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  • Posted January 20th, 2016
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    Latest news on proposed community / housing co-op / eco-centre in the Midlands

    Latest news on proposed community / housing co-op / eco-centre in the Midlands

    A week ago, we posted about a large, 50-room Victorian mansion with lodge house, stable block, the largest walled garden we’ve ever seen, and 21 acres of woodland that was up for sale on the Worcestershire / Shropshire border.It’s called Bockleton Court – we think it’s been empty since 2014, and the initial price was around £4 million. We know that in 2015 it went to auction with a reserve price of £1.2 million and failed to sell. It also failed to sell at further auctions with reserve prices of £1 million, and then £800,000. Yes – £800,000. We couldn’t work out why no-one seemed to want it, and so a few of us (including myself and Scarlett of WWOOF UK) got together to come up with a plan to buy it and turn it into an intentional community / centre to host events involving social change / environmental organisations like Lowimpact.org. That price was too much to resist. I know people living in three-bedroom houses in London that would sell for more than that.

    The response

    The response was incredible – we received over 100 emails with expressions of interest, most from people with at least £100k to invest, plus over 60 responses on the blog, and more via social media. It seems that this kind of idea is attractive to a lot of people. Investments would have been for loan stock, which would have been paid back from rents to the co-op, or we could have obtained a mortgage to pay off loan stock.

    I say ‘could have’ because, inexplicably, suddenly there seems to have been an explosion of interest in the property, where previously there was none. We received this a few days ago from the vendor (Birmingham City Council):

    Thank you for your recent interest in the above property. During the course of last weekend the Council has received several competing offers for the property. Given the nature of the offers received, the Council is left with no alternative but to request best and final unconditional offers supported by proof of finance. Should you wish to pursue your interest in the property, the Council invites your best and final offer by a deadline of noon on 18/1/16. For your information and assistance, the following documents are enclosed.

    • Best and Final Offer Form (To be completed and returned)
    • A site plan showing the property edged red
    • A copy of the Legal Title Pack

    Additional information, including full sale particulars and planning statement can be viewed at our website www.birminghampropertyservices.co.uk

    Should you wish to discuss further, please do not hesitate to give me a call.

    We emailed to say that we had pledges well in excess of the asking price, and so would be able to buy the property outright – but that there was absolutely no way that we could make a firm offer this week. Yesterday, we received this:

    Thank you for your offer in respect of the above property. It would be fair to say that the Council has been overwhelmed in terms of the interest shown in this property since it was offered at auction in December, a factor which has been reflected in the number of offers received and the financial level of the bids. Unfortunately, following a full evaluation of the offers received, I regret to advise that the Council will not be pursuing your offer further. A recommendation for sale has been made for acceptance by the Council, and no further offers are now being invited for the property. May I take this opportunity of thanking you for the interest you have shown in this opportunity.

    We have no idea why there has been a sudden surge of interest, but if we’re going to form a community, it’s not going to be in this property. If you’re still interested in joining or starting a community like this, see the ‘What next?’ section below.

    Some thoughts

    Here are some thoughts about some of the points brought up in the communications we’ve received about this proposed project.

    We were asked for more information about the kind of model we had in mind, and would it be similar to the cohousing model. We’d only be interested in the fully-mutual housing co-op model (all members live in the property and all people who live in the property are members), with an asset lock so that members would never be able to benefit from the property’s sale. Plus we’d want it to be accessible to people with no money, and for everyone to be at the same ‘level’ in terms of ownership. That would involve loan stock / mortgage being paid off from rent and all members paying a rent to the co-op.
    That was the situation at Redfield Community, where Scarlett and I used to live, and it worked very well. Everyone would be a part-owner, as a member of the co-op, but would pay rent to the co-op to live there. In effect, it means that all members are landlords and tenants at the same time. On top of that, we’d include a clause that meant that members would pay rent in perpetuity, so that a fund can be built up to buy more properties, and so enlarge the co-op sector. As it stands, when co-ops pay off the mortgage, they have no incentive to attract new members, and they could just live in a nice place for free. Radical Routes have written about this – it’s a problem when it comes to building the co-operative sector.

    We were informed that it would be very difficult to make changes to a Grade II listed building, and that it’s also very difficult to live sustainably in large Victorian houses like this one, as they require so much maintenance and are so difficult to heat. Yes – at Redfield some of us joked about burning the main house down, collecting the insurance money and building straw-bale houses around the property. We were only joking though, honestly. Redfield wasn’t listed, and we all had wood stoves in our rooms, which was cosy. We also provided electricity and hot water via pv and solar thermal panels. Maintenance was a problem, but we didn’t aspire for it to be like a luxury hotel – we were relaxed that it looked a little ‘tired’, as long as the roof didn’t leak or there was no structural damage. But ultimately, if we don’t colonise places like this, it won’t mean that they won’t exist – just that they’ll be luxury flats, which is a shame.

    We were asked whether the community would be vegan, and no, we didn’t have any plans for a vegan community. We’re happy for vegans to be involved of course, but not happy to insist that everyone is vegan. We would almost definitely have kept chickens, for example. Here’s a more in-depth discussion about the ethics of eating meat.

    There were some exasperating exchanges complaining that this was only a project for people with money, and was therefore exclusive. Exclusive would be luxury flats. We were trying to secure it so that it could be set up as a co-operative in perpetuity, and people with no capital could join. I wondered if the people who complained would prefer if we didn’t try to do something like this.

    Several people mentioned that they would prefer a smallholding / self-build. Would you consider investing in the Ecological Land Co-op? You won’t be guaranteed your own plot, but you’ll be helping to provide more land on which smallholders can build a home – plus it’s an investment, not a gift. The maximum investment is £5000 at the moment, until a new share offer is launched. This is the only way we can make more land available for sustainable self-build on smallholdings – development land is usually too expensive for potential smallholders, and you’re not allowed to build in the open countryside.

    What next?

    We’ve had a plan to start some kind of community for a few years now, but it wasn’t at the top of the priority list. When we saw this property, and the price, we moved it to the top of the list because it was such a fabulous opportunity. Our big project for this year is provisionally called ‘Community-supported Everything’ and we’ll be blogging about it soon. We can look at a community project in a more leisurely fashion. We can take our time to get together a group of people, form a co-op and look for a property.

    However, we now have around 100 email addresses of people who would like to form a community / co-op and have money to invest. I’m betting that many of those people would find it very interesting to talk with each other. We can’t just make their email addresses available, of course, and so I’ll be emailing them all with a link to this post. If people want to leave contact details below, this could be a springboard for several new communities / co-ops to start.

    Several people said that they’d been ‘waiting for an opportunity like this’ – but you can make something happen. Here’s a guide.

    See here for basic information about housing co-ops and here for info on intentional communities.

    Then this introduction to starting a housing co-op, from Radical Routes – http://www.radicalroutes.org.uk/publicdownloads/how2housingco-opstepbystep.pdf

    Then the documents on this page, from Somerset Co-operative Services – http://www.somerset.coop/p/briefings-and-resources.html

    And then you’re ready to read these two documents, from:

    Radical Routes – http://www.radicalroutes.org.uk/images/stories/Housing_Co-op_2015_8th_edition.pdf

    and Catalyst Collective – catalyst-guide-to-housing-co-ops

    Then find yourself a gang, persuade them it’s a good idea, contact Catalyst Collective or Somerset Co-operative Services and tell them you’re ready to talk about model rules and registration.

    Good luck!


    The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's


    21 Comments

    • 1Dave Darby January 20th, 2016

      PS this looks good – http://www.beingsomewhere.net/courses
      and there’s lots of information about putting together a ‘one planet’ application to build a home on a smallholding in Wales on the website of the One Planet Council – http://www.oneplanetcouncil.org.uk/

    • 2Cheryl Butterworth January 20th, 2016

      Oh well it wasn’t meant to be…BUT was the catalyst for a sudden gathering of interested people. I am still very interested to join such an adventure and excited to be able to find others who would love to set something up in a similar or different place. Anyone else?

    • 3janey walter January 20th, 2016

      Yes definitely…………100k to invest……. preferably South West/S Midlands……. to be near family……selling family home and up for an adventure my husband and I John

    • 4Dave Darby January 20th, 2016

      PPS feel free to leave your contact details if you want people to get in touch.
      Plus here’s some information starting an intentional community, by the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. Some is US-specific but a lot of it is relevant – http://www.thefec.org/starting-a-community/

    • 5Peter Richardson January 20th, 2016

      Asking everyone interested in this scheme to leave their contact details on this public web page is perhaps a bit rash and an invitation to scammers etc. Instead, could someone volunteer to set up an email discussion list (e.g. a google group) for people to join to discuss this? Then just that one person could leave their email address here and others could contact them to join the discussion group.

    • 6Dave Darby January 20th, 2016

      There isn’t a scheme – it’s just for people to get in touch. I was thinking email addresses – people put email addresses online all the time. I’ve put mine on this blog many times. But yes, an email list would be a good idea.

    • 7Peace January 20th, 2016

      Well, bring on the next possible one then…there will be more and this will happen, for sure!
      Hubby and I are certainly up for being part of an intentional community even though we have no capital to invest, we have other talents that are priceless

    • 8tonytheartist January 20th, 2016

      i am still interested in communities 30 years on from kinda being involved with communes network and visiting lots of communities and doing some wwoofing. my life is a bit more complicated. i am studying an MA in Leicester in Fine Art til sept 2017 its a part time commitment, Originally i was involved with the peace movement but always been interested in alternatives. i would be interested in being involved in a community that was a creative one. i am a sculptor primarily. i dont have an established practise and i am flexible, i hope to be doing something life enhancing. i am primarily east midlands based. Find political scene in this country very depressing! Global warming is already affecting the lives of ordinary people in a major way. Dont want to enjoy retirement just carry on being creative and hopefully work with other people and not be too materialistic. i live along i have a small footprint or so i like to think. dont need a large income but need to be nourished intellectually and creatively. fairly practical. i am single.

    • 9richie788Richie Cotteril January 20th, 2016

      I am involved in a similar group which also came together over an inspiring property on the Welsh Border. We lost it to a cash buyer too! So the lesson is to establish our Co-ops, understand the finances, sell our properties and gather our loan-stock to be ready when the next great place comes up. We also established a Facebook Group (Private) called Seeking Walton which could be opened up a bit now that we have no secrets to keep!
      I sounds like there could be 10 or more co-ops out of a group of 100 interested people.

    • 10Paul Jennings January 20th, 2016

      One of the role for a community which supports everything would, I think, one day be housing. So the notion of setting up a “community” might be extended or adapted to Community Supported Housing. I’m not sure what this might look like, but I do know that communities usually have space/resources/skills which might be used to provide (mutual) aid to those in need…………. if there is a future for society (without the state) this is what it might look like.

    • 11Jonathan O'Farrell January 20th, 2016

      Good to see the discussion on vegan involvement. If anyone is interested, Coastal Community startup, douth-west: http://www.coastalcommunity.org.uk/

    • 12Peter Coville January 21st, 2016

      Hello – can I add my name to the email list? [email protected]. Thanks.

    • 13Susan Hagan January 21st, 2016

      Could I add my name to the list too please.. [email protected] hotmail.co.uk

    • 14Cheryl Butterworth January 21st, 2016

      As there seems to be the possibility of perhaps 10 groups can I suggest that we form groups for different areas? Would that help people to take the next step? I am thinking of the southern part of England (although flexible for the right property / group ethos), but seems others are interested in other areas. Can we start by stating any parts of the country / countries that we would be interested in and go from there?

    • 15Deb Lee January 21st, 2016

      Hi, I’m interested in this too – living in an urban community houseshare at present but looking to move out of the city, where the opportunities to develop a greater relationship with the land and creativity abound, and to find/co-create a community. That’s a great idea Cheryl – I’m in the north east of England, although fairly willing to go where I need to be, but it would be nice to develop something up north. Not averse to looking abroad either.

    • 16theresa January 21st, 2016

      I would like to be added as well please. I live in NI but will move to wherever there is a group of like minded people who want to live self sufficient, off grid causing no harm to the planet. Not in a position to invest money.

    • 17Maaike Geschwindt January 23rd, 2016

      My partner and I have been looking to join a project like this and would be interested in anything within a one hour drive radius from Bristol, as my kids dad lives there. We’re particularly interested in Frome.
      We would ideally like to form a self-build community but would also be interested in any other community as long as it doesn’t have a particular religious ethos and isn’t too dogmatic. We’d like to be as self-sufficient as possible and to live with other families, sharing meals etc.
      Anyone else interested?

    • 18parilia January 24th, 2016

      Hi.
      I only heard about this last week and think it is a shame that you weren’t able to pull it off, though perhaps all the web interest might have caught the attention of some people who wanted it for themselves. If I may, on the back of the interest you’ve generated through this, I would like to tell people about our plans, already being implemented.
      A small group of us are coming together in Northamptonshire/Buckinghamshire. We have a three phase cooperative plan with a workers cooperative as the first phase, followed closely by a buyers coop and then the housing coop. We’re on Word Press,Twitter and Facebook and work under the name Radical Thinkers, Practical Doers, or, more punchily, Radical Practicals. We’re looking for new people to come on board and have a business structure in place. We’re due to launch the cooperative as a CIC Ltd Company and are specifically geared towards creating a low risk space for people with no, or little resources. In fact, it will be a low risk space for everyone.
      You can check out our various sites and pages but be aware, we are still building these up. They are evolving organically and so may not have all your answers now. If you want to chat with us about it and can’t wait though you can contact me on [email protected] or even phone me on 0777 913 0785.
      We are ready to kick this off in 2016. We need people who are ready too.

      Paul

    • 19Peace January 25th, 2016

      Paul, great to read your comment this morning! I’d love to be more involved, what I’m most concerned about is if I were, the commute back to Wellingborough every day would be too much! And we are not in a position to move back again.

    • 20parilia January 25th, 2016

      Hi Peace. We’re in discussion with Wellingborough Council at the moment, but also looking at a base in North Buckinghamshire. If discussions break down then we will be looking at other areas nearby.

    • 21Dave Darby January 26th, 2016

      Sounds fantastic – let us know how you get on. We can promote what you’re up to.

    • 22cornerstonecath January 26th, 2016

      All really exciting – I encourage folks who are serious about moving housing co-op and workers co-op projects forward to come to one of the quarterly Radical Routes gatherings. The next one is 19-21st Feb in Nottingham and info is at http://www.radicalroutes.org.uk/the-next-gathering.html. Dates for future gatherings are at the bottom of the home page. Best of luck everyone!

    • 23John Goodman January 27th, 2016

      Hi Paul. Great to hear about the Radical Practicals – good luck with making the plans a reality. But one cautionary note – a CIC often isn’t the best legal basis for a co-operative, so I hope you’re taking expert co-operative advice on that aspect of the project.
      John

    • 24deborah January 31st, 2016

      Hello,
      We’re looking at some properties in Herefordshire and the Welsh Borders – and would love to hear from others who are ready to take the leap into community living! Please contact us at [email protected].
      Thanks much, Deborah

    • 25Ian Convery March 2nd, 2016

      Hello Deborah, we are looking to develop a low impact, rural, co-housing/co-op in the same area. We already live in a self build housing scheme in central London and now what to move back to the countryside. We are a family of 5 with one of our older kids working at a sustainable living education centre and the other at uni, leaving us with a 10 year old sprite and a small dog called Betty. We are waiting for the sale of a property to be completed and will have funds available very soon. We hope to get something under way within the next 18 months. You can contact me by email if you are interested in having a chat. [email protected] Cheers Ian

    • 26Crabapple Community Housing Co-operative June 22nd, 2017

      Hello, if anyone is interested in moving to an existing housing co-operative in the West Midlands please contact Crabapple.

      We are a thriving housing co-op of 7 adults and 3 teenagers aiming to live as sustainably as possible in our large Georgian house and 20 acres of land.  We are seeking new members! We would like the community to be diverse with a mix of ages, genders, cultures and skills. Currently, 5 of us are aged 50+, so we’d particularly like some younger adults to join us! We’re also keen to find a family, ideally with young children. However, anyone is welcome to apply.

      We’re looking for practical/resourceful people who are child-friendly and able to commit at least 2 days work per week in areas such as eco-renovating the house and outbuildings, managing our woodland, growing and processing fruit and vegetables, running our community-supported market garden, increasing our sustainability and supporting social/environmental movements through hosting events.
      You don’t need capital to join – we are tenants and pay rent.  We share communal evening meals which are vegan/vegetarian, and we share food and fuel bills.

      If you are interested in finding out more, then please get in touch and we will send you more details about the community and our membership process. 

      [email protected]
      crabapplecommunity.wordpress.com

    • 27Mr Jamie Cumberland December 10th, 2018

      I have read your recent blog on the proposed project in the East Midlands and would like to get involved should the project go ahead. I am a 43 year old fitness instructor and theatre technician based in NWLeics and Leics City respectively. Having decided that co-op living is the way I would like to go, I am very excited in being part of a new project and will be looking out for further information. I will have about £15000 in capital and will be looking to rent living space/a room/property. I intend to maintain part time employment and spend the rest of the time helping to build the project. I have experience in the building trade and am a quick learner. I hope your plans come to fruition.

      Regards

      Jamie.

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