How it all started.
In 2005 the “Land for People” conference was held in Welshpool to promote Community Land Trusts. One of the organisers, Jonathan Brown, gave a talk to Bishops Castle Town Council in 2006 where the issues most people were worried about were the lack of truly affordable housing and a lack of jobs locally. A small group of Volunteers (The mayor, Jim Gaffney, the town councillors, Jonathan Brown, Ade Morley and Rev. Diana Hoare) carried out a “Housing and Business Needs Survey” in 2007. 330 questionnaires were completed by BC residents. As a result a Community Land Trust was formed in BC.
In 2008 The Co-operative Fund gave the CLT a grant of £22,000. This was used to employ 2 people for one day a week for 18 months. Jonathan Brown was employed as the secretary. Jim Gaffney was responsible for recruiting members, and raising awareness of the CLT by giving talks to local groups (schools, WI, parish councils, NFU branch). He also organised events. Two Festivals, “Landfest 1 and Landfest 2” were put on in conjunction with Mandy and Wayne at “The Vaults” put in great effort into these. During those 18 months, membership rose from around 50 to almost 200 and £17,000 was raised through share buying and fund raising.
King’s Head Yard – our First Success
Jonathan and Claire Greig, committed CLT members, made the generous offer of a building plot behind the King’s Head at an affordable price. Jonathan Brown organised the build and sourced some of the money needed from the HCA (Housing Communities Association) and from Shropshire Council. We also got a mortgage of approximately £60,000 from The Ecology Building Society https://www.ecology.co.uk/
We were helped enormously in gaining 2 great places to live by builders Ben and Jasper Meade otherwise known as Pen-y-Coed http://www.pycsystems.co.uk
Ben and Jasper went far beyond their contract to give the CLT 2 top quality houses with high environmental standards (e.g. practically non-existent heating costs) on this small and awkwardly placed site. Jonathan Greig was the architect and he attended conscientiously to every detail, worked many unpaid hours and charged us well below the going rate. Seventeen local suppliers and tradesmen were involved and all did a great job at a reasonable rate, well aware that this was a worthwhile project for the community of Bishops Castle. The notable exceptions were Severn Trent Water and Eon Electricity, who were mercilessly expensive and unhelpful.
The houses on King’s Head Yard opened in 2011 and they were rented out at an affordable rent (i.e. below the level set by Shropshire Council in its own definition of “affordability”). The houses have been lived in ever since by young people with local jobs who would otherwise have been in need of housing. So far there have been 8 different tenants. The properties to act as a stepping stone to allow young people to become established, and then the houses become available to other in urgent need.
Meanwhile… at a Green Field Site
The next project was an offer of a “green field” site for 10 houses, neighbouring the Bishops Castle housing boundary, at an affordable price of £10,000 per housing plot. This was affordable because;
- The CLT aimed to raise grant money to cover the land cost
- It offered land owners outside the Housing Boundary a better price than agricultural value
- At £10,000 a site, houses could be built much more cheaply than market value houses
The CLT could not however afford to build 10 houses alone, on a site which needed water, electricity and a road access. As a result the CLT went into partnership with The Wrekin Housing Trust, who agreed to cover the cost of preparing the site and building the houses. In return they would own 6 of the houses and the CLT would own 4 of the houses to let or part-sell at an affordable cost to local people.
An enormous amount of legal, planning and design work was done but sadly the project had to be abandoned. The land owners and The Wrekin Housing Trust insisted on certain conditions which the CLT just couldn’t meet. No solution could be worked out and so morale dipped as such a lot of voluntary effort eventually had come to nothing, but then a wonderful thing happened….
Bill Bainbridge’s Brilliant Legacy
The town mourned the sudden death of Bill Bainbridge who had helped to revive the Three Tuns Brewery. It turned out that in his will, Bill had left the CLT about £230,000. Thank you Bill, the CLT and all who knew you will cherish your memory and do our best to use this money to benefit Bishop’s Castle.
The first thing that was done was to pay off the mortgage on King’s Head Yard. This means the houses are now wholly owned by the Community and the rent can be put to much better use than just paying off the mortgage.
Secondly, since September 2016 we have employed Rachel Hek as our new “Community Development” worker for one day a week. She has set up a Face Book page which provides news and views about the CLT, distributes updates about CLT activities via the town newsletter and held a fundraising event at the Three Tuns – many thanks to Tim and Cath for the donation of the venue. Currently she is busy relaunching this website and organising “Land Fest 3” at the Vaults for 3 days in June (8th, 9th & 10th). She has already recruited over 50 new members and raised about £3,000.
Thirdly the CLT helped the Town Council prepare 10 new allotment plots on Love Lane by contributing £5,000.
The CLT really wants to use the rest of Bill’s money to build more houses – land owners the CLT need you!! Please come forward with any land at no more than £10,000 a plot!
Our Latest Project – The Business Park… what is this “asset transfer”?
Many in the community were fed up with Bishops Castle Business Park falling into disrepair and doing nothing but growing weeds! Right now The CLT are leading a partnership of BC Town Council, Enterprise House and Shropshire Council to get something called an “asset transfer” of the empty areas of the Business Park from the County Council to the CLT. In other words, we want to get our hands on that land for our Community.
So that’s a potted history of the first 10 years of Bishop’s Castle’s Community Land Trust. Watch this space for more news… join the CLT and support us to carry on with providing local solutions for housing and jobs.