Welcome to The Community Project. This document aims to introduce you to the project, explaining who we are, what we are hoping to achieve and how we are trying to do it. We hope that you find this document thought provoking and would be happy to hear from you if you have any questions or would like to get to know more about us. |
The Community Project is a group of people who have jointly purchased a large site and converted it into individual family houses, while leaving a few buildings and the land for communal use. The project is situated on the edge of the small village of Laughton in East Sussex. There are 3 large buildings that have been converted into 17 homes and 4 new houses have been built. The 23 acres of land and a small number of other buildings on the site provide communal facilities for the group. Whilst maintaining the privacy of individual homes, the aim of the group is to live co-operatively, jointly managing the land and communal facilities, informally sharing skills and support and generally enjoying each others company. There is no one specific ideology that defines the group, but we have outlined some of our shared aims in more detail below. Members of the group created the Community Project according to their own ideas, however it resembles the co-housing model, which while mostly unfamiliar in the UK is more widely-known elsewhere. In particular there are established co-housing communities in Scandinavia and the US.
We aim as a group to live co-operatively as neighbours, engaging with each other in a number of ways to foster an enjoyable, supportive community environment.
We maintain privacy as a family unit by having individual housing, each with its own front door, but we share communal facilities and land (so nobody has a private garden.) We also have a desire to share resources where feasible and have a regard for ecological factors in our management of our facilities and land. We wish to positively support each other in practical ways.
While we broadly share these ideals, we also value the range of philosophies and lifestyles that individuals within the group aspire to. We do not feel that we have to like each other, although friendships inevitably develop, or agree with each others points of view, but we aim to treat each other with respect and try to listen thoughtfully to each others ideas.
While we wish to develop a strong sense of community within the group, we have no desire to be overly introspective or to cut ourselves off from the wider world in any way.
In summary, we are all keen on a spirit of community. We do not want an institutionalised feel, but we do want to be more than simply a housing estate. We want to live next door to people we know and trust and perhaps like, whose aspirations we share and with whom we can work and play.
WHO ARE WE?
We are a group of families and individuals, currently 37 adults and 26 children, ranging in age from a few months old to 65. Most of the group consists of families with 1 or more children, but there are also some couples and single people. We are keen to try and maintain a balance within the group of both age and family situation. Some of the group are retired, some are at home engaged in childcare, most have either full or part-time jobs. The skills in the group are wide-ranging, including managerial, artistic, teaching, computing, financial, to name but a few. A number work in the health, social services and voluntary sectors and others in the media and related areas. By the nature of the project, we are all home-owners. The majority of children are between 6 and 10, and most attend the primary school in the village.
The Community Project purchased the site of a former, small hospital in 1997 and organised for the main buildings to be converted into individual homes. We have built 4 new houses on the site. We have called the site Laughton Lodge (as the hospital was named Laughton Lodge Hospital.) Members of the project had considerable input into the internal designs of their homes. The homes consist of a small bedsit flat, 2 x 2-bedroom flats and houses ranging in size from 2 to 5 bedrooms. The land is shared communally and consists mainly of open meadow land, with some clumps of trees, and a larger patch of woodland along one border. There are gardens immediately around the houses, and a small pond, which we would like to expand. The ridge of the South Downs can be seen from the site.
One large building, Shawfield, provides considerable communal facilities, including a hall, a large kitchen and dining area, meeting rooms, guest rooms and an office complex. We have a workshop and tool pool in the old pump-house and another building is still to be developed.
Laughton Lodge is on the edge of the small village of Laughton, which has some 600 inhabitants, a church, a primary school, a pub and a thriving village shop. Ringmer, a larger village, with a secondary school is just 2 miles away, and Lewes and Uckfield are both 6 miles away. The coastal towns of Brighton and Eastbourne are both about 15 miles away.
The Community Project is a company limited by guarantee. The company owns the freehold of all the buildings and land on site. Members purchase individual properties from the company by leasehold. All leaseholders are directors of the company. We were always keen to ensure that the project was watertight from a legal point of view, and so the main structure has been set up with legal documents (memorandum and articles and leases.) These would ultimately provide recourse to the law if members did not meet their obligations. We believe clarity in this area is crucial.
All major decisions regarding the community are made by members at main group meetings. Wherever possible, decisions are made by consensus (to date all major decisions have been made by consensus.) There is a fallback voting procedure, and only directors of the company (i.e. leaseholders) are eligible to vote. Main group meetings can be attended by all residents, by those waiting for their home to be ready and any others by invitation.
Many day to day decisions are made by sub-groups. Sub-groups also prepare information for discussion at main group meetings. There are sub-groups for the following areas: new-build, maintenance, facilities, development, land use and process.
Members of the project purchase their properties leasehold from the company. At this point they also become directors of the company and share in common with the other directors the responsibility for the freehold of the site, including the land and communal buildings. Members obtain mortgages to purchase in the normal way.
Members who wish to leave the project need to sell their leases. We have been advised that if the community is seen to be successful, prospective purchasers can be prepared to pay well above the price of an equivalent property outside the community. We therefore have a system of index-linking whereby the maximum prices for which members can sell their houses are linked to an agreed index of local house prices. The aim of index linking is to avoid excessive inflation and/or speculation and to keep the community as financially accessible as possible.
In order to maintain the land and buildings each household pays a monthly service charge. An annual amount is also paid into a development fund. Much of this income is allocated to budgets that are managed by the various sub-groups.
THE LIFE OF THE COMMUNITY
There are a number of ways in which the community meets and works together. Every Friday evening we have a pot-luck supper together in Shawfield, our communal building. It is a good opportunity to meet up and chat informally. Once a month we have a work day, where we tackle tasks that need to be achieved either on the land or in the communal buildings. People choose which tasks they want to work on, and there is much camaraderie and rather long lunch-hours. Significant birthdays and events are often celebrated together and the seasonal calendar provides plenty of opportunities for parties.
We encourage members to belong to one or more sub-groups, which meet to discuss their area in detail. These groups carry budgets, although large spends need to be ratified by the main group. In a more formal manner, the group meets together once a month for a main group meeting. The agenda is circulated in advance, there are minutes taken and the meeting is chaired. This is where major decisions are taken together about any aspect of our communal life and policy issues are aired and discussed. Occasionally a weekend is organised, where the group tries to get away from the day to day business of the community and takes the opportunity to look at broader and more long-term issues and philosophical and social aspects of the community.
None of these organised community activities are compulsory. Individuals choose how much they wish to or are able to take part in any of these events.
Perhaps most significantly of all, members of the project meet in many, different, informal ways; for quick passing chats, longer chats over coffee, shared suppers, undertaking small projects in twos and threes, for an evening of music. We support each other in many ways, looking after each others children, lending a cup of sugar, being a listening ear, offering a lift to the station, helping to fix a leaking tap and so on. We try to pool resources as much as possible to minimise waste, and so there is a tool pool, a laundry (although many do have their own washing machines) and there are plans for toy and book libraries. We also buy a number of standard food and drink items in bulk at wholesale prices.
The children of the community have the kind of freedom to roam safely that is rare these days. They are often to be seen playing in larger and smaller groups, travelling around the site on their bicycles. With 23 acres, a communal building and 21 houses to choose from, they are never short of somewhere to go. They are in and out of each others houses constantly. On the whole they seem to watch less television than children elsewhere. They have formed their own informal way of operating and it is noticeable that the older children look after the younger ones. The children have the opportunity to express their views at their own meetings and we would like to encourage them to contribute to main group meetings and work days.
BECOMING A MEMBER OF THE COMMUNITY
If a person or family expresses an interest in joining community, they are first sent this information pack and then if still interested, we ask them to write in, telling us a little about themselves. They are then invited to come to a work day (2nd Sunday in the month) to meet us and discuss the project and look round the site. From time to time we run one-day workshops which cover in detail aspects about the project and community living in general. Interested parties are encouraged to attend the next available workshop. We also arrange for them to attend a main group meeting as observers. We then suggest that they involve themselves in the life of the community. This could be by attending workdays, getting involved in a small project, coming to parties, visiting for weekends etc. We are planning to keep in touch with people and let them know of events through a quarterly newsletter.
If someone wants to become a resident of the community, they need to wait until a suitable house becomes available to purchase. This could happen at any time, but may be some years after an initial interest is expressed. It will take effort on their part and the communitys part to maintain interest and commitment. If a house does become available, there may be several people who would be interested in purchasing it. Allocation is a decision for the main group, after establishing that candidates have the necessary finances. Factors that may be taken into consideration are the balance within the group (for example age, gender or number of children.) But of course the group will also be influenced by the degree to which the interested party has become involved in the project and the contribution they have made.
People who have an interest in the project but do not intend to become residents are also welcome to involve themselves in the life of the project, by attending workdays, parties and special events. The guest rooms in Shawfield are available to be booked for a small charge.
INTERESTED? SOME HOME TRUTHS!
If this document has interested you and you wish to find out more about us, please feel free to contact by letter or email (contact details below) to ask as many questions as you like. You can then determine whether you wish to get to know us better.
But first, a word of warning. We all think community living is great. That is why we are here. But we would not wish to hide the fact that it is also hard work, and that sometimes the going gets tough. It would be easy to come and visit our beautiful site and be carried away by the romance of it all. But generally things are as good as the effort put in to them, and community living requires commitment. It is not easy, for example, for a group of 30+ adults to make decisions together. Meetings can be very lengthy as everyone wants their say and it can be difficult to resolve opposing views. Everyone, at one time or another has to let go of dearly held opinions, for the sake of finding consensus with the group. While we strive to avoid any sense of institutionalisation, inevitably members need to give up certain individual freedoms. For example, with no private land, people need to negotiate before undertaking anything major in the garden. Compromise and negotiation are the name of the game.
Those of us here, however, feel that the benefits we derive from the community outweigh the individual sacrifices. We are not all similar types of people. Some are naturally more sociable than others. Some have strongly-held, very individualistic ideas. Some love meetings, others loathe them! Some adore the chaos created by children, others find it trying. But the community way of life seems to suit us all in different ways. So if you think you might enjoy the challenge, please do contact us. You need not make a commitment to becoming a resident. We are happy to welcome people as long-term friends of the project, as well as providing prospective residents the necessary insights into exactly what this all involves.
* email: email@example.com
* There is also currently ( September 2003) a 2 bedroom house for sale. For details contact firstname.lastname@example.org
"I remain unreconstructedly proud of the achievement of changing some knackered old hospital buildings into a what strikes me as a decent place to live - a settlement that makes quite a considerable contribution to rethinking t"|
-- JR - communard at Laughton Lodge
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record: theproject |
number of housing units: 21|
last updated 2003/09/05