Blog authored by Polly Adams-Felton, Project Manager at the National CLT Network
Visiting CLTs is without exception a truly inspiring event. Seeing the fruition of people’s tireless efforts, both voluntary and commercial, is awe-inspiring - the difference a small number of people can make to their community.
This is the experience I was lucky enough to have during a visit with our Interreg North-West Europe partners to Brussels this November. Over two days our hosts CLT Brussels provided a snap-shot of community building history and a vision of the future of community led housing in the city.
We started our trip in the Molenbeek region of the city. The population here is primarily comprised of migrant families from Morroco and Turkey with homes densely packed together. The community bonds are strengthened by the shared experience of the hope for better opportunities in a new place. Through these strong relationships and resilience, the community came together and after not insignificant challenges and opposition have successfully developed a small play park. Even on a cool, damp November afternoon children were out and racing around, on the swings, slides and making all kinds of happy noises. This heartwarming and powerful scene is a product of community efforts and CLTs - happy and safe children enjoying their free time in an environment their family and community at large have built for them.
These scenes are soon to be a steady feature of several building projects across Brussels. The CLT here have multiple projects on the go across the city and we were fortunate enough to be invited to visit three in various stages of completion - Arc-en-Ciel, Le Nid and 1/3 lieu-Plek AbC.
Arc-en-Ciel is very nearly complete with residents moving in by the end of 2019. The 32 units are positioned around a shared garden and community space. There is significant bike storage and every unit has a balcony overlooking the central space. The project’s name means ‘rainbow’ in English. The community chose this name to reflect the diversity of the project - families from across Europe and the world coming together to develop the homes they need.
CLT Brussels have ensured their voices have been heard by the developers with decisions such as the size of the kitchens being left to them. The building itself is in keeping with those surrounding it if with a contemporary edge when looking at the sharp geometry of the facade.
Le Nid is the first CLT Brussels new build project to complete and has residents housed. We met with Marie, a resident who along with her family and the six others owning properties at this site, moved in during October 2019. She explained that herself and the other families involved have been working on this project for many years and while there have been some challenges and disagreements, they have all come back together and resolved their problems as an extended family would do.
At this site, the seven units share a garden where the residents are hoping to start growing their own food. They are also looking at how they can further integrate into their social environment - perhaps setting up a laundry business for the neighbours using their shared facilities. There is also a small business space that CLT Brussels are planning to let to a not-for-profit organisation.
These additional efforts to reach out and build a sense of community pride in the site, not just for the residents but that it becomes a space that works for all, is testament to the willingness of CLTs to give. They have housed the families in need and are now looking to support the wider community and reach out and extend the goodwill and fortune.
Our final stop was 1/3 lieu-Plek AbC. This site is owned by CLT Brussels and comprised of four warehouses - currently in meanwhile use. Currently, the uses are a lab for studying mushrooms and their alternative uses such as the possibility of a mushroom-based textile, an upcycling initiative creating furniture and creative pieces using discarded materials from the community and arts organisations, two shelters for homeless people and a meeting space for the neighbourhood which also houses the CLT Brussels cooking outfit (hot meals available and the opportunity to sit down to eat with others).
While still awaiting the development of the nine units that will eventually house members of the community, this space is already working to meet existing needs. Housing young scientists and artists, providing a space for community members to meet and enjoy a hot meal and sanctuary to the homeless in the area ensures the space is rooted in its social environment. Championing these causes has given them a platform from which to build and progress.
The challenges in finding safe, warm and affordable homes is a worldwide concern but so is the community led housing movement. The examples in Brussels prove the power of community, belief and tenacity. A small number of people can make real, significant and tangible change to others and anything CLT Brussels, the National CLT Network and all other actors can do to support them is worthwhile. Connecting with our international partners and sharing and learning together can make our collective voice stronger and more powerful. It remains a pleasure to be part of this sector and support the wonderful individuals who plough their time and efforts into CLTs.