During the year we progressed the Wessex Community Housing Hub, supported by funding from Community Led Homes. We established and supported an Advisory Panel, employed a Community Housing Advisor, Colin McDonald, and supported 25 projects. Because of COVID, public meetings were not possible, but we delivered a series of online workshops attended by or subsequently watched by over 700 people.
Our focus on innovation in the community housing sector meanwhile continued to bear fruit. The Hub allowed us to be much more proactive in seeking out groups needing support at an earlier stage, rather than just being reactive to requests to implement our (successful) CLT/HA partnership model. The resulting pipeline therefore includes a wider range of scheme types, including co-housing, alms houses and purchase & refurbishment. The latter include projects in Torbay and one in Mendip. In Torbay, we have been working with a community housing group called Growing Homes Torbay, which has developed out of a series of workshops led by Wessex over an 18 month period. In Mendip, we have been working with The Connected Housing First project, which supports people at risk of homelessness, and the Key Ring Social Letting Agency. In both areas, the aim is to support community share offers which raise funds to purchase and refurbish properties that can be rented to people in housing need.
We have continued to be a key partner within the Raise the Roof project, working with organisations in the south west as well as the nationally-recognised architects Assemble Studio (winners of the Turner Contemporary Art Prize). The aim of the project is develop new designs and construction methods for affordable housing, to draw on sustainable materials that flow out of regenerative forestry and agriculture, and to build localised skills, knowledge and employment – through the development of local fabrication facilities and local supply chains. In March 2021 we were delighted to win the support of the Friends Provident Foundation to progress this work further over the coming two years.
Our Community Enterprise work continued through the year as we supported Parracombe Community Trust to finalise its business plan and launch a share offer which was matched by the Power to Change Community Shares Booster programme. The offer raised £124,000 to establish a new village shop in this remote Exmoor community.
Whilst the Covid pandemic disrupted most of our face-to-face operations, we moved as much activity as possible online and were able to maintain support to diverse communities across the counties of Devon, Dorset and Somerset. We were heartened by the way that communities came together at this time of crisis and adapted to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people. We continue to be grateful to The Nationwide Foundation, not only for the financial support to our projects but for the concern shown for our management team and the practical support provided during the pandemic.