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Housing

Londoners tackle housing crisis themselves with largest community building project yet

A community-led housing group have shovels in the ground to build 36 affordable homes in Lewisham – the largest project of its type in the capital.

Shovels are in the ground at London’s largest self-build community housing project as people take the initiative in building the affordable homes desperately needed to tackle the housing crisis.

Future residents from the Rural Urban Synthesis Society (RUSS) kicked off construction on 36 permanently affordable homes in Ladywell Lewisham last week.

The new homes, which are due to be completed in 2023, are available to local people who meet the scheme’s affordability criteria with the community-led housing group promising no developer profit will be made and a resale covenant will keep prices affordable.

“My parents built their home as part of a pioneering Lewisham Council project 30 years ago, and this inspired me to set up RUSS to see if the next generation could deliver something similar,” said Kareem Dayes, a future resident of the scheme and RUSS founder. 

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“It’s taken a long time – more than a decade – to get to this point, and hundreds of local people, volunteers and councillors have been involved and supported us along the way. 

“It’s been tough going too, with various set-backs along the way. But the passion and perseverance of the people involved has won through, and we are now finally ready to start the building work.”

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Residents will be given the chance to build the homes they also helped to design alongside expert architects and will work with local apprentices and volunteers to construct them.

Once completed, there will be six socially rented homes – the most affordable and sought after type of housing in the current crisis – to ease the burden on Lewisham Council’s housing waiting list.

Residents will also have access to a community hub – built by nearly 100 volunteers in 2019 – as well as communal food-growing and gardening spaces, a shared laundry area and a publicly accessible playground.

Big Issue Invest, The Big Issue’s social investment arm, contributed to the project with a  £1.275million development loan while Triodos Bank and CAF Venturesome also provided loans. The Greater London Authority provided a grant to residents while Lewisham Council leased the land.

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Glenn Arradon, Big Issue Invest investment director, housing, said: “Big Issue Invest is the investment arm of the Big Issue, so we’re all about a hand up and not a handout.

“Thanks to our partnership with the Greater London Authority (GLA), BII has offered repayable finance to community-led Housing projects since 2015.

“We have supported RUSS since then, initially with pre-development finance to help them achieve planning. We have now approved a £1.275m development loan that will help see these homes get built.

“We are delighted to be part of this adventure and we hope it will inspire many other similar projects in the capital.”

community housing project in London
Shovels are now in the ground at the Lewisham project with all 36 homes set to be completed by 2023. Image: Royal Urban Synthesis Society

GLA’s deputy mayor for housing and residential development Tom Copley added: “To tackle the capital’s housing crisis, we need a vibrant and diverse market with developers of all sizes playing their part. Community-led housing puts residents at the heart of the process, giving them a voice and the chance to contribute to designing their community.”

The project comes among a growing push for communities to build their own homes as the UK stands on the verge of a homelessness crisis with a major shortage of affordable housing playing a part.

Earlier this year, housing charity Shelter said the government needs to build 90,000 social rent homes every year in England to fill the affordability gap.

Community-led housing could be set to play a growing part in meeting the demand. Last month housing minister Christopher Pincher announced a new £4m grant scheme to boost building efforts.

“Community-led housing is about local people playing a leading and lasting role in solving their housing problems, creating genuinely affordable homes and strong communities where mainstream housebuilders are unable to deliver,” said Pincher.

“The Community Housing Fund has been set up to support housing schemes that are truly community-led and will last for generations to come, helping ensure we build back better.”

There are calls for more, too. Research from the Community Land Trust Network found 12,000 homes in England could be built or renovated with a £65m cash injection at October’s spending review.

Tom Chance, Community Land Trust Network chief executive, said: “Over the last decade we have established community land trusts as a growing niche, and in the next ten years the government could mainstream this approach in the way affordable homes and new settlements are built.”

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