World CLT Day: The Community Led Housing Growth Lab – Growing the Sector’s Intermediaries One Year In

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As World CLT Day approaches, CLT Network Project Manager, Nichola Morris, shares more about the Community Led Housing Growth Lab’s first year bringing together together and scaling existing CLT models into an effective ecosystem of community led development intermediaries. Projects include WeCanMake CLT’s opt-in gentle densification model, Middlemarch Community Led Housing’s rural CLT- housing association partnership model, and Communities CAN’s viability service for communities redeveloping high streets.

To learn more about CLTs working on Rural Housing Association Partnerships, High Street Regeneration, Urban Renewal, Rewiring the Planning System and more, register for our conference this Friday 21 June 2024. 

Image – Growth Lab team WeCanMake CLT constructing an infill home with residents

As we celebrate World CLT Day this May, the CLT Network is proud to share this review of the Community Led Housing Growth Lab’s first year. Launched this time last year, the Community Led Housing Growth Lab was developed by the Community Land Trust Network and the UK Cohousing Network (UKCN) to create a more effective and financially self-sustaining ecosystem of intermediaries capable of delivering community led housing at a significant scale. 

The Growth Lab was designed to provide enabling organisations and entrepreneurs with a product and service design process, lean business start up approach and growth tools, access to expertise in financial modelling and investment readiness, a community of practice for peer learning, and match funding to help with capacity to engage. Our pilot focussed on opportunities in England and Wales, although we are now exploring its potential to scale into Europe in partnership with the European CLT Network. 


Our Journey to the Growth Lab

The Growth Lab has emerged following nine years of experimentation, evaluation and research into how to grow community led housing at scale. Since 2014 the CLT Network has been at the forefront of work to develop intermediaries to scale up community led housing in England. In 2022 our ‘green paper’ evaluated the state of this intermediary market infrastructure with six months of collaborative research concluding that the sector needed to identify more replicable and marketable models of community led housing.

In early 2023, funded by the Laudes Foundation the CLT Network and UKCN set out to explore replicable models and to engage with the housing industry around these models. This dovetailed with our State of the Sector Report published in February 2023, which outlines 5 structured and scalable models for development.


The Growth Lab 2023

The Community Led Housing Growth Lab is a programme designed to take organisations through six month sprints to work towards developing replicable products and services to deliver them at scale. The teams participating may be at one of three stages:

Image reads: 1. Concept Concept has potential to scale CLH Growth Lab recruit entrepreneurial team and take a stake in the development 2. Early Stage The team has a product/service tried and tested needing time, funds and resources to prepare for replication 3. Tried and tested Clear products and services that are tested and replicated and ready to seek greater scale

Over a six month sprint the teams researched and defined:

  • barriers and solutions to their models
  • the problems of replication of a successful model
  • market potential, success and failure factors 
  • a clear market offer

The lab is based around the Design Council’s double diamond process.

Image shows two diamond shapes side by side, the left is blue and the right is orange. They are side by side with one point touching. The left diamond is blue and titled "research" and 1. Do the right thing and on the left point reads "problem". It then says "Discover" with an arrow reading "Insight into the problem". The right side of the blue diamond reads "Explore, define" with an arrow label reading "scope down the focus". Where the two diamonds touch reads "Problem definition" The rightermost diamond is orange and reads "design" then 2. design things right The left side of this orange diamond says "develop, test" with an arrow label saying "potential solutions". The right side of the diamon reads "deliver, listen" with a label that reads solutions that work and receive feedback". The rightermost point of the orange diamond reads "solution"

From May to December 2023, with funding from the Laudes Foundation and in partnership with the European CLT Network, we piloted this lab with three teams:

In March 2024 the Growth Lab teams shared their progress was shared with their peers at a webinar.

The Growth Lab Teams

Middlemarch Community Led Housing – Rural CLT and Housing Association Partnerships

The Middlemarch CLH team entered the Growth Lab looking to scale up their already robust development model that had been successfully carried out across the South West. This model involved supporting CLTs and CLTs and housing associations working in partnership in rural areas to unlock sensitive sites for affordable housing development. 

The team has now:

  • defined the success factors behind its pre-development enabling service, including the keys to engage the interest of registered providers of social housing; 
  • mapped the market potential across England; 
  • with help from Homes England, established interest among registered providers in those regions; 
  • developed a financial model for its core working capital and project pre-development finance as the basis for an investment pitch.

They are now working with a social investment expert to pitch for investment, and with the Community Land Trust Network on strategies to replicate their success in other regions of England.

Read more about the Middlemarch model here. 

Communities CAN – revitalising declining high streets

Communities CAN partnered with Durham Community Action and the Rural Design Centre to research and test the creation of a viability service that responds to the need and desire for communities to revitalise our failing high streets and integrate community led homes. This service would undertake localised community engagement, conduct financial diagnosis, offer feedback and support with securing funding. 

The team has now:

  • mapped the potential need across the region; 
  • researched the needs, levers to engagement and support available from local and combined authorities; 
  • identified the barriers to existing community organisations taking on housing projects;  
  • developed a concept feasibility and visioning tool, which  would enable them to quickly establish viable redevelopment proposals with communities on the ground, including augmented reality tools to help communities and stakeholders visualise the potential for development and retrofitting.

They are now working to secure funding to develop a prototype of the tool and to trial it with communities and local authorities across the region.

Read more about Communities CAN here.

WeCanMake – Suburban Densification and Infill

When they got started with the Growth Lab, WeCanMake CLT had already been pioneering an opt-in gentle densification model to unlock micro-sites for homes in the suburban neighbourhood of Knowle West, Bristol. Their homes not only comply entirely within existing planning systems and policy, but they can also be built locally as modular cassettes by the very individuals and communities planning to live in them.

The team’s goal for the Growth Lab was to explore options for replicability and growth across the UK. They: 

  • mapped the potential in comparable low density suburbs, finding that they could unlock a potential 33,000 homes in England alone; 
  • identified the success factors including senior support in the local authority; 
  • engaged a range of communities and relevant landowners including local authorities and housing associations to establish interest and test the key elements of the product; 
  • developed a replication strategy based on establishing a professional community of practice for the local authority and community staff delivering it.

They are now looking to sign up some pilot replication areas, where the local authority, community and other landowners are on board; and to develop a community of practice between them.

Informing our 2024 Conference

The learning from our Growth Lab will be further explored at our conference in June, where some of our Growth Lab pioneers will be speaking along with a range of influential leaders on topics such as urban regeneration, rural housing, high streets, and land reform. Click here to find out more about our conference sessions and speakers.

The Growth Lab in 2024

Moving into 2024, the CLT Network and UKCN will seek to establish a rolling programme for the Growth Lab. The three 2023 teams would be able to further develop their ideas using the same processes and tools, and remain part of the community of practice. There would be the opportunity for further teams to join the process to test their models and explore replicating and scaling. All  would continue to benefit from access to wider peer networks facilitated by the CLT Network and UKCN. The experience and lessons learned from the Growth Lab is informing our 2024 Long Term Strategy

We are hopeful that this programme will go beyond borders and that lessons from the services developed and from the Growth Lab process are shared internationally. We have already presented two sessions to the European CLT Network to explore potential growth opportunities and we invite our CLT siblings worldwide to explore the outcomes from the Growth Lab too.


And finally, what our Growth Lab teams told us about participating in the Lab

  • The Lab provided a fantastic opportunity to research and develop a new approach, with effective workshops and hugely helpful coaching, challenge and network brokering from the national partners.
  • The work built momentum with key stakeholders including local authorities, housing associations and funders, with a greater clarity in their approach to each.
  • Being part of the Lab gave them new credibility and leverage when talking to agencies like Homes England, a combined authority and Public Practice.
  • The support from our business consultants was timely and much-needed.
  • The collaboration between teams in the community of practice, and opportunities for peer learning were valuable, and there may be hybrid approaches emerging from the Lab.

Want to know more about the Growth Lab and models for CLTs providing housing, community places and land? Join a room of changemakers at Building with Communities Conference on 21 June 2024. Find out more here.

17th and 18th May are World CLT Day, where we celebrate CLTs around the world – including Australia, Mainland Europe, Puerto Rico, Scotland, and the USA. Find out more here