We buy and convert empty offices into homes for people!

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Coverage From ACORN

ACORN have provided coverage of our venture.

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Too many ACORN members struggle with getting and keeping decent, secure housing. So when some new affordable homes come along looking for people to live in them we get excited! Read this guest post by Jono Jenkinson of “Abolish Empty Office Blocks, House People” to find out how you can join a new housing community…

Follow Link to Article: http://www.acorncommunities.org.uk/aeob

AEOB on BBC National TV Primetime’s The One Show

Abolish Empty Office Buildings (AEOB) are creating a new model of charitable and ethical home rental in Bristol by converting unused commercial spaces into genuinely affordable, easy-to-heat, one- and two-bed flats. Our first project in St George, Bristol, attracted the attention of The One Show who spent a day shooting this video which was broadcast on National TV, at primetime.

This is great publicity, and we still are in fund raising mode, needing another £100,000 to complete the building for occupation. Please see our investor information!

Dominic Littlewood the Presenter was great at understanding the issues and challenges facing the AEOB group in carrying out a lot of the preparatory work on the building, and re-using so much of the fabric and contents.

The One Show plan to return as we complete the building, and we can’t wait to show them, and the TV audience, the finished build.

Article From Up Our Street – Spring 2015

Turning Office Buildings Into Homes

Many readers of Up Our Street will be one of thousands of local people living in private rented housing. Sadly some will have a troubling story to tell of poor quality housing, high rents and being left in a vulnerable situation by landlords more interested in profit than providing homes.

Over the past two years a group of people who were concerned about the need for housing and the unfair power relationship between landlords and tenants, got together to see what they could do about it. We met Redfield resident David Mowat, who told us more about Abolish Empty Office Buildings (AEOB) and its plans for the future.

“Our interest is in helping those who are living in vulnerable private rented housing and who want to live in a social housing community. Our model is a cooperative where we raise the money to buy and renovate a property which is then rented out at a fair rate” explains David.

In 2014, AEOB raised the funds to buy a building on Battens Lane in St George. They sold investment shares from £50 or more and secured a loan from Triodos bank. They currently have around £270,000 and need to raise a further £130,000 for refurbishment. “We have an investor who will match £400,000 and the full development will cost about £900,000 so that’s our target. This is an opportunity for anyone with an interest in social justice and some spare cash to contribute to making this project work” says David.

Battens Lane will become six flats with a shared laundry, community room and garages which can be used as creative or workshop space. The concept of living in a cooperative is much more common on the continent and David thinks that we could achieve a lot by creating more of these communities in the UK. “Lots of people have limited resources or need huge mortgages to buy a home.
Our model is about involving the people who will live in the homes in all of the process. If people have skills in building then they can help with construction, in return for reduced rent for the first year, for example. Our thinking is very much about how we can make homes work for people by sharing what we can. We are different from the standard housing association model where the power dynamic remains the same as the private sector and the tenant has to lobby the landlord for anything. Ours is a more equal relationship.”

AEOB also has a clear political position. They are against the continual building of office blocks which remain empty for years when the land could be used for providing much needed housing. “Developers with lots of resources can sit on empty buildings for years, purely to make the highest profit. We feel this is immoral when we have a real need for more affordable housing now” adds David. “We want to raise this higher up the political agenda as well as showing what committed people can do on a small scale.”

Rent from Battens Lane will go into paying off the loan. creating a repair fund and providing a small dividend to shareholders. “I’d say ours is an ‘enlightened’ business model where foremost is people’s need, not the market. We need a shift back to decent renting in this country.”

AEOB is looking for anyone interested in living at Battens Lane and being part of the cooperative. “We want to help those people who have a constant battle with their landlords and are interested in living in a more communal way” says David. They are also keen for more people to invest to make the full vision a reality. “Shares start at £50 and provide an opportunity to use your money for good – providing decent homes for people who need them.”

Article appears on Page 12

AEOB in Transition Free Press

Some of our directors and prospective residents were recently interviewed by Rachel Savage for the Transition Free Press. You can read the full article “Community funds plan to convert offices into homes” on page 7 of the current issue below.

AEOB on Dialect Radio Bristol

On Tuesday 6th May, two of our steering group members were recorded for Dialect Radio, which airs every Thursday at 11am on BCfm 93.2 in Bristol. Elinor Kershaw (director and residents group liaison) and David Mowat (adviser and co-founder) talk about the history of AEOB, the issues we are trying to address, community investment and our potential site in East Bristol.

Tony Gosling from Dialect kindly produced the YouTube video below using some of our pictures, or you can listen to the full program in which we featured at http://www.bcfmradio.com/dialect.

BBC news article

BBC news online article, published here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-23419867

‘Abolish empty Bristol office blocks’ community share offer

A group campaigning to turn disused office blocks into affordable homes wants to raise £632,000 to buy a derelict site in east Bristol.

Abolish Empty Office Blocks (AEOB) said it had found a suitable property and has launched a community share offer.

It said the buildings and land could be converted into 22 flats, gardens, a children’s play area and community cafe and would be run as a co-operative.

If successful any development would be subject to planning permission.

Bristol City Council met AEOB earlier in the month and said that although it had made no formal commitment it would “in principle like to work with the group to increase the delivery of affordable housing in the city”.

It added that council officers were currently working on a separate project entitled “Offices to Homes Conversion Initiatives” which was set up following the relaxation of planning regulations over the next three years.

‘Ethical money’

Tony Crofts, from AEOB said: “The council currently has 14,750 on the housing waiting list – most of them are working people who can’t afford to buy or rent a home.

“Homes only go to those who bid the highest which is immoral. It is possible to make affordable housing pay for itself in the way council housing used to.

“[Those investing] can get satisfaction from seeing something decent being built. In this country there is still lots of ethical money looking for a home.”

He said that once in profit the group hoped to be able to pay 3-5% interest on investment and shares.

Dominic Murphy, of Easton and Lawrence Hill Neighbourhood Management said: “Reusing empty buildings to provide genuinely affordable housing in a city where there is massive housing shortage and where house prices exclude many people makes perfect sense.”

David Mowat, from AEOB, said: “We’ve come together to find a practical way to reconcile the divisions between the haves and the have-nots.

Maximum £20,000

“This way people with less money can use their skills to build community supported by people with extra cash.”

The group said the flats, once built, would be available for renting.

The organisation is run as a community co-operative – known as an Industrial Provident Society.

People can invest a maximum of £20,000 to the generic share offer, which means that if this particular sale falls through then it can be transferred to another possible purchase.

If the group does not manage to buy the office buildings investors have the option of having all their money returned.

Newspaper article: Bristol Post

An article by our local newspaper, Bristol Post. Published in print and online here http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Social-housing-plan-offices/story-19417539-detail/story.html

(Name correction: Hari Beales, not Bowles)

28th June 2013

Social housing plan for empty offices

EMPTY office blocks could be transformed into new social housing under a plan put forward by a group of campaigners.

Abolish Empty Office Blocks intends to launch a “community bond” to raise money for some of the 60 acres of unlet offices buildings in the city.

Members of the group hope their plan can help ease Bristol’s housing crisis by providing affordable, sustainable, community-owned housing which cannot be sold off.

The group’s three board members are looking for investment in the “common sense” project to revitalise derelict buildings and reduce the council housing waiting list.

Tony Crofts, founder of Stones- field Community Trust who also worked on the Manifesto for Bristol campaign, told the Bristol Post that the project could help thousands of people who are priced out of housing in the current market.

He said: “13,860 council houses have been sold off by Bristol under Right to Buy, transforming them from affordable homes into high-cost speculative investments.

“As a result, Bristol now has a housing waiting list of 14,750. These are not scroungers, they are people on ordinary working incomes who cannot afford to buy or rent homes in a greed-driven market.”

He said that by registering a co-operative Community Interest Company the group could launch a Community Share to raise money to buy empty land and unlet office buildings and convert them into affordable homes.

He said: “It is our long-term ambition to replace those council houses with new, energy-efficient affordable homes with permaculture gardens, owned on behalf of the community, that can’t be sold off.

“We hope people will invest in this project to set up a new Peabody-type trust and make Bristol a decent city that houses its people.

“This isn’t socialism, it is common sense. People with money need to think.”

The Abolish Empty Office Blocks project is run by an number of people who are Quakers in Bristol.

Mr Crofts said: “I must stress that it is not an initiative of Bristol Area Quaker meeting.” He added: “There is a history of Quaker individuals making initiatives to improve housing in Bristol.”

The Abolish Empty Office Blocks board includes Tony Crofts, Jim Kinnaird, founder Mina Road Housing Co-op, and Hari Beales, a permaculture and community expert. Chris Askew, an architect, is also working with the team to develop the project.

The opinions expressed are the individuals, and do not necessarily represent the view of the society. Material posted here does not constitute an official statement from the group.

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