With 200 affordable homes already changing the lives of locals, Cornwall's Community Land Trust want help to do more

Cornwall Community Land Trust is tirelessly working with residents and other local bodies to create truly affordable homes across the county for local people, combating ever-increasing house prices and the widespread popularity of visitor-owned second homes.

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Director Andrew George sums up the impact of Cornwall Community Land Trust’s vital work for local people: “It changes lives for the better. I believe we make the difference between families barely existing and being able to live bigger lives and to a greater potential. In less than ten years we’ve produced more than 200 homes. These are by the community, for the community and for ever. CLT homes offer a much lower cost, more secure, more spacious, more fuel efficient and all-round happier option for local families who frankly shouldn’t be treated so badly by a housing market which often pushes them to the margins of their own communities. Our volunteers, our voluntary Board members, our partners and supporters all feel rightly proud of what we do. And they want us to do more of it. Helping many more families and individuals in more communities. We’ve shown we can do it. We now want others to help us to do more of it.”

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Cornwall Community Land Trust (CLT) was established in 2007 and has since been developing quality housing at affordable prices for local people, working directly with communities to respond to their specific needs. With house prices and rents increasingly forcing many away from the areas they’ve grown up in, the CLT also works to ensure local communities don’t become fragmented by requiring applicants for its houses have clear family or work connections with the area.

Jo Mountain, 27, husband Matthew and their two children Mason, 4, and 6-month-old Seth live in a house at Cornwall CLT’s most recent development, on Briar Close in St Teath. Jo has lived in the village for five years and works at the local pre-school, while Matthew has lived in St Teath for 20 years and has close family connections there. “Seth is the youngest of 18 grandchildren in the area,” explained Jo, “and they all go to the local pre-school and school, which is really lovely. This opportunity is priceless for us; we never thought we’d be in the position where we’d have a stable home for our family and we’re now paying less to buy than we paid for our last rented house.”

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However, had it not been for the life-changing work of Cornwall Community Land Trust, the family’s situation would have been very different. “Before, we were renting a small house in St Teath which was fine for us as a couple, but not with children and it wasn’t somewhere we felt we could call home or where we could see ourselves staying” said Jo. “When the landlord told us they were going to sell, we were desperate as we couldn’t find anything affordable to rent in the area where we’d built our lives and were worried about being made homeless. We put our name down for everything we could find, including registering with the council, and never imagined we’d be able to buy.”

“Then, when Help to Buy South West sent us the details of the Cornwall CLT development, letting us know that the build was starting and we could apply for a property, it was life changing. The houses were priced at 56% of open market value and when we were told we were eligible to buy one we couldn’t believe it. We feel very lucky and I’m still amazed to be in a spacious three-bedroomed house we’ve been able to buy, and one with such a lovely, quality finish. As they grow up our children are going to play with their friends here, go to the local school together and I can keep my job here. So it’s not just about the affordability it’s about the community that has been created and kept together. If anyone has the opportunity for community-led housing I’d say definitely go for it”, said Jo. “It’s absolutely brilliant and Cornwall CLT is showing what can be achieved.”

Cornwall CLT began life as a pilot scheme project with Cornwall Rural Housing Association (CRHA) to see whether the CLT model, popular in the US, could be a viable way to deliver affordable homes in the region. The two organisations worked in partnership to develop a number of successful housing schemes, including one in St Ewe where Cornwall CLT helped to create St Ewe Affordable Homes Ltd (SEAHL) and their partnership with CRHA to make the development happen. The six houses are a mix of four discounted owner occupier homes, managed by St Ewe Affordable Homes, and two for rent managed by CRHA. Rosanna Young, a 33-year-old nurse, has lived in one of the SEAHL homes there with her fiancé Reuben Collins since the development was completed in 2011.

“I didn’t think we’d be able to afford to buy anywhere. After university in Bournemouth, I found it really hard to move back to Cornwall and find anything that was affordable, especially as I was looking for somewhere near the hospital in Truro”, said Rosanna. “It would probably have taken us ten years to save up the deposit we’d need, but we can now think about getting married and having children, it’s a life-changing thing. And because you have to have local connections, it preserves and grows the local community; it’s a really good way of building housing.”

Cornwall CLT has been involved in the building of more than 200 homes across the county across around twenty developments, either directly or assisting smaller CLTs. In doing so, explains Helen Downing, the CLT’s Development Manager, community engagement and consultation from the outset and throughout is key. “It starts from day one. Either a group approaches us to say they’re thinking of setting up a CLT and we’ll help them to work out if that’s the right thing, then help them establish. Or, we may identify that there’s high housing need in a particular area or may have been offered a piece of land – we’ll then discuss this with the community through the Parish Council initially. Whichever way we come to a scheme it’ll always put the community first.”

Cornwall CLT then carries out the negotiations on land purchase and partners with contractors for development, all of which is highly cost-conscious to ensure that not only are prices kept affordable well below open market rates for future residents, but without sacrificing quality the homes are also affordable to live in and maintain.

Also new to the St Teath development are 27-year-old Keziah Mannering, a part-time teacher at Padstow Primary School, fiancé Callum Wilson, a PE teacher at Wadebridge School, and baby Albie. “I lived at my mum’s house for three and a half years, trying desperately to save for a mortgage”, said Keziah. “Planning on starting a family it was important to me to have a home in St Teath as my mum, gran, brother and sister live here, but I thought there was no way I would ever be able to afford anything.”

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Keziah recalled when she found out about the proposed development: “I went to the very first planning meeting for these homes in the community hall, four years before they were built. We were very lucky to be accepted. It opened up the rest of our lives, we could have a baby and it’s given us a great quality of life. We’re so happy. I went to primary school with most of the people here, and lots of us now have our own children who will go to the local primary school and be friends, having the same experience growing up here as we did, which is great for the community. This type of community-led housing is affordable and allows communities to stay and grow together – more houses are needed for people like us who can’t get on the property ladder otherwise.”

Also a huge positive for projects like this, says Keziah, is that “the builders all live locally and this development has given them two years’ work, meaning it hasn’t just benefited those moving in. The land was also bought from a local farmer, so it’s been a win-win all around for the community.”

The CLT’s work is so crucial to Cornwall, says Helen Downing, because “there are very high house prices and low wage levels. Many people are in the situation that where they’ve grown up, through no fault of their own, they may never be able to afford a house, even when they have good jobs. That’s where we come in to try and bridge the gap for people by going into particularly higher-house-value areas and offering them a chance to get on the ladder with a significant discount on the open market rate. This allows them to stay where they want to be to live and work.”

The effort has been boosted recently with the news that Cornwall has received £5m of funding to scale up community-led housing development. This follows the March 2016 budget, when it was announced that additional stamp duty on second homes, a significant issue contributing to rising property prices in the county, would be used to pay for the creation of much-needed affordable homes. With the benefit of this funding, said Helen, “we’re looking to double our output because the demand for community-led housing is there. We’ve got a proven model and we just need to keep expanding it.” Those who have changed their lives for the better through such schemes, opening up opportunities they felt were previously well out of reach, would certainly agree.

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http://www.cornwallclt.org