term goal is to renovate all of the houses in the Granby triangle, providing homes for 250 families who are either members of the original community wanting to return home or local families in housing need.
The main issues Granby 4 Streets aims to address are:
Granby is a small area of Liverpool. It comprises a series of roads of nineteenth century terraced houses, located in the Liverpool L8 area, about a mile from the city centre. It is the most ethnically diverse area of Liverpool and reportedly the home of the UK’s oldest Black community. There is evidence to suggest that a Black community has lived in this area for almost 400 years.
The community is amongst the poorest in the UK. In 2015, it was measured to be within the 1% most deprived wards in the country under the indices of deprivation. This measure considers levels of income, employment, education, health, crime, living environment and barriers to housing. The main street that runs through the area (Granby Street) was, until the early 1970s, a busy high street with grocery shops, butchers, small scale manufacturing and even a cinema. But during the 1970s, the area began to decline, residents experienced high levels of unemployment and increasing levels of poverty. Tensions in the area spilled over into 1981 with a serious civil disturbance known as the Toxteth Riots. One person died, hundreds were injured, hundreds more were arrested and many buildings were damaged or destroyed.
In the years following the riots, life in Granby became increasingly bleak. Poverty and unemployment levels became worse, more shops went out of business and empty houses began to appear as people’s perceptions of the area became more negative. Liverpool City Council’s response to these problems was highly controversial within the local community. It acquired hundreds of houses in the area for demolition. New houses were built in their place but some areas were left as vacant demolition sites. Allocation policies for the new houses were also controversial; the community perceived that they had the effect of breaking up the original community. The original houses were left standing in just four streets. But even here, most of the houses were acquired by the council and housing associations and bricked up and left vacant. Many members of the community felt that there was a policy of managed decline. Some perceived it as “special measures” (a term borrowed from the UK government’s response to failing schools) in response to, and possibly as punishment for, the 1981 riots.
Council intervention was accelerated in the early 21st Century with the introduction of the national government’s Housing Market Renewal Programme. This provided government funding for councils to deal with areas with housing in decline. During this period, more houses were acquired and bricked up and more were demolished. There was little maintenance carried out and, as a result, the remaining houses, most of which were now empty, fell into serious disrepair.
In 2010, Liverpool City Council attempted to sell the whole of Granby to a developer. There was interest and a developer was selected but after a series of challenges the procurement process eventually stalled and the contract was withdrawn. By 2011, just four of the original 14 streets remained. Most of the houses were vacant and bricked up. Just 70 residents were left in the area. Yet the residents association that had formed in the 1990s to fight the demolition of houses was still present and they sensed that an opportunity had arisen.
They became a Community Land Trust in 2011 and raised funds for refurbishment and community control.
Community Land Trusts are locally driven, controlled and democratically accountable organisations. Membership is open to all who live or work in the defined community, including properties that the Community Land Trust does not own. Members elect a volunteer board to run the Community Land Trust on their behalf on a day to day basis. The wider community in Liverpool L8 have offered Granby 4 Streets support from 2011, with open events taking place at Granby Market.
Granby 4 Streets deliver street events, social gatherings and participative projects, e.g. a planting group, to engage the immediate and wider community. They also use their website and social media presence to update and encourage participation and deliver a digital (and hardcopy) newsletter to boost information sharing.
Granby 4 Streets has a governance structure led by a board of Trustees that comprises:
The Granby 4 Streets approach was to instigate, constitute and lead a network of projects, partnerships, and collaborations forged through longstanding negotiations with public and private stakeholders. The local authority transferred properties over to Granby 4 Streets in 2012 as an asset transfer. Steinbeck Studios, a social investor, offered an interest-free loan and funded the ‘vision document’ for the area that subsequently encouraged other partners to get involved. Steinbeck Studio provided project management in the early days and has now developed plans to redevelop homes on Ducie Street which will have a budget of several millions. Other houses in the Granby 4 Streets area are being developed by Plus Dane, LMH and Terrace 21 housing cooperative. Further financial support was obtained from Nationwide Foundation, Power To Change, Homes and Communities Agency, National Lottery, National CLT Network, Steve Biko Housing and Plus Dane Group, North West Arts Council, Trust House Foundation.
What impact has it had?
Granby 4 Streets has had an impact on Liverpool City Council’s thinking towards housing regeneration and how the council engages with local communities. There is evidence that the council has changed its approach to demolition. In 2016, another much larger area of derelict houses that was scheduled for demolition has been handed to developers for renovation.
Granby 4 Streets is cited in Liverpool Council policy as an example of community-led development. Granby 4 Streets are mentioned as proponents of good practice in terms of how residents and city officials work in partnership. They are also part of the Re: Kreators European network and they have recently presented to EU Urban Agenda ministers as proponents of good practice.
How is it funded?
Granby 4 Streets is moving towards a position of being financially sustainable. Income from rent for the houses, shops and workshop will pay the operating cost of the Community Land Trust and repayments on loans. They have calculated that every house they rent produces a surplus of £3,500 (USD $4,500) a year, which can be invested into the Community Land Trust. The set-up costs and capital costs for development work have been met by a series of grants and loans. The grants amount to £900,000 (USD $1.1 million) and are made up by:
There was also a development loan of £500,000 (USD $640,000) from Steinbeck Studio (the Jersey-based investor referred to earlier) in the project description. As Granby 4 Streets move into the next stage of their development, they are planning to use the sale of five homes to meet some of the costs. Projected income from the sale of Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust’s five homes is £450,000 – £600,000 (USD $580,000 – USD $772,000) depending on valuations and confirmation of ‘affordability’ criteria at the point of sale.
Why is it innovative?
Granby 4 Streets is unique in the UK as a community-led regeneration of an entire neighbourhood. It is all the more remarkable because the community is amongst the poorest in the UK and has experienced perhaps the most extreme decline and dereliction seen anywhere in the UK in peacetime.
Ronnie Hughes, one of the founders and a Granby 4 Streets Trustee, said:
“What’s happening in Granby is an important prototype for northern councils, who’ve been so badly hit by the cuts, two years ago, the whole area was nearly signed over to a private developer, but now the people who live here have finally got a formal stake in the place. It’s an extraordinary achievement – and now it’s extraordinary forever”
Community Land Trusts are relatively new to the UK, and although the number is steadily growing, Granby 4 Streets is the first Community Land Trust to focus on the renovation of existing buildings. Their regeneration model is innovative internationally and has been recognised by Swiss Community-Led Housing specialists Urbamonde as an international case study.
Granby 4 Streets has embraced art as a means towards regeneration. This has seen it commission innovative designs and architecture and has encouraged creativity. This approach has led to the creation of a social enterprise and has helped engage the wider community. In addition, this has led to wider recognition, most notably by winning the 2015 Turner Prize. The Turner Prize is the UK’s most prestigious art award and is organised by the Tate Gallery. This has opened up wide media attention and has considerably boosted fundraising activities.
What is the environmental impact?
The project involves the renovation of existing buildings rather than demolition and reconstruction, making use of existing resources and maintaining original structures where possible. Granby 4 Streets has ensured that the DIY spirit from which the Community Land Trust emerged and a desire to reduce environmental impact are incorporated into their designs, e.g. the Granby Rock household appliances manufactured by Granby Workshop.
One of the first activities of the community group which predated Granby 4 Streets was community gardening. The group that continues this work, the affiliated ‘Blooming Triangle’, have renovated and created new green spaces with the local community. They continue to work with residents in maintaining the status as winners of the North West in Bloom and as finalists in Street of the Year 2015 by The Academy of Urbanism, in making Granby the greenest area in the city. Granby 4 Streets has also leased five homes to Terrace 21, an eco-cooperative, who will retrofit five homes to ‘passiv haus’ standard.
Is it financially sustainable?
Granby 4 Streets is on a path towards financial sustainability. It has a 30 year business plan which sees the organisation become fully financially sustainable by 2021. Its early work was reliant on grants for capital costs and volunteers carrying out activities to keep revenue costs to a minimum. As the Community Land Trust grows it will develop more income generating potential. Income will derive from letting houses, leasing housing to other housing associations, letting meeting-room space and, in the future, it plans to lease shop space.
Granby 4 Streets has been very successful in fundraising to support the early development and initial capital costs of the project. They have also worked with social investors to access social finance. They aim to ensure that the organisation will not be reliant on restricted income or grants and will be able to further develop using their own generated income.
What is the social impact?
Granby 4 Streets has provided a focus for community dialogue and action, in a previously disempowered and ignored community. They have created a strong sense of solidarity around housing, green spaces and community ownership. Local volunteers have been instrumental in developing the projects and have been supported to develop their own capacity in all areas of the Community Land Trust’s operation.
Residents have been given the opportunity to come together and collaborate with international artists delivering sculpture and installations. Granby Workshop, a new social enterprise making bespoke household goods on Granby Street, employs 14 young local artists/creatives, working towards delivering orders from the Turner Prize exhibition. Granby Workshop have recently showcased at the International Business Festival 2016 in Liverpool. Granby Workshop will occupy space within the planned retail units to act as the hub for local retail, social and creative enterprises bringing further economic activity.
Granby Market has continued to expand and recently moved onto the main road, Granby Street, enabling it to grow and making it more prominent and visible. Building upon previous activity they have attracted internationally recognised poets and musicians to perform and co-produce with residents an atmosphere, activities and a sense of cohesion. This contributes towards the health and wellbeing of an engaged group of residents building their own social capital. Granby 4 Streets has to date created 50 new jobs in building construction, art and community organising. This is significant in an area where unemployment remains amongst the highest in the UK, especially among young people. The refurbishment not only boosted the local economy but also offered valuable training and employment opportunities.
Granby 4 Streets overcame a huge barrier in negotiating the transfer of ownership of houses from Liverpool City Council to the Community Land Trust. This is particularly remarkable given the historic relationship between the community and the council. Other barriers it overcame include:
They overcame these challenges by recruiting a specialist to help the board including representatives of Liverpool City Council and Steve Biko Housing Association (Liverpool’s only Black and minority ethnic (BME) housing group).
There is no formal project evaluation. The various funders have required regular feedback and some have commissioned external evaluations.
The work of Granby 4 Streets has inspired and encouraged local housing associations to acquire and renovate empty properties within Granby. Current programmes by three housing associations will see 72 houses returned to use.
Granby 4 Streets is currently working with other groups across Liverpool, e.g. Homebaked Coming Home (social enterprise for bringing empty homes into use). They share their experience of moving from activism to organisational structures. They are collating what they believe are the important methodological approaches they took at each stage to share with other working class communities in other cities
Granby 4 Streets regularly hosts visitors to share their experiences with others. For example they run workshops (60 in 2016) for planning, architectural and social science students to influence place making and creating spaces for democratic management.
The Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT) ‘Rent to Buy Scheme’ helps people on low income living in the remote highlands of Scotland to find an affordable home. At the heart of the scheme is a financial mechanism which enables low income families to save up to buy a home whilst they are renting it.
The Rent to Buy Scheme is one of a number of approaches used by the Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust to help small rural communities access affordable housing. The model was designed by HSCHT and is being delivered in partnership with the Scottish Government and the Highlands Council.
The scheme builds new houses and lets them to families at below market rents. Part of the rent is retained by HSCHT and is available as a lump sum that is used as a deposit to buy the house. The scheme is self-financing and does not require a government grant but is supported with development loans from the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Highlands is a huge area covering much of the North of Scotland. As its name suggests it is a mountainous, remote and undeniably beautiful area. It is one of the most sparsely populated parts of Europe, comparable in population density only with Northern Sweden and Finland. The area has become increasingly depopulated over many years.
The Highlands has a thriving tourist industry, which provides employment but does create distortions in the housing market. A large amount of the housing stock is used as second homes and holiday lets. This limits the amount that is available for the local population to rent or buy. The problem is particularly acute in the summer when tourists and seasonal workers in the tourist industry occupy much of the available housing. The effect of this is many local people are forced into inadequate or inconvenient alternatives (for example using caravans or ‘sofa surfing’). Many families unable to find decent housing choose to leave the area altogether.
Since the economic crash of 2008, the availability of mortgages has become much more restricted in the UK. In particular lenders require large deposits (often 25 per cent of the house value) before they will offer a mortgage. House prices in the Highlands vary, but because incomes in rural areas trend to be lower than in urban areas, the ratio of incomes to prices makes renting and buying expensive. For families, repayments on a mortgage remain comparable to the price of renting. This means that many families who could afford to buy a house are unable to do so because of they do not have enough savings to pay the deposit.
Rent to Buy is a financial model which provides affordable access to home ownership. Tenants rent a property through the scheme with the option to buy it after five years. If they take this option they get a cash-back sum to help them with their mortgage deposit. The selling price is fixed, based on its value at the beginning of the five year term. This provides certainty for tenants and a potential benefit for them if the house goes up in value.
The scheme uses loan finance so the funds can be recycled. Interest on the original loan is repaid on the sale of the home making the scheme cost neutral. Rent levels are set so they can be covered by state benefits if the household has a low income. This means that tenants have a safety net if their income drops or they become unemployed during the scheme.
Affordability is protected using a legal mechanism (called the Rural Housing Burden); this gives HSCHT the right to purchase the property back from the owner if the owner decides to sell it. It means that HSCHT can allocate the house to another family who fits the criteria at the same equity share. This mechanism protects the future affordability of the property.
The scheme has provided 30 new affordable homes, with another 34 under development. In 34 small communities, housing 143 people and helping to sustain rural communities. Twenty-two local construction firms have been involved in delivering the schemes. Many have strengthened their links with local communities and have been able to protect their employees and retain their workforce. Young people have also had the opportunity to access training with contractors.
Funding has been agreed for a further phase. HSCHT are identifying sites and carrying out feasibility and financial viability studies.
The project has helped to raise awareness and increase the focus on rural affordable housing delivery both locally and nationally. The cost neutral nature of the scheme has drawn considerable interest as reductions in government subsidy on housing have been introduced in Scotland and other parts of the UK.
The Scottish Government is keen to see the scheme made available across Scotland.
The affordability of the housing has been protected by the ‘Rural Housing Burden’, ensuring that the new properties remain available to local people and aren’t sold on the open market.
HSCHT uses small local contractors and supports local business wherever possible. The houses are modern in design, and use large amounts of timber in their construction. This reduces embodied carbon and allows the houses to be highly energy efficient. Although designed locally, many of the houses look very different from traditional local houses which tend to be built from rendered stone or brick.
HSCHT supports local employment and training by working with the University of Highlands and Islands allowing contractors to set up apprenticeships for local young people.
Community engagement sits alongside the process of delivering Rent to Buy homes. In particular communities are able to feed into allocations policies so that they are able to take account of specific issues (such as a need for key workers like teachers or carers).
The Scottish Government provides a development loan to cover the house building costs for the scheme. They have so far provided three loans to cover three building phases. For each phase the loan is due to be repaid after six years. The rental income covers the interest on the loan, maintenance, insurance and provides the cash back reserve paid to the tenants when they purchase the homes. HSCHT retains any surplus to contribute to its overheads.
In the Scottish Highlands the weather can be particularly challenging and a focus on high levels of insulation, air tightness, suitable heating systems and the use of renewable technologies where needed (for example photo voltaic panels) have been encouraged on all builds, all of which reduce the running costs of a home.
The first phase of the Rent to Buy Scheme includes seven different developments. Each contractor chose their own house design as appropriate for the site conditions and location. Features include careful design and siting to reduce wind cooling and to increase passive solar gain; high levels of insulation; elimination of fabric thermal bridging and high levels of air-tightness; wood fuel stoves with back up electric heating; low dual flush WC’s; and flow reduced/aerating taps and showers rated at no more than 6 litres of water per minute.
The use of local contractors and local materials also reduces the overall carbon footprint of building activity.
The Rent to Buy Scheme is self-financing. It creates an income through rent payments and the sale of the houses. The income pays for the cost of running the scheme and allows funds to be reinvested into building new houses.
The scheme generates a predictable income for HSCHT. This has enabled them to retain a skilled staff team. The scheme has helped to raise HSCHT’s profile within communities and with local and national government; providing greater funding opportunities for other projects and schemes.
The use of local contractors ensures as much of the investment as possible remains and circulates within the community and supports other local businesses, shops and services.
HSCHT works with a network of councils and other bodies such as local development companies – these partnerships have helped to identify a hidden housing need within rural areas. Building more affordable homes in hard to reach rural areas reduces the pressure on more highly populated areas. It also strengthens informal care networks and helps to retain key workers locally (key workers provide essential services, for example health workers, fire fighters, teachers or police). Not only do these benefits reduce costs for central and local government, they also ensure an improved quality of life for people living in rural communities.
Affordable homes help communities retain families with a range of incomes and skills. Training and development provided through the scheme also improves opportunities for young people in rural communities.
Land needs to be purchased at well below market value. This limits the scheme to places where either public land can be transferred or where there are legal obligations, or where a local landowner is prepared to sell land at a greatly reduced price.
The scheme relies on low interest rates on the loan capital; this was provided by the Scottish government. The scheme also relies on mortgages being affordable for families taking part in the scheme. The UK has benefited from low interest rates in recent years. A rise in the future may affect the attractiveness and viability of the scheme in future.
Some mortgage lenders do not lend on properties with the Rural Housing Burden. This narrows the range of lenders for purchasers.
For Phase 1, there was a short window of opportunity to use “underspend” funding provided by the Scottish Government, so the final project had to be drafted over just four months. This included land purchases, providing a certificate of title for each of the landholdings, assessing total project costs, potential cashbacks and selling prices, agreeing loan drawdown schedules and creating the draft offer for each tenant/purchaser.
The topography of the Highlands creates challenges for building, for example where there is a steep slope. On one site this was addressed by building into the hillside and on another by building a house on stilts. This added to the building costs.
In 2015, the Scottish Government carried out an evaluation of the project to explore the possibility of rolling the model out across Scotland. This has yet to be published.
Follow up surveys with tenants will be carried out after around 18 – 24 months of moving in to their homes when they will be asked to quantify (as far as possible) the impact of access to an affordable home on them and their family.
A second and third phase have been agreed by the Scottish Government and this will extend the scheme to more areas of the Highlands. The Scottish Government are keen to use the model across all areas of Scotland. Other organisations have also been keen to find out more, for example, communities looking to invest community benefit funds, community landowners and other housing providers, such as Housing Associations.
So far (in 2015), no other organisation has adopted the scheme but the Scottish Government is supportive of the housing model and may use it in other areas in the future.
Lilac is a self-planned and managed co-housing community in Leeds, England. It embraces the concept of living sustainably and communally. Members of Lilac have their own individual homes but share financial responsibility, the land, the development and day to day management of the project. This supports greater resilience and provides permanently affordable housing.
Lilac is a community of 20 households built on the site of a demolished school. It is located in a suburban area of Leeds in the North of England. It was first conceived by five founding members in 2006 and was fully completed in 2013. The community is founded on cooperative principles, with emphasis on low impact living (low embodied carbon, reduced energy consumption and other aspects of shared living which minimise environmental impact).
Lilac has created a new community. The site is intentionally designed to encourage interaction. Members all participate in one of nine management teams (called task teams) that run the site, provide social events with the neighbouring communities and offer training to emerging projects that are interested in replicating features of Lilac.
The UK has a strongly embedded culture of property investment. This can be problematic in areas where demand for homes outstrips supply and prices are consequently high. Where demand is high, property investors often have the means to outbid local households.
Much of the UK is experiencing problems related to housing quality, affordability and supply. Older properties by and large have very low energy efficiency and although newer properties more often have improved energy efficiency features, traditional building materials and construction techniques are still accompanied by high levels of energy and carbon usage.
Highly sustainable housing is still a small niche in the UK. Consequently materials and skilled labour are hard to find and expensive.
The challenge for Lilac was that building houses using unorthodox materials and techniques is usually very expensive. Until Lilac nobody had managed to build a housing development in the UK that combined very high environmental standards with affordability without large amounts of grant. Lilac achieved it through careful hands-on management of the development. This succeeded in reducing development costs to 18 per cent below the costs of building conventional houses. This, in conjunction with its innovative finance model, enabled the cost of the development to be shared with people across a range of incomes. The distribution of debt across the project is spread equitably enabling both lower and higher income households to access the housing, each being allocated equity units in proportion to their income.
Lilac has received widespread, sustained interest since the project was established, with attention from local, regional and national media. The project is frequently showcased as an example of best practice in housing, community-led housing, and low carbon living, and has received or been nominated for several awards across the Building and Construction sector.
A £45 million community right to build fund was launched by the UK Government in 2013 during a ministerial visit to the project. The Mutual Home Ownership Society (MHOS) model was also featured in a paper published by the London Mayor’s office, exploring innovative new housing tenure types for the capital.
Lilac is actively engaged in knowledge sharing to support growth in community led housing and help transfer its model. It is well known across the community led housing movement in England and often used as a model of best practice to inspire new entrants, and showcase methods of environmentally sustainable building.
The project was financed through contributions from members (all members paid an initial deposit) a private development loan (mortgage) and a grant. The gross project cost including land, construction and professional fees was £2.95 million (approximately US $5million). This funded building 20 homes: 8 houses and 12 flats, and a common house, over a 0.7 hectare site. The development loan (covering 70 per cent of project costs) was supplied by ethical bank Triodos at commercial rates over 25 years.
Lilac was awarded a government Energy and Climate Change grant of £400,000 to experiment with straw bale construction.
The affordability aspect (the Mutual Home Ownership Model) is achieved by fixing member contributions at a set cost of a maximum of 35 per cent of monthly income. The range of incomes means that higher earners acquire more equity (but no more than 20 per cent more than a low income household in the same size property) than lower earners but everybody pays the same proportion of their earnings towards housing costs.
In order for the model to work member contributions must cover the loan payments, ongoing maintenance and service costs. The community uses any excess income gained through this model to build up a central reserve fund, which can be used to protect against financial shocks such as members losing their job, or to finance the difference between a high earner leaving and a low earner joining. Financial gaps from equity repayments when members leave are covered through incoming member contributions, bridging allocations between existing members, additional loan financing (against increases in value), or the central reserve fund.
Lilac is the first cohousing project in the UK to combine low impact living with the Mutual Home Ownership Society affordability model. The decoupling of the value of Lilac homes from local house prices prevents the use of the homes as a speculative asset. It is also the first project at scale to use strawbale as a key part of its sustainability plan. Deliberate design features combine with an emphasis on community and sharing work to minimise environmental impact, and offer a replicable model for alternative housing supply.
Lilac’s approach to low impact living led to key choices across four areas: building fabric, micro-renewables, community design and behaviour issues (regulated through community agreements). The project focused on high performance and natural construction materials (straw, timber and lime) with energy efficient properties and low embodied energy. The Lilac energy strategy lists the following criteria: low impact; future proof; comfortable; reliable; reduce demand as a starting point; easy to use and maintain; appropriate to needs; affordable; understandable and demonstrable; designed to minimize external/additional resources; locally sourced and serviceable.
Lilac used a prefabricated strawbale and engineered timber system called Modcell for the construction of the houses. Straw is compressed into timber frames to create a proprietary building block. It offers advantages over traditional strawbale building in terms of structural strength, building insurance and ease and speed of construction.
Strawbale construction delivers low embodied carbon in the materials used. Carbon is stored and then locked up in plant based construction materials. One 16kg strawbale is the product of 32kg of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere for photosynthesis, making the construction itself carbon negative. A typical 100 m2 house constructed from Modcell stores and isolates 43 tonnes of carbon dioxide, compared to an average UK house, which produces 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide during construction. Modcell homes also have a reduced energy demand, with a reduction in energy consumption of up to two thirds compared to an average UK home.
The community embraces sharing as a way of reducing energy consumption. The site was designed with a shared common house and garden, and a car-free home zone in the centre. Cycling and walking is promoted in the site design. There are 10 car parking spaces on the site (half a space per dwelling) and 50 cycle spaces. Fifty per cent of cars are pooled either by Lilac or by groups of members. Allotments form part of the site, providing locally produced food and reducing the food-related carbon footprint of the residents. There are twenty five active gardens, including five which are made available to local residents outside of Lilac. Recycling is encouraged, including on-site composting facilities to recycle all domestic food waste.
The site also features solar panels, (a 28KWp (kilowatt peak) solar PV array), Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) units and high efficiency gas boilers. All the three and four bed houses also feature solar thermal water heating. There are water butts and a pond for sustainable drainage. The use of locally sourced straw and timber added value through the use of local supply chains. The local assembly of the Modcell panels also provided opportunities for residents to be involved in elements of the build.
Lilac is financially stable with built in mechanisms to hedge against financial risk and to protect the long term affordability of the homes. Members own the site collectively as a Mutual Home Ownership Society. All households contribute 35 per cent of their monthly income towards servicing the mortgage on the site, building up equity units which can be sold to incoming members at a value determined by changes in wages when they leave. Members pay a deposit equal to 10 per cent of the equity units they can afford to finance through their monthly payments. The number of equity units allocated to each household depends on their income and the cost of their home. The cost of each home reflects the build cost of the property, plus a proportion of the cost of the land and a contribution towards shared facilities and maintenance. Households are allocated equity units according to what they can afford to finance. Higher earning households effectively service more of the Society’s debt and acquire more equity units as a result.
If a households’ income falls, they can sell shares to a willing buyer from within Lilac, draw on the reserve fund (built up over time through surpluses generated by the system of payments), or convert to a rental tenancy at a reduced rate. If 35 per cent of a household’s monthly income is greater than the amount needed for the monthly debt repayment which they are responsible for, the surplus is split between a faster repayment of their overall debt and the reserve fund. Once a household has paid off their debt allocation their monthly housing cost drops to 10 per cent of their net income, any surplus once they have made their monthly contribution for the management and maintenance of the site, goes to the central reserve fund. People can also move between properties within the scheme, as they become available and as their housing needs change, provided all equity shares can be financed between members.
If a member leaves the cooperative after less than three years, their equity units are refunded at their original value (or lower if their property value has fallen). After three years if a member leaves, they receive 75 per cent of any change in the value of their shares, which is indexed to changes in the national average income, rather than local house prices.
Over the longer term, once the capital debt on the site is repaid, Lilac will be able to reduce the minimum income required for new members as the overall cost to be shared will be lower.
Living in Lilac reduces costs for members through fixed affordable housing payments, lower energy costs as a design feature of the site, shared facilities eg tools and cars, social events shared meals and self-reliance through food growing. Over time the community plans to increase self-reliance through increasing its ability to obtain work, food and energy on site and through the project.
The principles of sharing, mutual support, self-management and resilience embraced by Lilac encourage greater community interaction and integration. This is designed into the layout and features of the site, the finance model, as well as the culture and principles which members sign up to. Lilac also regularly holds events and activities, such as a monthly Folk night, which encourage involvement with the wider local community.
Developing and delivering Lilac helped members to acquire skills in various aspects such as design and planning, project implementation and management and expertise in the Mutual Home Ownership Society financial structure. Members also acquired skills and knowledge by participating in the build phase during the construction of straw bale timber cells.
Lilac is managed by task teams covering different aspects of site and organisational management, developing team members’ personal skill sets and improving the resilience of the community. Member education and skill sharing sessions are provided to encourage the transfer of knowledge across a range of activities like management, practical skills for sustainable living and social skills for living in a community.
The project encourages healthy living through limiting car usage and encouraging cycling and walking. Each household has an allotment for growing fresh food and providing opportunities for fresh air and exercise. The organic produce is used in communal meals, preserved or given away, increasing everyone’s access to free, healthy food.
The design of the site intentionally fosters community interaction and increases passive surveillance, deterring anti-social behaviour. Car reduction and separation also means children can play safely in the communal areas of the site.
The project helps to reduce social inequalities between residents through shared facilities, services and space. Every member is expected to contribute equally to the management of the project. The Mutual Home Ownership Society model provides an equitable cost arrangement for members, which reduces inequality for both current and future households. Membership generates high levels of trust as personal financial information, normally considered to be sensitive, is shared with task teams and helps to challenge cultural attitudes to wealth and income. Sharing resources also helps to reduce inequality between high and low earners across the community. High earners are not disadvantaged as their additional contribution enables them to buy additional equity units.
Lilac supports individual empowerment and active involvement in society through consultation, social events and participation in local groups and activities. Members coordinate and host many community events. The model of affordability also enables a range of household types to form part of the community including freelance, part time and retired households, who would otherwise be unable to access the quality of life offered.
The project has increased the wider community’s access to green space, providing five local residents with allotments and keeping the ‘pocket park’ (a small wooded area) open to the public.
Through the mutual support the community can offer, individual members have been able to offer shelter for vulnerable people, such as asylum seekers and homeless individuals.
The key indicators of success relate to high levels of resident satisfaction and low member turnover.
Following completion of the site, residents started work on a number of project weaknesses, including high transaction costs and time needed to self-manage the project. These weaknesses will be addressed across a number of areas including finance, legal, landscape, shared facilities and maintenance.
Environmental monitoring was conducted following site completion, through a two year building performance and evaluation study, led by the University of Sheffield.
Lilac has supported emerging cohousing groups locally, particularly in Leeds and Yorkshire. Regular support is provided to other emerging groups. These include Chapeltown Cohousing (Leeds), ShangriLeeds, Bradford Cohousing, 5 Rivers Cohousing (Sheffield), Hebden Bridge Cohousing, York Cohousing, Hedben Bridge and Todmorden Community Self-Build CIC and Yorspace (York).
Many groups have attended events and used the common house as a resource for practical and social gatherings.
Lilac’s “Learning, Research and Replicability Task Team” is dedicated to knowledge transfer. The Society hosts regular ‘learning days’ on site and delivers many additional tours and talks on request.
A special full-day workshop on the Mutual Home Ownership Society (MHOS) model has also taken place, attended by representatives of nine emerging groups from across the UK. A number have gone on to register as MHOS and are actively progressing.
As part of the national community-led housing movement, Lilac has been working with a collaboration of local organisations (including housing providers, environmental architects and homelessness charities) to establish “Leeds Community Homes” as an ‘umbrella organisation’, which can use Lilac as an example of best practice to develop a city-wide framework to support community-led housing. This will be replicable in other cities and towns across the UK, offering solutions which enable more people to participate.
Canopy and Giroscope are pioneers in a movement of UK housing providers called “Self-Help Housing”, which has gained momentum and grown significantly in recent years. Together they provide a model that has inspired many others. Today, over 100 organisations in the UK follow their Self-Help Housing model.