Social investment turns empty commercial premises into affordable housing in Bristol
Abolish Empty Office Buildings (AEOB) will start to convert its first property to affordable housing in Bristol next month (September). The Community Benefit Society has now secured finance to commence the build.
Our pioneering scheme will see the first tenants move in to secure rented accommodation before the end of 2016, with works expected to take 12-15 months.
AEOB has raised nearly £300,000 from a Community Share Offer, which allowed acquisition of our first property in St George in East Bristol. Triodos Bank have now granted a £425,000 mortgage, giving the green light for full building work to begin. The redundant workspace will be completely refitted and extended, creating six flats which will house up to 10 people.
The share offer remains open, to fund the balance of the work, and to expedite repayment of the loan. Triodos’ finance ensures completion of this project, which is intended as a demonstration of what can be achieved with empty properties. We hope it will be the first of many.
AEOB is addressing the UK’s housing crisis by buying unused commercial premises and converting them into affordable rental units with secure tenancies. Each development will be owned by AEOB but managed by a tenants’ co-operative.
We are now gathering a group of prospective tenants in Bristol who will:
- be diverse but share a commitment to living co-operatively
- be involved in shaping the project
- contribute to further AEOB housing projects by sharing experiences and skills
Much of the money raised to date from our Community Share Offer came from investors in Bristol, but there have also been contributions from as far away as Scotland. AEOB founder Tony Crofts said: “We have clearly struck a chord with those who “have” and want to make an ethical investment to support those who “have not”. We are delighted to be working with Triodos UK to move this first project onward to completion”. John Cook, one of the first prospective tenants, said: “It’s nice someone’s not in it for the money”.
AEOB hope to inspire others to create similar projects, and will franchise their model to other groups and other cities, who are encouraged to get in touch.
Our main effort continues to be our funding campaign. Now we have a building to develop, we need to get the remaining capital in place for the conversion as soon as possible. Our title to the property will secure a loan, and the steering group are working hard on the Business Plan, preparing to contact ethical lenders. We still need further private investment to strengthen our position when we make formal application for a loan. It is likely we will seek to match the money we have, so our current aim is to raise fifty per cent of the likely total project cost ourselves.
In that connection, we will be attending the Triodos annual meeting in Bristol on June 20, so look out for the AEOB people working the room if you’re there and come and have a chat. There’ll be copies of our new leaflet in delegates’ bags, too.
On site, we continue to firm up the details of the work that will be needed. The architects have been up in the roof taking measurements of the timbers which need to stay and working out how they affect the extension. Our site manager Elinor has also had a chance to look at the more detailed plans which are coming together, as well as at how the new and old parts of the building will work together, and is starting to think about the order of works with a view to weather-tightness during the build.
We are also looking into who might lead on the timber frame, and have contact with some people who have experience working with community workforces.
The group of prospective residents is meeting monthly and developing a core of interested people. We are starting to look into the skills available and how other skills can be developed. There’s still space for more people so we welcome contact from anyone interested in living at or working on the site.
Things have been quiet for us onsite over the school holidays, aside from some reinforcing of tree fencing.
Offsite our attention has been on developing a professionally printed brochure. This will have visuals of the project as well as background on the bigger issue, and include a tear out and post pledge form for potential supporters to fill and return. Some of the visuals will be architects’ computer renderings of what the site will look like which we will also post here for everyone to see.
We continue to have regular ads in the Big Issue which bring in a steady response.
Meetings for prospective residents also continue onsite, and with the lighter evenings we can now give people a better idea of the layout and space.
We are also co-ordinating our response to a generous offer of donated office furniture for us to sell on and make some money for the cause. We have found a possible buyer for desks, and hope to have space to store various smaller items while we find buyers. We hope this will allow us to support small local organisations in need of professional furniture but unable to pay big prices, as well as raising funds for our own work.
We completed a survey of the building for asbestos, and found nothing of significant risk. There are a just few pieces we should be able to remove ourselves, with care. Hurrah! We also need to remove all weeds growing inside the footprint of our planned extension. We’ll either use weedkiller or a suppression membrane for this. As clearance goes on it helps that the previous owners put a skip on the bungalow site next door. We can use this to remove the rubbish they left onsite.
Save that tree! We’ve now ordered scaffold poles to support the tree protection fencing. The 6 year old planning permission we inherited calls for protection of all trees on site, but their condition has changed since the planning was submitted. The planning office are insisting we protect two trees which actually now need removing. The trees in question have been badly managed, have insufficient foliage for their size and have some severe damage, all from before we bought the site. The planning office do not have enough manpower to get someone to look at the trees again! So we have to protect them all in line with original planning conditions.
Elinor completed her site management safety training – always a priority in a project like this – this month. Admin wise, we are now meeting at our archiects’ office, which gives us somewhere quiet and private to discuss work and plans.
We’ll have another update before our Annual General Meeting for shareholders, which is set for Thursday 14th May at the Friends’ Meeting House in Champion Square, BS2. Put it in your diaries now… Full agenda soon
We want to keep everyone in touch with the project, especially developments on site. Getting our hands on a property was a great step forward. But the work to develop it is complex and has taken our energies away from updating things here! More regular blog posts will follow. But first a catch up on January and February. Here’s what happened in January…
We got a boost with an award from Green Capital, who granted us £500 for architects fees. This will produce proper plans for vertical and compact gardening around our accommodation. And Bristol Quaker Area Meeting supported us too, with £450 for professional development training for Elinor Kershaw, now officially our project manager.
Elinor met with Construction Design and Management Co-ordinator (our Health and Safety guy) to look at paperwork we need to file for the site.
Meanwhile, we continued to spread the word. Elinor and Tony Crofts spoke to the TUC Young Workers Forum about housing, and they responded very positively to our work. We had a meeting with Acorn, a tenants’ rights group, to tell them what we’ve been doing and help us make new contacts this year as we continue our fund-raising efforts. And Elinor also recorded an item for, Backchat, a programme broadcast locally on community radio.
And in February…
More meetings, naturally: including one for people interested in developing and joining the housing co-operative who will occupy the finished building; and a session with the architect and their new assistant to look at what preparatory work needs doing on site. We also attended the St George Neighbourhood Partnership meeting, another way to reach prospective residents.
An important piece of that work was taken care of – a boundary audit, checking just who is responsible for which parts of the boundaries of this complex plot. We contacted one neighbour whose wall needs repairing. We also investigated and cleared a blockage in the old drainage channel down the side of the building.
Our quantity surveyor visited the site to assess our plans and reckon up the cost estimates.
Spreading the word: There were articles about AEOB in Clifton Life and the Bristol Post (links to follow), and we featured on the front page of Lawrence Hill and Barton Hill’s community paper Up Your Street. We have been working on increasing our visibility on twitter – do follow @AEOBpeople, and retweet us when you can!
Following Elinor’s shift into her role as Project Manager, Charles Gamble has agreed to take up duties as our Secretary. He is currently acting in the role pending his confirmation as a Director.
More news after the Easter break.
We had an agreement of sale for 22 Battens Lane yesterday! The people present (pic 1) were Elinor Kershaw, trustee, future resident and mum to Alice Kershaw (aged 5); David Mowat, adviser; Tony Crofts, founder and trustee; James Deane, future resident; vendor Jason Fuller; Chris Askew and Nerea Gonzalez, architects.
The second pic shows the interior with Alice, Elinor and James. So, lots of potential!
Please buy shares to help us buy the place outright (we’re negotiating for a 90 day completion period and putting deposit down now) so we don’t have to go for an expensive bridging loan. Share forms and details on the Invest page.