Housing advice hubs – the experience from Hampshire

Hampshire Homes Hub is one of a number of hubs operating across England and Wales, set up to support and encourage community-led housing, as described by Sherree Stanley Conroy…

IN England and Wales, any community looking for advice and support in delivering their own homes has the opportunity of using the services provided by a local ‘community-led housing hub’, such as the one I work for in Hampshire.

Hampshire Homes Hub sits within a charity called Action Hampshire. The hub came into being on April 1 last year, after receiving a grant through the Community Led Homes Enabler Hub Grants Programme (here), which was set up to expand the network of specialist, regional organisations helping groups of local people to develop their own community-led housing solutions. 

This funding (now finished) was part of a wider initiative (here) provided by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), set up to increase the number of homes delivered by the community-led housing sector in England.

Action Hampshire, supported by partners in local councils and housing associations across Hampshire, bid for a share of that government funding, to create Hampshire Homes Hub, and we were successful in achieving the highest grant available: £150,000.

Community-led housing involves either a geographic community or a community of interest. As an example of the latter, we have been working with a group of parents, whose children have a physical disability, and who are looking to create a cluster of supported homes to be set up in time for when their children leave residential school, as adults. 

An example of a geographic community would be groups in locations such as the New Forest or Winchester who are interested in building their own homes, as self-builders.

We are team of four. I manage a team of three, each qualified as accredited advisers. When staffing a hub, I think the key thing is to find people who are particularly good at working with communities. We were able to access technical training as part of the wider push to set up hubs across England.

Working with communities involves a mix of having the technical knowledge and also possessing several softer skills: not least being able to talk, and listen, to a community.

While the board of trustees at Action Hampshire is ultimately our top tier of governance, we do have our own, hub steering group, comprising a lot of housing expertise, including from local authorities and housing associations. They are there to challenge and support us, and their role is very much appreciated.

As part of the grant bid, all hubs had to demonstrate how they could become self-financing once the grant ends on March 31 this year.

In Hampshire, we charge for our services – communities can either opt to pay a day rate or they can roll up our fees into a capital payment when homes are delivered. We can help communities identify potential funding sources – which can help with our fees, as well as all the other costs involved in building homes.

Our services include organising consultation events, advising on legal structure and constitution, site finding, hiring an architect and related professions, negotiating the planning system, identifying other forms of support, and even helping with project management.

We also offer a dedicated service of carrying out housing needs surveys, say for a landowner who has spotted a site they think might be worth developing or for a parish council. 

Our services are tailored to what each community needs. Since what we earn is partly results-driven, it means we carry a bit of the risk if a project is not completed.

Hubs across England are concerned about how the sector can generate enough income from April, when the grant finishes. We are all really committed to supporting communities deliver their own homes; so, as a sector, we are sharing ideas about sources of income, going forward.

We have been so lucky to be able to tap in to the wider network of hubs across England and Wales during this first year of the hubs. We meet collectively (via Zoom) on a regular basis to share best practice and experiences.

Setting up a network in isolation of other support mechanisms would be, I imagine, really hard-going.

If Scotland were to go down the road of setting up its own community-led housing hubs, I would strongly recommend speaking to the network that exists here, south of the border.

It’s a very positive and supportive sector, not competitive, and the network I’m sure would be more than willing to advise how best to go about setting up hubs. The atmosphere is fantastic; everyone wants to see all of us succeed.

Information about community-led housing and the hubs in England and Wales can be found here: https://www.communityledhomes.org.uk

Sherree Stanley Conroy is manager of Hampshire Homes Hub

Picture: courtesy of Hampshire Homes Hub