Report of the Directors of Norton sub Hamdon CLT

    for the 2015 Annual General Meeting

     

    This has been an exceptionally busy year for the CLT. 

    At the last AGM we reported that our ten affordable homes were nearly ready for occupation.  Last October saw the homes occupied by local people – all of whom are now happily settled.  We had an opening ceremony which was a very happy and celebratory afternoon, attended by a large number of people.

    Of course, as you probably know not all has been plain sailing with the housing project since then.  Brookvale Homes, the construction company, went into receivership.  We were very lucky – our homes were finished and occupied when that happened.  It has meant, however, that some parts of the project have not yet been completed – the parking arrangements for some of the previously existing Minchingtons Close houses have not yet been provided and there is as yet no street lighting to the new houses.  Maintenance of the green areas caused a few problems during the summer and we are very grateful to those new residents who helped to keep the site as tidy as possible.  Most of these issues either have been or are very close to being resolved now and we are grateful to Yarlington Housing Group for taking on the responsibility sooner than was expected and for keeping us fully informed at all times.

    Recently, since the General Election, another issue has arisen.  As you will undoubtedly have heard, the Government is proposing to introduce legislation conferring a right to buy on many tenants.  The National CLT Network has been campaigning vigorously for all CLT’s to be exempt from this and our Secretary was recently asked to represent rural CLT’s across the country to talk to officers at the Department for Communities and Local Government who are responsible for drafting the legislation.  Our homes were built with the promise that they would be affordable for local people in perpetuity and the grant from the Government, through the Homes and Communities Agency was specifically on that condition.  It is completely contrary, therefore, to the principal of affordability for local people in perpetuity and to the ideology of community involvement to subsequently allow tenants to purchase them. 

    Although the Bill is not yet drafted so we cannot be certain at the moment, it looks as though the National CLT Campaign is gaining great support from  many sources  and pressure groups, including the Country Landowners Association and may be successful.   In particular we are very hopeful that those homes built on Rural Exception Sites, such as ours, will be exempt from Right to Buy.  In order that tenants of community led housing schemes should not lose the right to buy, should they wish to exercise it, the National CLT Network is endorsing the idea of a ‘portable discount’ whereby tenants would be able to have the discount they have earned to use on a different property.  This would of course mean they would have to move, but would satisfy their right to buy while still maintaining the community led housing stock.

    Last October we celebrated not only the occupation of the homes at Minchingtons Close but also the opening of our Community Shop.  The work involved in reaching that opening was, for the Directors of the CLT, a very different Project.  We assimilated the skills required to devise a Business Plan and to open a Share Issue as well as the responsibility for running a retail business.  We successfully applied for grants towards start up costs and were fortunate to receive grants from Awards for All, South Somerset District Council and all three Parish Councils in Norton, Chiselborough and the Chinnocks.  We could not have done it without the incredibly generous support we had from so many people not only in Norton but also Chiselborough, West Chinnock and the surrounding area.  That support, not only in terms of investment, but also in how many people continue to give of their time to volunteer  in the Shop, has been an absolutely essential element in the success of the Project to date.

    Last year’s AGM was held not long before we opened the Shop and now we can report, after almost a year of running it, that we are in line with the forecasts in our Business Plan.  The Treasurer’s Report will give you more detail of the financial side, but on the day-to-day side, we are happy to report that almost all our original team of volunteers are still with us and we have recruited a few more.  We do need a further pool of people, particularly those who could do occasional replacement shifts – so if you know of anyone who may be interested, please encourage them to join us!

    With the enthusiastic support of our hard-working Manager, Josie Hannam, we have improved and increased our range of stock, we have replaced some fixtures and fittings, and we constantly monitor suggestions and requests from customers and volunteers.  We hope soon to launch a book of recipes, the ingredients for which will be available from the Shop.  We continue to see the Shop as a central hub in the Village, supporting community events and providing a focal point.

    We shall soon be carrying out our first Annual Review of the Shop Project, during which process we shall be looking at issues that have arisen during the year, how they have been or need to be resolved and how the Directors can continue to ensure the Shop remains a viable business, while also considering the implications for the Directors themselves of their workload and ways to relieve the level of responsibility that rests on some of them.

    As you will know, the Directors have recently been working hard on the application process to take over the Post Office.  We heard yesterday that our application has been successful and we shall be running the Post Office from early November.  There is quite a lot of detail which we shall need to put in place between now and then and it is a little too soon to be able to share that with you.  Suffice it to say that we shall be relying on you to “use it or lose it” and we ask that you spread the word and encourage everyone to use the Post Office to provide you with all the services that are available there.

    The CLT has yet another Project in the pipeline.  We own a parcel of land behind the new homes at Minchingtons Close.  An idea to plant it as a Community Orchard proved to be financially unsustainable.  The Directors are currently working on a feasibility study, possibly in partnership with the Yeovil based South Somerset Community Energy Group or through a scheme initiated by Wessex Community Assets, to install ground mounted solar panels.  We are still at an exploratory stage with this Project and are not, therefore, in a position to go into detail about it at the moment, particularly as, unfortunately, recent Government announcements about lowering the tariff for renewable energy fed into the National Grid may affect our ability to go ahead.

    All of these projects and initiatives, while exciting and potentially of very significant long term benefit to the community, mean that the Directors do work very hard.  One of our main concerns for the future is the need to recruit more Members to the Board, particularly slightly younger ones!  As already said, a few of the Directors particularly carry an unsustainable load and ways need to be resolved to ease that load, either by sharing the responsibilities between more Board Members or by finding volunteers to carry out some of the duties.  Ultimately it may be necessary to consider employing more paid staff but, of course, this would impact considerably on the CLT’s financial viability.

    On the wider front, the Directors have taken part in research projects during the year, one looking into the motivation of CLT’s and another into the future for community led projects.  We have also attended training events and taken part in housing exhibitions and other events.

    Our Secretary is part of a group set up to mentor emerging CLT’s across the Wessex area and to research and encourage the way forward for CLT’s, considering other Projects in addition to provision of affordable housing, to enable the resilience and sustainability of communities by developing community enterprises, such as Shops and Post Offices, Pubs and Workplaces, Renewable Energy Schemes and many other ideas.  In that capacity she has spoken at conferences and meetings and has recently been helping East Chinnock CLT to progress their Project to build affordable homes, alongside open market housing, as part of a scheme to save the Portman Arms as a Community Pub and Shop.

    Community Benefit Societies, whether in the form of Land Trusts or other formats, are multiplying rapidly across the country as the need for communities to take control of their own future sustainability becomes ever more evident.  The Government’s localism policies encourage this development and the Queen’s Speech strongly reiterated the principals.  It is incumbent on legislators to ensure that, while Government policies are brought forward, that is achieved in such a way as to continue to encourage and support the achievements of communities such as ours where people have worked together to defend what is important to them and have achieved some amazing results.

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