The Start Up Fund: laying the foundations for a solid CLT movement

Tuesday 11 August 2020

  • Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash.

Authored by Polly Adams-Felton, project manager at the National CLT Network

Launched in 2008, the Start Up Fund (SUF) was open for 10 years. During that time more than £700,000 was distributed to over 200 groups. They’ve gone on to build 367 homes and almost 3,000 more are in the pipeline.

These numbers not only prove the success of the programme but also the commitment of community led housing groups and their ability to make the most out of an opportunity.

The importance of early-stage support

Early-stage support for community led housing groups is the cornerstone of the sector. It’s access to expert impartial and up to date advice to fledgeling groups has seen a niche and ‘alternative’ housing method develop towards a viable and mainstream solution to the affordable housing crisis.

It’s also financial support. The Start-Up Fund consisted of grants of up to £4,000. It’s not much in reality, but as the independent evaluation has shown, it was enough to get groups off the ground and cover the cost of those first vital activities that take place.

Put plainly, without early-stage support, many community led housing groups struggle to get out of the starting blocks.

Why the Start Up Fund was special

The Fund gave communities the means to use their power and take ownership for the improvements they wanted and needed. It’s often said that no one knows better what a community really needs than that community itself, and through my work on the Fund I’ve seen that time and time again.

Groups such as Sundridge CLT saw a community land trust as a method for taking control over the fate of their community. The small Kent village is dominated by a busy A-road - the SUF helped them to explore the possibility of building a bypass, save the local school, relocate and expand the local GP practice and build affordable homes for older residents enabling them to ‘right-size’ and free up housing stock for others being priced out of the area.

With support from the Start Up Fund the group and formalised, incorporated, are expanding their membership and making significant headway with their plans. Without early-stage support, none of this would have been possible.

Developing community focused solutions and CLTs have “enabled young families to remain in an area that they would otherwise have had to have moved out of” and have “had a significant impact on local business and local shops”. Indeed, “a lot of people in a community get forgotten and this is a way they can get energised about local issues”.

These testimonies, gathered through an external evaluation of the Start Up Fund, together with other findings, reinforce our belief in the impact and importance of early-stage support.

Early-stage support must continue

With the Start Up Fund closing in 2018, it’s Community Led Homes successor Fund open for a just over a year and of course, the Community Housing Fund closed too, early-stage support is now pretty much non-existent.

Community led housing is perfectly positioned to showcase the community spirit, enterprise and hope that the country has become so proud of during the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic. With further funding, we can support groups to take on the challenge of the economic downturn and actively contribute to the government’s ‘build, build, build’ policy.

The National CLT Network is campaigning for the Community Housing Fund’s renewal. If you would like to stay up to date with the campaign and find ways to support it please sign up to our newsletter.

Final reflections

Last year, different research commissioned by the National CLT Network revealed that community led housing groups are working on plans for over 23,000 homes. That means 15% of the total pipeline of homes can be attributed to the Start Up Fund. Given this investment represents a small percentage of the funding since poured into the sector through schemes such as the Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government's Community Housing Fund, the SUF punched above its weight and paved the way for sector growth.

It has been a privilege to work with the groups supported through the Start Up Fund and watch their ideas develop and evolve. The skills and technical expertise shared between individuals is inspiring just as the tireless passion individuals have for their homes is something to behold.

The CLT Start Up Fund was funded by Tudor Trust, Esmée Fairbairn and Nationwide Foundation with the support of CAF Venturesome was a project set up to deliver early stage support as the crucial ignition to development to nascent groups.

The National CLT Network is committed to learning from experience, to developing and improving our offer and to remaining at the forefront of the charge to making CLTs and community led housing common and feasible practice. In 2019, the Network commissioned Dr Helen Lawson to deliver an external evaluation of the Start Up Fund and the project’s broader impact on the sector. The full evaluation can be found here.

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