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Elizabeth Wilson and Jon Lee share their reflections on our Faith in Affordable Housing event held in partnership with Housing Justice

11 June 2024

We held an event on 22nd May to celebrate our legal guide for land disposal by Parochial Church Councils.

It proved to be an afternoon of engaging presentations and case studies and triggered a healthy Q&A session with a very knowledgeable audience.

Thank you so much to all the delegates and speakers who attended our event in Leeds which we hosted in partnership with Housing Justice. Despite the heavy rain and transport challenges on the day, we had a great turnout and several expressions of interest in further engagement both from those present, and those who couldn’t make the event in person.

The event was created with the aim of connecting churches with community-led housing groups and showcased our recently created legal guide, which was commissioned by Housing Justice to help Parochial Church Councils to plot their way through the law relating to land disposals when considering providing land for the development of affordable housing.

Delegates heard presentations featuring case studies from Bexhill-on-Sea on the south coast, up to Preston and Keswick in the north-west of England. We also heard from our local diocese in Leeds about their plans, as well as getting a national perspective from Jonathan Tame, Advisor on Housing and Community to the Bishop of Housing, Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani.

In summing up the day, Beki Winter, Church Housing Enabler at Housing Justice commented that “the event was a fantastic opportunity to reach a new audience as well as enhance existing relationships. Many connections were made at the event which are now being followed up and seeds sown all across England, creating new opportunities to develop sustainable, safe, affordable homes for people in need on Church land.”

Jonathan Tame added “this event brought people together from around the country who are enthusiastic about the Church making good on its commitment to provide decent, affordable homes and communities. There was a real buzz around the informal conversations, and the presentations demonstrated practically how it's possible to overcome the various obstacles which often stand in the way. I felt there was a real sense of momentum gathering around this vision and hope to see more events like it!”

There were many thought-provoking and insightful discussions around how to tackle the housing crisis. Here’s a few of what we thought were some of the highlights and themes that emerged from the day….

• Wrigleys partner Elizabeth Wilson explained that the legal guide was written with the intention of giving hope and encouragement to faith groups – to think differently and not just “do what we’ve always done”. She stressed that it’s important for each group to take its own legal advice as Church landholdings are not straight forward. Community-led housing is a bottom up, grass roots concept, but by collaborating, local people become naturally engaged with their Parochial Church Council. Remember that the benefits can be wider that simply creating affordable homes. Many projects incorporate improved Church assets and facilities.

• Jonathan Tame reflected on the long history of the Church’s involvement with social housing, referencing the almshouse movement and in recent times, the importance of the Coming Home report by the Church of England and the Homes for All national housing proposals that followed the report’s publication. Whilst stressing there is much more to be done and that more resources and institutional reforms are needed, Jonathan highlighted the welcome announcement of £4.25m of funding available to dioceses who want to support the development of new housing initiatives.

• Beki Winter reflected that there is quite a lot of misunderstanding about what churches can and cannot do but went on to highlight some really positive examples of collaboration in action between church groups and the community-led housing sector and touched on the support that Housing Justice can offer.

• Ben Burton, Property Manager at Leeds Diocese talked about the diocese taking a more proactive approach to housing development and its land resources.

• Bill Bewley spoke about his role as Chair of Keswick Community Housing Trust and his roots as a Quaker and their long association with social housing, including Bourneville and Rowntree. Bill reflected that when the Keswick group first got going, they did not have the relevant skills, but found the right advisors and partners to make their first scheme a success after much patience and persistence. In an area with so much tourism, second homes and holiday lets, affordable housing and available land in a National Park is in short supply. However, by working with the local church, they got off the ground and in acquiring so much know-how along the way, the Trust has gone on to provide 40 affordable homes across 4 sites in the town.

• Finally, we heard from Canon Andrea Titterington, who talked about her involvement with St Martins Parish Centre in Preston. Andrea stressed the diversity of parishes and how this impacts on housing needs at a very localised level. She was open about the challenges, from anxiety within PCCs at the daunting scale of undertaking a major project, to tackling adversity to change and negativity within the community and on social media. Andrea amusingly observed that some of those voicing an ”I’m against it! Where is it?” response to the proposals now use the community hall facilities that the project delivered!

• Andrea’s parting message resonated with much of the event’s running mood…” It is worth the struggle. If people have a stable home their lives will be transformed. It will be there for decades and is so much more than bricks and mortar”.

The Q&A debate touched on some of the challenges and work required to make accelerated progress more likely. These ranged from:

• Clarification being needed around registered provider status as applicable to almshouses.

• The amount of work involved to become registered providers, which can feel quite disproportionate for small organisations, including ongoing compliance once having done so.

• The ongoing conflict around the sale of land at “best value” in monetary terms versus trying to take a mission-led approach that gives weight to the social and local community impact of creating affordable housing.

• The need to promote the legal guide more widely to professional advisors.

• That a forum to take issues forward and create a space for like-minded collaborations would be of value.

We wanted to allow as much time as possible for debate and to encourage delegates to make useful connections on the day. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do justice to a short film that Housing People Building Communities had kindly given us permission to show about their current and existing projects. The film explains their innovative sweat equity model and features interviews with home partners. You can view the film here at your leisure https://www.st-williams.co.uk/

In summary, we would be really interested to get your take on the issues raised at our event and where possible, to help support those with a mission to create affordable housing in your local community.

If you have a specific view you would like to express or wish to discuss a proposal, please do contact us at clh@wrigleys.co.uk

 
 
 

 

 
 
 
Elizabeth Wilson View Biography

Elizabeth Wilson

Partner
Leeds

Jon Lee View Biography

Jon Lee

Consultant
Leeds

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Elizabeth Wilson and Jon Lee share their reflections on our Faith in Affordable Housing event held in partnership with Housing Justice

We held an event on 22nd May to celebrate our legal guide for land disposal by Parochial Church Councils.