These are the steps we took to develop our cohousing neighbourhood, a long and winding road.
Alan met West Dorset District Council (WDDC) officers and Oliver Letwin MP, and was encouraged to go ahead with a project in Bridport.
Alan Heeks, Charles Couzens of Ecos Trust and Richard Sanders of Synergy formed the team of housing professionals who worked on the project alongside Derek Fawell, Ro Gallagher, Sally Collings and others.
At an open meeting in Bridport those interested in a cohousing scheme in Bridport were invited to join the Steering group.
The first meeting of an augmented steering group of 15 people; went on to meet monthly.
A 24-hour residential gathering was held at Symondsbury manor to formulate Bridport Cohousing Community’s (BCC) Vision and Values, and a membership of 25 people was formed.
With ‘Weymouth and Portland Housing’ and WDDC, BCC conducted its first survey among those on the Housing Register in the 4 main Bridport parishes, to establish the level of interest in cohousing. Responses satisfied Synergy that sufficient evidence was generated to go ahead with the scheme.
Members selected 2 possible sites, both on the edge of the town and both exception sites.
Members held a public meeting and invited those on the Housing Register who had expressed an interest in cohousing. Alan, Charles and members spoke about various aspects of the project. Richard Sanders and a colleague provided specific information relevant to enquirers on the housing register.Since that meeting, BC has held Public meetings several times a year, in various locations in Bridport.
Upheaval in the financial world led to reconsidering how to finance the project. Synergy took over from the Ecos Trust to become the lead developer, planning to use time limited grant money secured earlier. (Required completion by Mar 2014.)
We submitted our 2 preferred sites for inclusion in the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) but they were not included.
The UK Cohousing Network held a conference at Friends House, London with Charles Durrett and Katie McCamant as key speakers. They wrote the 2 key books on cohousing in the US – many aspects apply directly to the UK. Alan Heeks and Monica King attended for BC.
James Priest worked with us on group process, as a result of which the group decided to adopt Sociocracy which gave us a group structure and decision making process. We began with a Sociocratic Implementation Circle, which later became our Sociocratic Development Circle.
Visits were made to Springhill, a cohousing neighbourhood in Stroud.
Bridport Cohousing Community became Bridport Cohousing (BC), because of the various negative meanings people attach to the word ‘community’ and amended the logo.
The National CLT Network and the National Housing Federation held a conference at the Eden Project, St Austell. Monica King attended and began to get to know people whose later contributions would be invaluable to BC.
At a meeting with WDDC, BC was advised that an all-affordable scheme would be looked upon favourably. 40% to be housing association homes; private houses selling at 80%; private rents at 90% of market rate.
BC had recently instigated open ‘tea and chat’ sessions in local cafes, and in Summer local walks, where people who were interested could come and meet us and ask questions. We varied the time/day and venue to make these as accessible as possible. Attending some of these events was the starting point for people who wished to become members.
BC and Synergy appointed Ellis Belk as scheme architects.
In order to ease the finances of the project, members agreed to be responsible for the funding of the common house and appointed Sam Goss of Barefoot Architects, as the common house architect.
Synergy merged with Aster. The newly enlarged housing association needed to focus on restructuring, and was not in a position to work on our project, which caused significant delay; which is especially difficult for a community-led group to cope with. Over the years the level of government grant to housing associations was falling, which made planning the project even more difficult.
Ecos Trust retrenched; Charles moved to Ecos Maclean. A fixed fee payable to Alan and Charles at the start and finish of the building works would be made via the Rural Renewal Company.
Bridport Cohousing was registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, 1965, with 3 caretaker directors, with the help of the Wessex Reinvestment Trust.
At some point during negotiation with the two landowners, BC had decided that, of the two sites, the one to the west of Bridport Community Hospital was the best choice for them. Concern about the time the project was taking led to them deciding to fund and take up the purchase option. The plan had been for the HA to fund this as part of the whole development process, but there was concern at the risk of losing a lovely site.To pay the professional fees attached to this ‘option,’ members paid the first ‘deposits with conditions.’ This was ‘at risk’ money; we envisaged that the money would stop being at risk when planning permission was granted. This enabled members to continue to take the scheme forward. BC agreed the purchase option on the first portion (4+ acres) with the ‘hospital site’ owners.
First Annual General Meeting of Bridport Cohousing Limited, (we are a Limited Society) and sale of shares to members. New directors were appointed. BC is constituted as an Industrial and Provident Society – Community Benefit model; this legal model supports our Community Land Trust status. See change to description in June 2016.
Began a period of public consultation, with presentations to:West Dorset District, Bridport Town and Allington Parish Councils; interested individuals and groups; a public event in the Cherry Tree communal Room and Bucky Doo Square. All generated valuable feedback, encouragement and comments from councillors and members of the public, with a clear preference that we access the site over the hospital land and not use Mead Lane.
Joined newly opened membership of UK Cohousing Network and attended the AGM at Threshold Centre. There we met Diana Leafe Christian, writer of 2 key books on community, who gave seminars on Sociocracy for cohousing.
At a pre-application meeting with planners, concern was expressed about loss of amenity, ie the view of our scheme as seen from Allington Hill and the risk of vandalism to our parked cars.
Established good contact with NHS trust and began negotiations to access the site over their land – after several years of trying during a period of huge structural change within the NHS.
Planners’ responses to the application demonstrated their unfamiliarity with cohousing and its aims, so focus was placed on the Community Land Trust status, as CLTs are well understood by WDDC planners. Changed logo from Bridport Cohousing to Bridport Cohousing Community Land Trust.
Aster withdrew from the project. This was sad after such a long partnership but meant we could consider other routes made possible by the coalition government, to bring our plans to fruition. Aster’s 18 month engagement with restructuring gave them limited capacity to act on our project, which led to several members leaving and just 10 remaining.
West Dorset District Council, responding further to our Local Lettings Policy, now wanting private rents to be 80%, not 90%, of market value.
Held our second Annual General Meeting.
BC awarded a Community-led Project Development grant of £46,500 by the Homes and Communities Agency. This was a significant moment for the project. We celebrated (self-funded) that and our 4th birthday at the Tiger Inn, Bridport.
Sam Goss appointed as architect for whole site. Ellis Belk appointed as cost consultants, project managers and procurement advisors.
Because of delays, negotiated with landowner an extension to the period during which phase 1 site purchase option can be exercised.
Signed purchase option on the second portion (2+ acres) of site.
WDDC requested a survey of housing need to demonstrate those interested in cohousing in Bridport; the response from the people of Bridport was very supportive.
A big day – 4 August: we submitted our planning application; 17 September: WDDC registered it.
A sad day – 11 October: member Kelvin McNulty died after a period of illness. The funeral at the Chapel in the Garden was a chance for his nephew to meet a marvellous mix of people from all Kelvin’s many interests.
WDDC requested a second survey of housing need, this time with names checked against the housing register. Again, we had an excellent response from local people, but were told that there were insufficient applicants from Allington Parish. Although we had always advertised BC being for the people of Bridport and surrounding parishes we had not been aware of this requirement, so it was a bit of a shock. Allington Parish has relatively few residents, mostly in newer build homes. As a result we submitted a standard planning application, which was possible because WDDC had no Local Plan in place against which they could measure planning applications.
Another sad day – 31 August: Jane Taylor was injured when she came off her bike and sadly died some days later. At her funeral at the Chapel in the Garden, we met her family and long-standing friends. Cohousing groups are often pioneered by groups made up mainly of older people; retired people often have the time and resources needed to develop an innovative scheme. This is the case with BC, although we have some notably marvellous younger members. BC members have always wanted an intergenerational neighbourhood.
We recorded a piece with Duncan Sleightholme for local ITV, broadcast on 11 Feb.
11 Feb 2016
A big day
A day of delight. The Planning committee unanimously granted us a standard planning permission for 34 homes of which 35% should be affordable and a common house. Smiles and tears. Nonetheless, our homes will generally still be rented and sold at 80% of market rates because of our Society Rules.
The S106 agreement, an integral part of the planning permission, was signed off.
Moved our Registered Office from West Bay to Vernons Court. And changed how we described our organisation to reflect the 2014 change in the law. “Bridport Cohousing Limited is a registered society under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014.”
We held the last meeting of the Residents and Professional Advisors group. We amended our Sociocratic structure to combine the work of the RPA with the work of the General circle into a Management Circle.
Alan stepped back from his BC role, to pursue his many other interests. BC has benefitted enormously from Alan Heeks’ cohousing experience, and the use of his and Linda’s home for meetings. Alan continues to be an honorary member.
The first tranche of a loan we negotiated from Charities Aid Foundation Bank arrived, the second tranche came later. When negotiating loans we always calculate the risk and have a fall-back position.
We appointed Susan Ayling as our book-keeper, which reduced the load Julian Jones our treasurer had been carrying. We developed systems for payments, etc.
Sociocratic Elections appointed OLs, some of whom would be appointed as Directors at the Nov AGM. 5 new members at this meeting significantly increased our numbers and morale.
The first 4 prefab homes were delivered to our site – for dormice to nest in when they wake in the spring and before any birds build nests. With the kind permission of the owners we also cleared the hedge, leaving the good fence in place, ready for the builders to come onto the site in the spring.
What a month. What a to-do list.
We started the year anticipating breaking ground on phase 1 in the summer. The agreed draft of the access agreement with the NHS was sent to the Secretary of State, for what we understood to be the ‘signing off,’ but there was a hitch… (More on this later)
We recorded a piece for local BBC TV and Radio Solent with Steve Harris about cohousing in Dorset, broadcast in the South West.
We submitted a planning application for phase 2.
Negotiations proceeded with the housing association and builders for the construction of all the homes, and banks for grants and loans to cover BC’s responsibilities, including the purchase of homes should our buyers not be able to proceed for any reason, and construction of the common house. Over time it became clear that our start date would need to be later.
Held our inaugural Holding Circle Meeting, with most internal and external Directors present; and met again in June, after which it meets quarterly.
10 May: WDDC registered our phase 2 planning application for 28 affordable houses and flats, 9 homes to be self build.
Getting our access agreement with the local NHS Trust signed off was delayed, while clarity was established around the value of land in an affordable housing scheme.
Delays to our project again resulted in members leaving, and we welcomed more new members.
Developed our first sub-circle, the Gardening Sub-circle. For several years Lynchetts had provided us with a space to grow food and entertain potential new members in our project in a relaxed way. The circle took on an allotment at Flaxhayes and BC granted the circle a modest budget.
Gathered our last harvest from Lynchetts. Sociocratic Elections.
Served the notice of intention to take up the purchase option.
Loan offer prospectus sent out to members, friends and supporters to raise £250,000 for the purchase of the Phase 1 land in a short timeframe.
Full amount pledged.
Full amount banked.
19 March: NHS Access Agreement signed; and purchase of Phase 1 land completed, thanks to the many lenders. Photos for press taken in sunshine in the field. The Bridport News published an excellent article; BC’s Facebook page had its highest level of interest.
Membership decides to withdraw self-build element of scheme and prepare a simplified planning application for phase 2.
23rd: Submitted amended phase 2 plan, inviting permission for 19 homes.
24th: WDDC invites submissions from those who commented on the earlier plan.
Started rolling out our marketing plans for our homes for sale and rent.
Bournemouth Churches Housing Association agreed to work with us. They share many of our goals and that makes them a good match for us.
15 Nov: A big day of relief. Again, the Planning committee unanimously granted us standard planning permission, this time for 19 homes of which 7 should be affordable. Again, our homes will be rented and sold at 80% of market rates because of our Society Rules.
19 Nov: Our dedicated sales and rentals microsite went live. A designated website to deal with enquiries and registering interest in sales and rentals.
22 Feb: Discovery day – marketing our sales off-plan to local people. A day of presentations, workshops and Q&A. This proved to be very successful in attracting prospective new members.
Although granted planning permission for phase 2 in Nov 2018, a request to amend with an increased amount of photovoltaic panels, and an amended boundary – because our plan turned out to contain a small portion of unregistered land, it had to be a variation and go back to the planning committee. The 6-8 week delay was very frustrating for members.
2nd July: We received the Section 106 for phase 2.
4th July: Our application, with no professional adviser present, was agreed unanimously. This was our third experience of the tension of sitting through a planning committee meeting. Out in the corridor there was lots of shaking of hands and ‘thanks’ and ‘congratulations’. Outside in the sunshine, we took photos of the 5 members present, to mark the occasion.
2nd Sept: We completed the purchase of the second half of the land. The Soil Circle broke out the bubbly to celebrate the joy and relief of becoming the owners of the whole site. Our thanks go to all who helped make it possible.
12th: Judith, Lin and Monica went to a working lunch at the LSE, at which academics and housing professionals interested in cohousing put the finishing touches to the report by Jim Hudson “The wider benefits of cohousing: The case of Bridport Cohousing”. It was great to meet 2 colleagues from Older Women’s’ Co-Housing in North London, who were also present.
A huge milestone for BC was refining and applying our Allocations process (see our Local Lettings Policy), to allocate homes to the first tranche of members who are buying their homes at 80% of market value. We had become used to applying our Nominations process which is the first step towards becoming a resident; our Allocations process is the second step.
Lin and Monica went to the National Community Land Trust Network AGM in Birmingham. This network supports CLTs, for example by lobbying government to support policies that work for CLTs and against those that would handicap CLTs. An example is the government wish to do away with leasehold homes – CLTs use this form of tenure to keep homes affordable in perpetuity.
Lin had successfully nominated Monica for an award in the ‘Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop’ category. The prize was a wooden farmyard toy goose, because geese fly in a skein and when the one in the front tires it drops back and another goose takes its place.
Also present was Jim Hudson, the academic researcher who has worked with us.
4th: A visit from Catherine Harrington and Vanessa White of the National CLT Network to BC’s site, Hazelmead, with Lin, Vince and Monica. We all then went to the Symene CLT’s development at Edwards Close, Bridport. Catherine and Vanessa then went on to meet people from nearby Burton Bradstock CLT.
12/13th: Lin and Monica travelled to London to the Academy of Urbanism’s afternoon workshop on Affordable Housing, where Jim and Monica did a Q&A on Community Led Affordable Housing.That evening the 3 of them went to the evening AGM of the UK Cohousing Network, where new directors were voted in. The first 3 pages of Jim’s report were praised by Stephen Hill as the best introduction to cohousing that he had seen.
Bramble clearing has been a regular feature of the winter and we have been laying the western boundary hedge to improve biodiversity and shelter from prevailing winds.
Nick Grey from Dorset Wildlife Trust led a training session in hedgelaying for members.
At last! Tuesday 25th Feb turned out to be the day we had been working towards for 11 years. At last, at the end of the working day, we heard that the agreements we had signed with the NHS Trust, Dorset Council and Bournemouth Churches Housing Association were all finally signed off and completed by our solicitors. A celebration was later held on the landwith fire, poems and bubbly and we made front page news in the local press.
Plans were put in place to hold a Special General Meeting on Monday 22 March, at which members were to consider the proposal to move from operating under our current Benefit Society ‘Rules’ to new updated ‘Rules’ following recent legislation.
As the days ticked by our concerns about the wisdom of holding a big meeting when the number of cases of Coronavirus was rising led us to postpone the meeting for an unspecified period of time. So members were at home on that Monday and some saw the prime minister’s announcement of lockdown. Meetings were moved to Zoom, and we joined the many for whom ‘You’re muted!’ became the new catchphrase.
Our ‘Meet the Neighbours’ events which had previously been held in cafes and pubs or on local walks were cancelled and a new format of online zoom events were set up, which counted as a live event for those in the middle of their membership process.
Designated members of our Building Circle began attending the monthly meeting with our builder CG Fry, our Employers Agent, David Wagg, our Advisor, Charles Couzens and other professionals as needed.
The Sociocracy Development Circle had been working on a revision of our Sociocratic structure, by increasing the number of work circles and sub-circles, to increase the opportunities for our growing membership to take on responsibility for work in the project. E.g. April 2020 saw the last meeting of the Soil Circle; its work was taken on by the new Communications Circle and the new Environment Circle.
27th July 2020 The Biggest Day of the journey so far
Over the weekend the earth moving vehicles had arrived on site and on Monday they started moving soil, lots of it.
After 11 years of work to get to this point, members marked the occasion by getting together on the one bit of Allington Hill which overlooks the site, to pose for a socially distanced photograph. Members were joined for the occasion by Alan Heeks, our Honorary Member, who founded Bridport Cohousing.
It was so important to us to mark this day, so we double-checked the legislation that had come into force on 4 July that allows up to 30 people in a business to meet together in socially distanced family groups for specific purposes including community activities.
The photo shoot was followed by a carefully conducted picnic where members sat in family groups and ate only their own food and drank only from their own cups and bottles. Not our usual style at all!
A photo taken of Charles Couzens leaning against our field gate with piles of earth and a parked-up digger in the background, holding a bottle of bubbly that had been presented to him by a member, was used for our Bridport News item.
Those buyers who had been allocated homes back in September began the process of engaging their solicitors, in order to give instructions to exchange contracts. Lin had worked with solicitors in advance to enable them to prepare for a process that differed slightly from standard conveyancing.
Contracts were exchanged on the first 8 homes for 80% sale. 2 more followed on soon after.
Over Autumn and Winter members continued working on laying hedges and cutting back brambles. And other members have been keenly photo-documenting the build at Hazelmead.
The Nominations sub-committee was reconvened and considered nomination forms from some buyers and renters, based on length of service, in order to establish households that satisfy the Local Lettings Policy criteria and can be designated ‘Potential Resident Households’.
To date 31 households have been nominated as Potential Resident Households with 9 more households going forward this summer; and 15 buyer households have been allocated to specific homes. Allocation of rented homes will take place nearer the turn of the year and will involve Bournemouth Churches Housing Association, Dorset Home Choice and Bridport Cohousing working together.
Launch of our Community Share Offer to raise investment funding for common house, 2 guest bedrooms and to pay back land loans made to us in 2018.