Towards the end of last year, DT had a chat with Tony Wood, one of the nine directors and the treasurer at StART Haringey. StART is a community-led group working towards and campaigning for affordable housing to go in on the St Ann’s Hospital site in South Tottenham which is currently being sold off by the NHS Trust. They are set up as a not for profit community land trust.
StART have different sub-groups looking after different areas of the project where people who want to get involved can choose their area of interest or expertise. Tony is part of both the finance sub-group and strategy sub-group. Other sub-groups include housing, environment, health and wellbeing, non-residential spaces, inclusion, publicity and development.
They hold regular organising meetings every two weeks at Chesnuts Community Centre to discuss the project and vote on key decisions. Although there are nine directors, the meetings are open to all the community to attend and decisions are made by consensus. ‘There’s not a lot of egos in StART – lots of people are prepared to compromise for the benefit of the project which is really positive.’
We asked Tony where the idea for StART came from. ‘It came from two sides. We knew the hospital was being sold and there was a campaign to try and save it. Local people are quite passionate about the hospital and also wanted health services to stay and not be cut down. However, they lost the initial campaign when planning permission went through two or three years ago.’
‘There was that campaign and some of us are part of a housing co-op. We’ve always wanted a bit of land where we could build purpose built housing for a co-op so we can help other people who’ve got really insecure housing to move in as well.’
‘When we knew the site was definitely going to be sold, we were thinking we might buy a little bit of it. We then spoke to the organisers of the campaign that was trying to save the hospital and we came up with this idea which was why don’t we try and buy it all.’
The group held an initial public consultation, back in June 2015, which about 40 or 50 people from the community attended. ‘What the community decided was needed on the site was housing.’
‘We went away from that meeting and thought how do we do this. Very few of us had skills in developing, we had no money, and it was like, right, we’re going to have to work out how we do this, and that’s when we formed StART.’
‘We asked anyone we knew who had any experience for contacts and for support. People were really supportive – architects, developers, people in the community-led housing field, all gave us loads of time for free to help us and still do.’
‘I think it’s just one of those projects that people are really passionate about, whether it’s stopping someone on the street corner to talk about it, or an architect that works for a multi-million pound company, they’re all really positive about the community controlling housing.’
Over the last two and a half years, StART has seen at least 100 people volunteer their time to help the project in some way. They currently have around 40 people actively contributing to the project every week.
Tony explained what StART has achieved so far. ‘I think community-led housing up to now has always been on the scale of 20 or 30 homes maximum. We’re saying we want to build 800 homes and it can be run by the community. Even if we didn’t get the land, I think we’ve opened that door that says communities can do things on a much bigger scale. I think we’ve given inspiration to a lot of other people.’
‘The community engagement, having discussions with people about who housing in the borough should be for, is also a really good positive because I think everyone knows what’s happening in Haringey, but no one’s really sure what you do about it. In a way StART is saying “this is what you could do about it.”’
‘The present health authority plans have 14% affordable housing in them… StART are hoping that the GLA will buy the land rather than have the health authority sell it to a developer.’ StART would like to work with the GLA in order to reach their dream target of 100% affordable housing on the site.
They have had meetings with local MPs and other assembly members and have been working with a Development Manager, Igloo Regeneration.
Tony continued, ‘we want to control at least the rented housing. With community land trust houses, there is no right to buy, so they would stay in community ownership forever. Also, we really want to be the ones setting the rent levels because we want the housing to be for poorer people locally. We feel that if another organisation has control, they won’t have the passion that we have for keeping the rents down.’
‘The housing sub-group have been looking at what rent levels and allocation policy would look like. The general rule of thumb with the community-led housing organisations is that rent levels should be no more than a third of average gross household income. We’ve looked at what the average household income is in the three wards around St Ann’s, this side of Green Lanes, taken a third of that and that’s the rent levels we’re working towards.’
Tony explained that one of the biggest challenges StART have faced so far is finding the funding to move the project forwards.
They have already received some funds from a number of different sources, but need in the region of £200,000 to help them progress and enable them to hire a full time worker who has skills in development. ‘We’d love to employ someone who has knowledge of development and housing and works for us five days a week.’
They recently hired a part time worker who spends 10 hours a week on general admin that helps to free up some of the other members of the team to focus on other parts of the project.
‘When we did the architect’s master plan, we had something like seven or eight consultations asking what people wanted.’ They successfully crowd funded to cover the architect’s master plan but it was a slow process taking four to five months to reach the target. ‘The crowd funding was fantastic, a lot more people feel genuinely a part of StART because they contributed to it.’
We did the interview in a local cafe and towards the end our chat, we were interrupted by a couple who told us they had donated to StART and they really supported the project.
Further to StART’s current plans, their dream plan would be to raise enough money to buy the land themselves. ‘StART want to see 800 homes built, ideally 100% affordable for local people, bringing in community benefits. It’s an old hospital site and there’s reports that show if you have good quality housing it helps prevent mental health problems. We want to work with the mental health hospital, we want sheltered and supported housing, we want to build a community…’
We discussed why projects like StART are important to local communities. ‘I was born in a council house. I think social housing is really important. Over the last 30 years there’s been attacks on social housing, there’s been, in my view this mad idea that buying housing is the only option, and you have to own housing. For StART, we want to show that rented housing is not only a viable option but is a great option and, if councils aren’t building enough social houses, it has to be through the community doing it.’
Tony explained that StART is different to other housing schemes because it’s community-led.
‘I’ve done community organising for years (since the anti poll tax days). Standing on stalls and just saying to people this is what we want to do, just seeing the excitement in people’s voices and in their eyes, seeing people actively get involved.’
‘We’ve held a consultation saying what do you want on this site… Saying to people here’s a blank sheet… Ordinary people who live round here are being given a chance to make major decisions. From the amount of work that’s gone into it, people have really bought into it and you feel part of it.’
‘It’s that positive about getting local people to have a say in it, but the other thing is also, just trying to change the whole climate of how housing can be done. It shouldn’t be something we buy and sell for profit, it’s one of those fundamental things that people need.’
Organising meetings take place every other Wednesday evening at the Chestnuts Community Centre. www.startharingey.co.uk