Heralded as a site for community regeneration projects and a social housing scheme, the architecture complex at PLACE/Ladywell was the perfect location to house the Rural Urban Synthesis Society exhibition ‘Local Connections: Borough Boundaries’, as part of the London Festival of Architecture. The exhibition showcased several Community Land Trust projects from the local Lewisham area that have developed since 1974, with a focus on social housing and shared work spaces. Community Assets for Society and Housing (CASH) were invited by RUSS, amongst several other co-ops, to exhibit our work. Parallel to Sanford’s exhibit space, one of the oldest co-ops in the area, CASH, as a newly formed group, focused primarily on members, inviting locals to join and participate in the development of the community land trust.
The aims of the exhibition were to invite the public to think about the current housing crisis in the UK and to share insights into some of the critical and successful co-op projects that have manifested in the area, and promote projects that are not widely known. I myself learnt a great deal about the diverse initiatives that are working in the capital, such as London CLT, who are currently developing 11 new homes on Brasted Close, as well as Fusions Jameen, an Afro-Carribean co-op working and living space in Chisel cooperative’s first self-build-to-rent model in Brockley and Lowether Hill. And finally, Archio, an architecture practice heavily involved in the public sector helping to realise some of these projects.
In 2017, Finn Williams, the co-founder of Public Practice wrote that London is ‘the world’s global capital for creative design and construction skills with an unfortunate lack of interest in using this creativity for the public sector’. It’s true that the UK’s public sector shockingly only makes up 0.7% of the entire architecture industry, with the rest heavily invested in the private sector. And although affordable housing can technically fall under both sectors, a report by Architects for Social Housing found that social rent which relies on public spending, currently only makes 7% of the built environment, a drop of 35% since the 1970’s.
Asserting that the city of London is the country’s financial hub has prompted inconceivable wealth to pour into the development of its infrastructure and housing, while forcing communities that cannot afford the city’s lifestyle into its outskirts, whilst, making it a reality for the majority who cannot leave the city to live in substantial poverty. The council’s lack of support and funding for affordable housing is evident in the recent Grenfell tragedy and in the rise of homelessness in central London. Community land trusts and co-operatives are unequivocally important because they try to negate this social cleansing whilst regenerating community spaces and creating more affordable housing. This exhibition to some extent has successfully shed light on these different public projects—that are capable of succeeding outside the conventional architecture imagination—whilst paving the way for practitioners of the built environment to join community members to form collaborations on the development of a more inclusive city.
The inspiration for CASH to become a part of this exhibition was clear from the start of the formation of the group. We wanted to establish ourselves as a collective within the Lewisham Community-led housing network but also benefit London as a whole. Most members of CASH are also part of other cooperatives, therefore already possess the skills to drive the collective further. CASH aims to offer a constructive response to the ongoing housing crisis in London, influencing the regeneration of the places we live and work in by pursuing mixed-use development schemes which will genuinely benefit local communities.