In mid 2019 I heard that steps were being taken to address community housing in the Holme Valley. This was of interest to me.   I’d long held the view that there was a shortage of affordable, eco-houses in the Holme Valley. I also know young people who commute to work in Holmfirth because they can’t afford the high rents and older people (and I’m one of them) who live in houses too big for their needs, who can’t find suitable homes in which to downsize. And my heart continues to sink when I see yet more large, expensive houses being built, with apparently little regard to eco factors or the immediate environment and with no affordable homes on the site….

The group that emerged in the Autumn of 2019 drew on local people with relevant and complimentary experiences and skills in housing, architecture, local politics, project management, business and social work. We formed a Community Land Trust (CLT) – a not-for-profit enterprise set up to benefit a defined community. We’d visited other CLT’s and their experiences helped inform how we developed EcoHOLMEs  – a name that reflected our location and ambitions. The original steering group became directors of EcoHOLMEs, each with different responsibilities. I agreed to lead the ‘Membership and Community Engagement’(MCEG) sub group and it’s a key aspect of this activity I describe below.

The build up to a public meeting.

As a community-led housing initiative, set up and run by local people for the long term benefit of the Holme Valley community, we knew that a first step must be to engage with the community. Only then could we ensure that new homes are built, or older dwellings retrofitted, with a mandate from the community. We also needed local people to become active members of the CLT. In the autumn of 2019 there had been a successful local public meeting on climate change that consisted of  focused themed discussions. In small groups, steered by a leader, participants were encouraged  to reflect and explore ways forward and agree collective insights. After about twenty minutes they were moved to another group to discuss a different but linked subject. By the end of the afternoon the organisers were able to pull together a host of ideas and a common purpose for action.  This way of working is generally known as a World Cafe approach and a member of MCEG introduced us to a local expert facilitator. At last we had a plan. A date was fixed for a  public meeting in Holmfirth Civic Hall in March and we set about publicising it. It was mainly in the form of ‘teaser questions’ that were both in poster format or on social media, that linked the reader to the event via Eventbrite and to more information about EcoHOLMEs on our website and Facebook page. We changed the questions in the weeks leading up to the public meeting. Here are a few we used:

Fancy being part of creating Holme-grown housing – fit for the future and for people with roots in the Holme Valley?

Why is it that most new homes built in the Holme  Valley are so expensive and out of reach for young families? What can we do?

Should we build homes in the Holme Valley that are fit for the future – cheaper to heat and better for the planet?

Postponed due to COVID-19

By early March the event had been advertised in every virtual and physical outlet in the Holme Valley that we could think of. The directors of EcoHOLMEs had been briefed in their roles of  small group leads, a crèche had been arranged and family and friends had been persuaded  to serve refreshments and more. And then COVID-19 struck. The event was postponed indefinitely.

We were stopped in our tracks. We’d been working towards this event for the past three months. For a while we lost direction and focus and then we discovered Zoom. One of the directors had the idea that we could run each of our small groups as a Zoom meeting and consult with the community in this way. We had a practice run and then agreed to run such a group each week, for six weeks, from the middle of May. Each group had a leader or host, a notetaker and a person who could manage the technical side and sort out glitches. The  six discussion topics were about local housing issues and in particular:

  • homes for young families and young couples;
  • homes for older people;
  • local housing need, affordability & eligibility;
  • infrastructure & services;
  • greener eco-homes and
  • location & community.

Whilst dates for the groups were widely advertised by email, websie and social media, most of the recruitment was  through word of mouth and friendship networks.

Homes for older people

I hosted the group that considered homes for older people – and the participants fitted the age category. Once we’d agreed the best way to run a Zoom meeting with hand signals and the like and gained permissions, for example,  to use anonymised quotes, I posed a series of questions for discussion, such as: What are the best type of homes that older people would prefer to  live in and why? What aspects should we avoid? What are the key eco factors to consider? How would you design kitchen, storage and outside space? Would facilities and types of access needed be different for people who are older? How can we create a sense of community? Are there elements of living that you are prepared to share? Should EcoHOLMEs be intergenerational?

What older people say they want

There was a remarkable consensus to the responses. No one wished to live in a community that was purely for older people as the following comments illustrate.

‘Can’t we build homes suitable for young and old?’

‘I think intergenerational homes are best.’

‘Build life-time homes with high standards common to all units.’  

Green issues were similarly embraced.

‘Passive houses may cost more to build but this is offset by cheaper heating costs.’

A positive attitude towards sharing and fostering a sense of  community was also very much apparent.

‘Sharing tools, bikes and car share is good – people don’t need a personal car all the time.’

‘We don’t want to be isolated, we want to be close to life’.

‘We want a sense of community – to be able to look out for each other.’

These views together with those from the other groups will be informing the design specifications and enhanced plans for EcoHOLMEs.  It has been inspiring taking soundings in this way and hearing similar progressive views from the other groups.

We’re going to be running the small groups again starting in late July. Do visit our website or email for further details and do join us.

Greta Bradley