Learn how to build a tiny house

Do you dream of building your own home and wonder about off-grid living? Then join us for a 2 week practical course in West Dorset.

In this hands-on course we will build a small house structure in local timber and make it weatherproof using corrugated roofing, natural-fibre insulation, and wooden cladding.  

You will have a go at the various tasks involved in studwork, insulation, fitting windows and doors, cladding and roofing. You will be guided in the use of both hand and power tools. Alongside the building work we will talk about the design process and reflect on how you might decide to build your own. The course intends to build your skillset in no-waste production of affordable housing – while you have a good time. Everyone can do it.

By the end of the course participants will have explored all the basic elements of creating a tiny house, including:

  • Basic building design and understanding the advantages of different layouts
  • Building a simple studframe for a building that fits a 2.5 m x 5.4 m trailer.
  • Sourcing and installing cladding and insulation
  • Sourcing and Installing windows and doors
  • Building a simple roof
  • Using hand and powertools safely and working as a team.
  • Making informed choices about power and energy systems.

As a part of the course special guests will deliver sessions on issues around sustainable Tinyhouse living such as energy and water-use, planning and community building.

Guests include:

Victor Crutchley will take us for a walk through his woods at North Eggardon Farm. He will talk about the diversity of the woodland environment, his way of growing trees for timber and explain what is involved in timber processing. Includes at visit to Eggardon Sawmills. www.eggardonsawmill.com

Pat Bowcock from Ourganics – Evolving Systems will share experiences from her life in off- grid permaculture. Pat is one of the leading lights in permaculture design teaching and is a great guide in the principals of People Care, Fair Share and Earth Care. www.learnpermaculture.com/ourganics-evolving-systems

Chris Rudge, who since 2006 has advised and installed Off Grid power for people and organisations in need of it, will share his knowledge on various sustainable energy systems to heat and power your Tinyhouse. www.offgridsystems.co.uk

The course is run in collaboration with Tim Crabtree of Dorset Woodhub and Wessex Community Assets (WCA)and is part of the Raise the Roof project. It will be led by designer, maker and constructor Karen Hansen.

Karen Hansen has worked in design and make with natural materials in West Dorset for 25 years and her experience in construction is based on carpentry, traditional timber-framing and strawbale building. After reconnecting with her danish roots she now works with material culture in education and to establish communal work practices that enable local action for sustainable living. The structure is built to her design and she is covering all material cost involved. www.karenhansen.co.uk

The practical details

The day program will run from 9.30 – 17.00 and be at a pace where you can both be active and have time to reflect.

Week 1: 26-30 July with guest speaker Victor Cruthcley and Pat Bowcock

  • You will learn about the woodland environment and be introduced to timber growing and selection for construction uses.
  • We will make the panel structures for the house, erect them and carry on with the roof.
  • We hope to celebrate with a topping out ceremony.

Week 2: 23-27 August with guest speaker Chris Rudge and Pat Bowcock

  • You will learn about sustainable material choices and consider circular economic solutions.
  • We will install the windows and doors and the structure will be insulated and made weatherproof. 
  • We will line the interior, making it ready for fitting out and talk about energy systems to run the home.
  • We will celebrate and relax.

Course Fee

The course fee is £720 for both weeks and will cover lunch and all tools and building materials. You also have the option to join us for a single week at £396. We recommend you come equipped with safety boots.

Places are limited, but feel free to get in touch even if you can’t afford the full fee. We are working at finding ways to offer bursaries.

To apply, please complete the booking form at: https://forms.gle/aEtoDUvtGuurAKiw9

Site and Accommodation

The course will take place in Nettlecombe near Powerstock.

You can camp for free in the nearby cider orchard or choose to pay to stay at Ourganics in Litton Cheney (hot showers and kitchen facilities). Please enquire for further details.

WCA was founded in 2005 and is a community benefit society run by locally-based practitioners who help social enterprises in Devon, Dorset and Somerset to access land, finance and other resources. It was a key organisation in the development of community land trusts in the UK and has supported over 100 community enterprises in fields such as local food, renewable energy, employment workspace and affordable housing. The focus is now to develop a model for the construction of affordable housing, linked directly to locally rooted materials and develop a training programme in sustainable construction, that will enable people to engage in the design and practical building of their own homes.

This course is run as a follow on from the Tiny House Course of 2020 which was held at North Eggardon Farm. 14 Dorset based unemployed  people who was offered free training in sustainable construction joined forces with the tutors Karen Hansen, James McLellan and Victor Cructhley to build a Tiny house which is now on its way to be erected as a dwelling for a homeless person in Somerset.

Tim Crabtree- developer of research and innovation within WCA is coordinating the Raise the Roof partnership with Common GroundThe Arts Development CompanyDorset Woodhub and Bridport Town Council, and the project was fortunate to secure funding from the Golden Bottle Trust, Dorset AONB and Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (the latter provided funds from the Education & Skills Funding Agency matched by the European Social Fund) to start off  the process of prototyping initial designs and testing local supply chains. www.wessexca.co.uk/2020/11/raise-the-roof. The Raise the Roof project are developing further pilot projects and training programmes which are under way for later in the year. 

Update on Housing Hub services

Thursday 1st April marks a new chapter in Wessex Community Assets support for community-led housing. Over the last ten years WCA has provided technical assistance to groups wishing to provide affordable homes for their community. Our funding, provided by the Community Housing Fund has now come to an end, and therefore we will no longer be running the Wessex CLT project and the Wessex Community Housing Hub. 

WCA has supported the building of over 200 affordable houses, working with 20 community housing groups, and has been supporting a further 50 which are working towards an additional 500. 

However, we will continue to undertake action research in three areas:

  • Purchase and refurbishment of existing properties linked to raising funds through community share offers,
  • Working with community groups on the development of tiny house projects,
  • And working with partners on the Raise the Roof project, which is linking innovative design of affordable housing to local off-site prefabrication facilities and the use of sustainable, local materials.

WCA will continue to keep partners informed through a quarterly newsletter and post updates on the website. 

Enabling services for community-led housing across Devon, Dorset and Somerset – in particular community land trust and housing association partnerships – will be provided by Middlemarch CIC. If you’re interested in this service, please get in touch with: steve.watson@middlemarchassociates.co.uk

Agile fund available for new community-led housing groups in Dorset and Somerset

The Wessex Community Housing Hub has created a new fund to help community-led housing groups swiftly access small amounts of funding. The fund is limited to £5,000 in total with a cap of no more than £1,000 for any one group. This applies to Dorset (including Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole) and Somerset groups only.

The idea is that new groups could ask for help with one or more of the following:

– Zoom (or similar) subscription and any related support or training,
– Initial group training such as governance issues, running a community organisation, engaging with wider community &/or potential partners,
– Sundry costs involved in hosting ‘real’ (i.e. not virtual) community meetings (if and when these might be possible again) and group sessions – e.g. room hire, speaker expenses and refreshments,
– Promotional costs such as design and print or website development to raise awareness, seek new members and publicise meetings,
– Other sundry costs that may be incurred during the initial stages of a new project.

In some instances, your group may be eligible for some early stage funding from another source, such as your local housing authority. The new fund would not ordinarily replace these other sources of funding, but it may help you to secure certain services more swiftly where time is of the essence; we expect a swift turnaround for decisions, hence ‘agile’ by name!

So, if you think your group or emerging group may benefit from the new agile fund, please contact the Hub Community Housing Adviser, Colin McDonald: colin.mcdonald@wessexca.co.uk

A change of leadership for our community housing services

Statement from Wessex Community Assets and Middlemarch LLP to our network of local authorities, registered providers, community groups, housing enablers, professional advisers and others.

Wessex Community Assets (WCA)[1] and Middlemarch LLP[2] have worked together for the last 10 years to deliver the Wessex CLT Project (WCLTP), a support service for community led housing (CLH) partnerships between CLTs and RPs[3].  The WCLTP has supported the construction of 200 community-led homes and has a further 500 in the pipeline. More recently, WCA received funding from Community Led Homes to develop a Dorset & Somerset enabling hub for community-led housing.

The board of WCA and Middlemarch LLP have jointly agreed that, with the WCLTP now well-established and the enabling hub needing ongoing support to ensure its future, the best option is to transfer responsibility for these activities to Middlemarch from the end of March 2021.  This will allow WCA to focus on its mission to support communities across Devon, Dorset and Somerset in building a regenerative economy rooted in common ownership.

This strategic change also aligns with Middlemarch’s purpose which is “To help establish a thriving community-led housing group in every community”.  Accordingly, Middlemarch is transferring its current activities to a new Community Interest Company – Middlemarch Community Led Housing CIC – to take forward the CLT Project and the Dorset & Somerset hub. The board of the CIC will comprise Alison Ward, Steve Watson (both executive directors), Fiona Bevan and Liz Maunder (both non-executive directors as well as being existing or former directors of WCA).

To summarise:

  • Middlemarch CIC will assume full responsibility for the WCLTP and the Dorset & Somerset hub from the start of April 2021. The Dorset & Somerset hub will therefore become part of Middlemarch CIC’s technical service. Action towards this has started with the creation of a Transition Team to ensure a smooth transfer of responsibilities.
  • Through the hub, Middlemarch CIC will provide support for the whole range of CLH models in Dorset, Somerset and the adjacent unitary of Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole. The trading name WCLTP will be discontinued.
  • Wherever they are located, CLTs currently being supported by the Wessex CLT Project will continue to be supported by the same advisers as at present: Alison Ward, Steve Watson and Jay Lambe. The hub’s adviser – Colin McDonald – will join Middlemarch’s team.
  • Because a) government support for hubs, and b) WCA’s service level agreements with local authorities all come to an end in March 2021[4], surpluses from Middlemarch’s programme of CLT/RP partnerships will be used to maintain both initiatives. A new Technical Adviser post will be restructured from two existing posts to ensure that the necessary skills and capacity are in place to do so.
  • This is an exciting opportunity for as many communities as possible in the sub-region to benefit from Middlemarch’s experience in delivering financially self-sustaining community housing services. In due course, as Middlemarch’s financial position becomes stronger and demand for community housing continues to grow, the intention is to expand the service, supporting a larger and even more diverse range of projects.

Please contact any of the following WCA and Middlemarch personnel if you have any questions:

WCA: Dominic Acland: dominic.acland@wessexca.co.uk

Middlemarch: Alison Ward and Steve Watson: alison.ward@middlemarchasscoaites.co.uk or alison.ward@wessexca.co.uk, and steve.watson@middlemarchassociates.co.uk or steve.watson@wessexca.co.uk




[4]Hubs have all been encouraged to commit funds before the end of March 2021 and no announcement of the renewal of the Community Housing Fund has been made.

Raise the Roof

Wessex Community Assets is working with the architects Assemble Studio in an innovative partnership – Raise the Roof – focused on affordable and ecological housing. Assemble won the Turner Art Prize for the development of the Granby Workshop in Liverpool. Working also with Common Ground, The Arts Development Company, Dorset Woodhub and Bridport Town Council, WCA recently organised a successful course in sustainable construction, as part of the process of prototyping initial designs and testing local supply chains.

We were fortunate to secure funding from the Golden Bottle Trust, Dorset AONB and Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (the latter provided funds from the Education & Skills Funding Agency matched by the European Social Fund), and this funded the participation of 14 unemployed people in the 10 day course, which took place over three weeks. The result was a tiny house for a homelessness charity that WCA is working with (to give to an entrenched rough sleeper who doesn’t want to live in a bricks and mortar house).

WCA was formed in 2005 to address three interlocking crises in our sub-region of Devon, Dorset and Somerset – the lack of affordable housing, the lack of training and decent jobs, and the unsustainable nature of present production and consumption.

Over the last 15 years, WCA has supported over 70 community-led housing initiatives, many of which have now created affordable homes for people on low incomes. Around 300 houses have been built, with another 500 in the pipeline. The majority of these houses have been built in partnership with housing associations, and have met prevailing standards for energy efficiency. However, it is now accepted that these standards are insufficient to address the climate crisis and the ecological crisis that we face – so the Raise the Roof project seeks to go further, and asks three key questions:

  • Can we imagine new ecological designs and construction methods for the houses we want to build – and ensure they are affordable?
  • Can we draw on sustainable materials that flow out of local regenerative forestry and agriculture? 
  • Can we build in such a way that we help maintain and create jobs within a regenerative local economy? 

Wessex ran the tiny house course with Victor Crutchley, whose family has farmed for generations near Powerstock. Recently, he refurbished an old barn at North Eggardon Farm which was used as a base for the tiny house course.

Dorset Woodhub is now exploring the possibility of developing a timber workspace there (a “woodhub” – a combination of training space and co-working space). Victor already has about 25 tenants in workspaces across the estate – many of them carpenters, designer-makers, potters and artists. He also has working woodlands, and a strong interest in regenerative agriculture.

We are also planning, as a next stage, the development of a couple of affordable self-build projects – 4 or 5 in each, done on a group basis with a training element. Longer term we hope to secure an option to develop 50 or so houses on the 760 home Vearse Farm site next to Bridport.

The community in Bridport is facing the consequences of long term economic trends: including a shift away from agriculture as a key local employer, the cessation of the processing of local materials (e.g. timber, stone, hemp and flax), and the reduction in scale of local manufacturing capacity (focused in particular on the making of rope and net). There is an accelerating shift towards providing services to retired incomers and visitors, and this has resulted in an increase in care, hospitality and retail jobs and a reduction in employment in land-based enterprises, manufacturing and associated business services.

The effect of this shift has been an increase in low wage, and often seasonal, jobs; a sharp increase in house prices, due to large numbers of incoming retirees, buy-to-let landlords and second homeowners; and young people being forced to move away, for lack of housing and employment options.

So, even without COVID, Bridport, like so many other towns, sits at a crossroads. Does it become focused on retirement and hospitality or can we re-imagine and re-invigorate the key industries of agriculture, manufacturing and construction/property maintenance, leading to an increase in better, paid, higher skilled jobs; more affordable housing; and a more sustainable and resilient local economy?

The Raise the Roof project aims to show how the economy of this typical small town can be transformed through linking the primary production of key sustainable resources (timber and “woody fibres”- flax and hemp), the development of new processing and fabrication infrastructure (a makerspace and a Woodhub) and the design and prototyping of ecological and affordable housing. 1000 houses are to be built in the area in the next 5 years, and the cost of materials alone will be around £90 million. At present, none of this will be spent on locally sourced materials. Raise the Roof aims to transform the local construction and property maintenance sectors, through the creation of local supply chains for sustainable materials and the development of infrastructure for the processing of those materials, the pre-fabrication of building components, and the training of local people to create skilled, living wage jobs.

Reform of the Planning System

Earlier this month the Government issued two consultation papers with proposals to significantly reform the planning system with an ambition for new style Local Plans to be in place by the end of this Parliament. Our Community Housing Advisor, Colin McDonald, takes a look at what’s in the consultation papers and what the Government are hoping to achieve.

The White Paper, ‘Planning for the Future’ is a glossy document setting out the Governments overall ambitions for reforming the planning system. You can find it on the Government website here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/907647/MHCLG-Planning-Consultation.pdf

There’s also a more technical paper (much less glossy!) ‘Changes to the Current Planning System’ which sets out some immediate proposals – changes the Government can make fairly swiftly ahead of any new legislation needed for all the reforms contained in the white paper. You can find it on the Government website here:

There’s no doubt that the Governments proposals are ambitious. They have a target of producing an additional 300,000 new homes every year and 1 million by the end of the current Parliament. In order to do this, they want to speed up delivery and that means removing a lot of the current bureaucracy and uncertainty in the system. One of the aims is to make Local Plans more data based and available digitally in a map-based format. The Government also believes that a more digital approach will be more accessible.

The White Paper proposes three types of land – ‘protected’, ‘renewal’ and ‘growth’. Local Plans will be shorter, determining which land falls into which of these three categories. Where development is allowed there will be pre-set rules for what form it could take and planning applications will be all about whether the proposal fits in with these rules rather than the details that are currently considered.

Neighbourhood planning will still play an important role in the local community determining what is acceptable, but future Neighbourhood Plans will need to change in format in order to fit in with the new system. One suggestion is that the new system could even cope with different building codes at an even smaller local level, perhaps having a set of local rules for a single street.

The Government want the new system to encourage beauty. They want new schemes to make a positive contribution to the built environment and not just ‘do no net harm’. They also want all new homes to meet the carbon neutral ambition by 2050, eliminating the need to ‘retrofit’ greener components later.

Another thing they want to encourage is more smaller and medium size builders and this includes a proposal in the technical paper to temporarily increase the national threshold requiring an affordable housing contribution from 10 to either 40 or 50 dwellings.

The White Paper proposes doing away with planning contributions (section 106 requirements) such as affordable housing and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL, which has been adopted by most of the planning authorities in the Wessex area) altogether. Instead there will be a nationally set Infrastructure Levy, although any affordable housing produced on-site will be taken into account.

The technical paper also proposes a new requirement for a quarter of all affordable housing currently required by planning obligation to be the new ‘First Homes’. First Homes are a form of discounted market dwelling aimed at first time buyers, where the discount has to be a minimum of 30%. The consultation suggests allowing local planning authorities to determine that the discount has to be higher – at either 40% or 50%.

The technical paper also proposes amending the way in which Local Authorities undertake their overall housing needs assessments (which effectively set the house building targets for Local Plans), including a revised formula which is intended to ensure that nationally the sum total of all such assessments (once they’re all in place) meets (or exceeds) the Governments target of 300,000 new homes per year.

There’s more, but those are the notable features. Also, in almost all cases both consultations set out either options or variations and often they describe alternative approaches. So, there’s a lot in there and it certainly would, if it all goes ahead, transform the planning system as we currently know it. Of course the devil is in the detail and part of the purpose of such consultations is to help Governments refine proposals so that they stand a better chance of producing the intended outcomes. I’m not providing any commentary here – just trying to highlight some of the key features set out by the Government in the two papers.

Some of these proposals, if they go ahead, could be implemented fairly quickly – for example by amending the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Others would require new legislation. The technical consultation paper ‘Changes to The Current Planning System’ tends to over the former and proposes some measures that would effectively make some transitional amendments prior to the ’big bang’ that new planning law would usher in.

Various bodies – such as the National CLT Network and the Chartered Institute of Housing – will be making detailed responses. If you are a member of any such national body you may want to send any comments you have to them well before the consultation response deadlines, whether or not you want to send in your own response. What are those deadlines? It’s eight weeks, ending 1st October, for the technical paper and 12 weeks, ending 29th October, for the White Paper.

Reclaiming Rent, Reclaiming the Commons

An article by Tim Crabtree, one of the directors of WCA, published in issue 29 of STIR magazine. For more articles about the new economy, you can subscribe to STIR here.

“Community-led housing is a mere pimple when compared with the scale of the housing crisis”. These were the words of a national policy researcher at a community-led housing event last year. The researcher argued that we should be focusing on housebuilding by local authorities, housing associations, and developers. Even if we were to see higher numbers of self-build, housing co-ops, co-housing, and community land trusts, it would be meaningless when set against the scale of the problem. The sector has merely created a tiny niche, valuable to the few (mainly rural) communities they’ve supported, in a way that helps local authorities and housing associations make a small dent on their own targets.

I was struck by the derogatory metaphor of the pimple and wondered how one might engage with the type of thinking that elicited it. The researcher’s argument probably goes something like this: there is a need for at least three million affordable houses in the UK. This target translates into 300,000 homes built each year. The current estimated annual pipeline of houses built through community-led housing initiatives is 15,000. As this is just 5% of the annual target, community housing is clearly not able to make a significant contribution to our national housing needs.

We could respond by arguing that the current estimate of 15,000 could be increased to 150,000 with a series of significant policy changes. It might take five to ten years to create this shift, but the experience in other countries such as Austria, Denmark, and the Netherlands show it’s achievable. One example would be allowing local authorities to purchase land at agricultural value (£8,000 an acre) rather than at ‘market’ value (at least £1 million an acre), and then sorting out planning and infrastructure before inviting in a range of organisations including smaller building companies, housing associations, and community groups.

Clearly, then, there are ways of addressing the UK’s housing crisis in different ways, but still there is this resistance to change, including from those that one would expect to be backing change. Stephen Hill, a trustee of the National CLT Network, highlights this issue in a recent blog post, writing: “Terms like ‘niche’, ‘small is beautiful’, ‘alternative’ (to what?) are all tried and tested tactics used by those already in positions of power and influence for defining ‘the other’, and then marginalising ‘the other’ as a perceived threat to their interests: ‘the other’, in this case, being all of us citizens.”

One of the problems is that in the UK, community-led housing has emerged as practical, citizen-led action, rather than initially being generated as proposals by academics and think tanks. This challenges a prevalent attitude within the policy community that ideas come first, and then are put into practice before being further refined by the thinkers amongst us. A good example of this is the theory of change developed for the Friends Provident Foundation by Laybourn-Langton & Jacobs in 2017.

However, in the case of community housing, policy has followed practice by ‘outsiders’ in civil society organisations, contrary to this theory, which asserts that change begins with ‘insiders’ in academic and policy institutions. Looking back at the development of community land trusts in the UK, starting around 2001, the focus was very much on how to bring these practical approaches from the US and elsewhere to our own context. After these developments, policy followed in the wake of the early ‘demonstration’ projects, many of which my own organisation, Wessex Community Assets (WCA), were involved with.

So, responding to the policy maker referred to earlier, what if we were to ask: What does community-led housing stand for? What are the individual projects examples of? Why did communities feel a need to develop these practical projects in the face of enormous obstacles? 

As a community-led housing practitioner, we might point to the following features of community-led housing: communities taking back control; housing that is appropriate for a particular place and a particular community; democratic ownership and governance; communities capturing the unearned uplift in value when land is granted planning permission for housing; holding land in trust, in perpetuity, to prevent unfair rent extraction; helping to make housing affordable in perpetuity; reducing financialisation and asset speculation in the housing sector, leading to a more balanced economy in the UK; and increasing opportunities for self-provisioning through self-build and self-finish.

From this perspective, community-led housing is not a ‘pimple’ but an aspiration for all new housing in the UK. The individual projects on the ground point us in a certain direction, they show us what’s possible. The researcher from the policy institute was claiming that community-led housing is meaningless, because they were seeing it through a particular lens. They have a figure in mind (300,000 per annum), set 15,000 alongside it and then conclude that it would be impossible to ‘scale up’ the sector sufficiently to make a significant contribution. 

How do we get beyond this? How do we start to see community-led housing as significant and meaningful? How can we present it in a way that changes the way that policy makers and others in the housing sector see the individual projects that exist or are emerging within the sector? One way is to understand that all types of community-led housing initiatives are addressing the underlying issue of rent.

Monopoly Rent

“Land by its nature is scarce. A site in Mayfair cannot be reproduced like a pair of shoes. The monopoly rent it commands plays no productive role. It acts as a private tax on the productive economy. The question has always been what can be done about it.”

These were the words of the late industrial economist Robin Murray, raising a question at the heart of efforts to build a new economy, including community-led housing. Murray pointed out that the problem of rent is largely overlooked, pointing to the financial crash of 2008: “It was a bubble based on fictitious expectations about the future value of land rents. Little attention has been paid to the source of the problem – the very existence and control of ground rent itself.” 

Murray also outlined the three ways that have been used to deal with the problem. Firstly, tax the increases in ground rent – the so-called betterment. Secondly, socialise ground rent through compulsory purchase by the state. And lastly, social economy approaches, especially community land trusts and garden cities with a common freehold.

He had a particular interest in the social and solidarity economy, and supported the work of Wessex Community Assets as one of the organisations that has brought the community land trust approach to the UK. This work has been on-going for two decades and provides an illustration of how the community-led housing sector has developed over the last 20 years. 

From 2000-2010, WCA pioneered the development of ‘stand-alone’ Community Land Trusts (CLT), working particularly in Devon and Dorset. These initiatives included High Bickington Community Property Trust, Buckland Newton CLT, and Worth Matravers CLT. This work was a ‘proof of concept’ that, alongside the work of a small number of other pioneers, led to the creation of a national CLT fund, a national clt network, and a legal definition of CLTs in the 2008 Housing and Regeneration Act.

From 2011-2020, WCA developed a ‘CLT-Housing Association Partnership’ model, which sought to address the challenges that stand-alone CLTs faced in accessing development finance and project managing complex construction projects. With funding from Carnegie-UK Foundation, Tudor Trust, and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, WCA was able to create an enabling hub providing support to CLTs in Devon, Dorset, and Somerset. 

For a brief period, from 2013-2015, this model worked well, with 12 CLT projects completed and fees reclaimed from four housing association partners. However, since 2015 the time taken to complete CLT projects has increased from three years to six years, primarily because of increasing difficulties in finding land, securing planning permission, and drawing down capital grants. This has led to a wider questioning about whether there has been an over-reliance on one particular model of community-led housing. 

For example, working with housing associations shifts the focus from affordable home ownership to social rented housing. Of course, there is high demand for genuinely affordable rented accommodation, and for some communities this will be the priority need. However, there has been less focus on the potential for ‘intermediate market’ housing solutions, for those in housing need but who are ineligible for housing association properties. When CLTs were introduced to the UK, the initial aim was to lease land to limited equity co-ops or co-housing groups, which would then develop the properties.

There is also the issue that CLT-partnerships lead to housing associations securing the capital grants for the housing and then holding these assets on their balance sheets. As a result, the CLT trust sector has not been able to build its strength as an independent movement and is dependent on revenue grant funding.

For Wessex’s third decade of innovation in housing, while acknowledging the benefits that have resulted from working with housing associations, we propose to address the limitations of the stand-alone CLT and CLT-RP partnership model.

Firstly, we have created the Wessex Community Housing Hub, which will provide support to the full range of community-led housing approaches, including affordable self-build, co-housing, co-operatives, and almshouses. We are also working with partners in Mendip and Torbay to develop a purchase and refurbishment model, linked to social lettings agencies working with people experiencing homelessness. This model could be extended for a wide variety of groups in housing need. WCA will explore whether, in some cases, it could take on the role of raising finance and purchasing the dwellings, thus building up an asset base of its own.

WCA is also exploring the potential to create micro-houses for two purposes. Firstly, to provide appropriate accommodation for entrenched rough sleepers who do not want a ‘bricks and mortar’ solution; secondly, to provide low-impact dwellings for regenerative agroforestry smallholdings.

Another part of our development is exploring the feasibility of WCA creating a secondary structure, with Registered Provider status, co-owned by community housing group partners. The aim will be to provide professional support and access to finance at the development phase of community housing projects, and for the housing assets created to be co-owned – on an equity-share basis – by the community-led groups that are supported. In addition, we are exploring the feasibility of a mutual home ownership society (MHOS) model of development, as advocated in the original proposals for developing community land trusts. For example, Yorspace has raised £420,000 through community shares to secure land which will be held in trust and then leased to a MHOS co-operative.

With 28 community housing hubs now established across England and Wales, there is significant innovation happening in the sector. In many practical ways, community-led housing is addressing the underlying problems that fuel the housing crisis and finding ways to counter the undermining of the social and the environmental elements of our lives by the mainstream economy. Hopefully, the sector can build stronger alliances with policy makers, local authorities, and other supportive organisations, and reach that total of 150,000 homes a year by the end of this decade.

Tiny Home course in July-August – apply now!

Wessex Community Assets is working with partners in West Dorset to offer a free training programme this autumn. The course will introduce participants to sustainable construction, and basic timber and carpentry skills, through the building of a ‘tiny house’. 

The project coordinator, Tim Crabtree, of WCA is excited to be inviting 14 Dorset-based people to join the course: “Participants will work with six other trainees on one of two five-day courses, and also attend three one-day sessions where they will learn additional skills as well as receiving advice on future training, employment, or business start-up opportunities.”

This programme is linked to the Raise the Roof project, that has involved local organisations such Bridport Town Council, Common Ground and the Arts Development Company working with the architects Assemble Studio to create designs for affordable housing using sustainable materials grown in Dorset. Tim Crabtree continued: “The tiny house courses are an opportunity to prototype these new designs. When completed, the tiny house will be donated to a homelessness charity to provide accommodation for an entrenched rough sleeper.”

WCA has secured course funding through Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership under a scheme called Community Training Grants, which is co-financed by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the European Social Fund (ESF). The programme will offer skills, training, and employment opportunities for individuals who are unemployed or economically inactive. No previous experience is necessary to do the course.

The courses are taking place in a workspace provided by local farmer Victor Crutchley in West Dorset, with timber sourced and processed from his own woodlands. The skills learned on the course will be applicable to a wide range of contexts, from sustainable construction, to joinery such as doors and windows, to designing and making furniture. The course will include a basic introduction to building design, as well as forestry and timber processing.

The course tutors include Karen Hansen, a furniture designer and constructor who has worked with natural materials in West Dorset for 25 years, and Alice Blogg, one of the country’s foremost female designers in wood, and craftsmen Adrian Janssen and James McClennan. The course coordinator, Tim Crabtree, is the founder of a number of local social enterprises including Dorset’s farmers’ markets, the Local Food Links school meals service, Dorset Community Energy, and Bridport Area Development Trust.

Alice said: “This is exactly the kind of course I would have wanted to take part in when I was thinking about becoming a designer-maker. It’s a wonderful opportunity for local people to begin a fantastic and inspiring career.”

By the end of the course participants will have explored all the basic elements of creating a tiny house, including:

  • Basic building design and understanding the advantages of different layouts
  • An introduction to timber growing and selection for construction uses
  • Building a simple stud frame for a building approx 2.55m x 5m.
  • Building a roof
  • Cladding and insulating the walls
  • Installing windows and doors
  • Using hand tools safely and working as a team.

Following the Tiny House course, participants will be supported to explore options for further training in construction and carpentry, or advised on possible employment opportunities. The course will be made up of two cohorts, taking part in the build from either Monday 21st September – Friday 25th September, or Monday 28th September – Friday 2nd October.

To apply, please fill out this form by noon on Tuesday 1st September. To apply, you must live within Dorset (this includes Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole). For further information and eligibility, contact Tim Crabtree on tim.crabtree@wessexca.co.uk. For media enquiries or comment, contact hannah@stirtoaction.com.

May webinars: Different Types of Community-led Housing

Last month we were really pleased to offer four webinars, as part of the Wessex Community Housing Hub, all about models of community-led housing. We were joined by four guest speakers who shared their experiences, telling us about group formation, how they found a site, building the homes, and ultimately going on to live in their community-led housing. If you weren’t able to make the webinars, or didn’t hear about them, now is your chance to catch up! We’ve uploaded them all here, including a brief introduction video, and hope you find them a valuable resource.

(Please note they are live recordings, so there are a few glitches and pauses as we sorted out the technology, which cannot be amended. If you have any questions about community-led housing, do get in touch with our Community Housing Adviser, Colin McDonald, who will be able to answer or signpost you to further resources: colin.mcdonald@wessexca.co.uk).


Housing Co-ops

Guest speaker: Trevor Houghton, Somewhere Housing Co-op in Bristol.


Guest speaker: Max Comfort, Springhill Cohousing in Stroud.


Guest speaker: Anna Hope, Ashley Vale Action Group in Bristol.

Community Land Trust

Guest speaker: Keith Jenkin, Lyme Regis CLT.

Learn how to build a Tiny Home with Raise the Roof

Raise the Roof, a collaborative project, is running a training programme in Dorset. To find out more and get in touch, find the details below!

Are you interested in a career in sustainable construction?

There is a pressing need to build more affordable homes, but at the same time we need to create a low carbon, sustainable construction sector, using local materials such as timber, clay and straw.
Over the last two years, a group of local partners have been exploring how we might link the use of local materials – in particular, timber – to affordable housing. We are now organising a training programme, offering local people the opportunity to learn skills in sustainable construction – in particular, timber framing and carpentry. We will also be exploring design skills and how to combine wood with other local materials such as fibre, bio-composites and clay.

We are particularly keen to offer places to women, people over 50 and to young people not in
education or training. We are offering free places to people meeting the criteria for selection.

The programme

Participants will be offered the choice of a place on one of two courses, where we will learn how to build a micro-house (a low impact dwelling, sometimes referred to as a tiny house). Once built this will be donated to Elim Connect, a homelessness charity working with entrenched rough sleepers who have requested this kind of accommodation. These courses will be held over 5 days in September and October. There will be 3 additional one day sessions, offering further practical skills training in the morning and advice and guidance on further training and employment opportunities.

We are working with a team of local builders, carpenters and designer-makers, including Karen Hansen, Alice Blogg, James McLellan, Adrian Janssen, Anna Lena Hahn and Jeremy Snell. For further information, and to register your interest, please email: tim.crabtree@wessexca.co.uk.

Raise the Roof is a partnership between Wessex Community Assets, Assemble, Common Ground, Dorset AONB, Dorset Wood Hub, Bridport Town Council, and The Arts Development Company. (The photo belongs to Assemble).