Innovative homes for creatives at the heart of town
The story so far of the Stourbridge Powerhaus Project
Stourbridge Powerhaus is a new £1.5m community led housing scheme on Enville Street in Stourbridge in the West Midlands. When completed it will have 11 new affordable homes for creative young people - 5 one bed homes and 6 two bed homes - all built to Passivehaus(1) quality. The scheme has been developed by Stourbridge Community Land Trust which is a subsidiary of the Stourbridge Community Development Trust. The homes will be kept as affordable homes owned by the community in perpetuity.
How did the project come about?
Stourbridge Community Development Trust were conscious of the housing challenges in the town. These included a need to create more local economic opportunities for young people, particularly creatives, to keep them living in the town. There is also real housing need especially for affordable housing and to tackle homeslessness; a Council Housing Needs Analysis recently showed a need for additional homes particularly for single and 2 people families. House prices are high in the town. Plus, the Community Development Trust is committed to tackling climate change.
Members of the Community Development Trust were linked into a number of national organisations including Locality and the National Community Land Trust Network, and through these contacts they went to visit other community led housing schemes around the country and began to see the potential for a housing scheme in their area.
Initial stages - site, design, community structure, financing
The Community Development Trust were aware that to make their vision happen they needed to identify a possible site, and also to get a housing association partner on board.
Their first step was to identify a piece of land. Through previous campaigning and political discussions, the Enville Street site which is owned by Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and had a derelict house on it was identified. So Community Asset Transfer(2) conversations were started as they asked the Council to consider transferring the land at way below market value.
Around the same time, the Community Development Trust made a successful application to the Homes England Community Housing Fund for funding for initial work to put together the initial architect’s designs, a financing plan for the scheme and prepare and make the planning application. They were also successful in securing grant from the Power to Change Homes in Community Hands Programme if planning permission could be gained.
They wanted to develop this scheme in partnership with a Housing Association who would be able to bring their technical experience and skills - and the ability to build at a cheaper cost - to the project. Discussions were held with Green Square Accord Housing Association and Birmingham Cooperative Housing Services and a partnership created whereby they would provide support and services, potentially through all stages of the scheme from the initial stages to once the homes are built and lived in. One of the first tasks Accord did was to undertake a financial appraisal to identify the cost of the scheme and what would be possible - particularly in terms of the environmental standards and measures the Development Trust wanted to include. They also decided to apply to become a Registered Provider(3) of social housing themselves.
A subsidiary Community Land Trust was then established as a Community Benefit Society with the intention that at some point it would float off from the Development Trust. The CLT will be the owner of the homes which will then stay in community ownership as affordable housing in perpetuity.
Financing for the scheme was identified through the appraisal - a mixture of Homes England funding for affordable housing and also loans from ethical lenders.
The Community Asset Transfer process didn’t happen however. The Community Development Trust negotiated with four different Council administrations, and eventually, in 2020, the Council said it wasn’t able to give the land through community asset transfer. However the appraisal had identified that there was sufficient finance in the scheme to allow them to buy the land so they are currently negotiating the price.
Innovation and putting eco at the heart
Using innovative methods - for design and build and in particular to achieve Passivhaus quality - was always a key part of the plan. One of their first decisions was to become the first car-free development in Stourbridge. They are also looking to use a new infrared heating system called Wonderwall combined with mechanical ventilation and high levels of insulation. This heating reacts to people being in the building so it is very cost effective and agile. The other environmental innovation they are building into the design right from the start is salt water batteries. They had always planned to design homes thinking about them also as homeworking space for creatives.
The current situation and next steps
Planning permission for the scheme was granted in April 2021. So now they will be able to start to use the Power to Change grant, and once they have agreed the purchase of the land with the Council they can move into the Site stage. That’s when the building actually starts.
They are also aware they now need to make some changes to the CLT structure. They need to increase the number of people on the CLT board - to include more people with housing skills, Dudley Council, and to bring in more community involvement, including the young creative community. They will also finalise their Registered Provider application and start planning for when the CLT will become independent of the Development Trust, and will support this to happen. The Development Trust has a whole range of other things it wants to work on.
Lessons and advice for others: Eddy Morton from the Development Trust and the CLT says so far he’s learned a few lessons:
Be prepared for how long things might take and how you may need to work with various different people through this time.
Have patience. Keep your eye on the horizon.
Adopt a can-do attitude. This will help you to overcome any barriers. Go with the mindset that you can do and you will do it.
Have the right people around you and build your network.
Use experts who understand your vision and share your outlook. They worked with Accord Housing, Birmingham Cooperative Housing Services and also Anthony Collins Solicitors.
Take your inspiration from other projects and your local CLH hub.
Doing this, actually building homes, is amazing. You are doing something for justice and fairness and a better world. Keep going. It works.
Here’s Eddy to tell you more about the project from his personal perspective:
(2) Community Asset Transfer is the transfer of a publicly owned asset (usually land or buildings) to a community organisation at less than market value, or at nil consideration (no cost).