In England, localism had a strong policy resonance both for the previous Labour government and the Coalition government’s ‘Big Society’ agenda of devolving services from government to communities. In the context of localism, the role of community-led housing, such as community land trusts and self-help housing, has gained increasing attention in England. Social innovations at the local level are an important challenge to the dominance of scale economies and reducing local control that have characterised recent housing reform in England. However, evidence to date is of patchy institutional support for such innovation and contested models for spreading innovation through ‘scaling-up’ or ‘going viral’.
Community-led housing has strong connections with the co-operative housing tradition and historical and international experience in this field therefore has strong relevance for implementing localism today. The reality of co-operative housing refers to a wide range of governance models, combining characteristics of private, state and community-based governance. Drawing on the experiences of the well-established Austrian co-operative housing sector and case studies of self-help and community-led and co-operative housing in England, this project explores the structure of the community-led housing sector in England, its approach to localism and explores the potential of international models to support effective localism and sustainable community building, such as the Austrian co-operative governance model.
This William Plowden fellowship project builds on previous research by the applicant, and involves the following methodological steps to reach its aims:
- Carrying out a systematic review of recent policies from the Localism Act and forms of organizational response emerging in the community-led and mutual housing sectors
- Developing and applying a typology of co-operative governance models derived from the literature and international experiences
- Undertaking a set of semi-structured stakeholder interviews with representatives of the co-operative housing sector in the English West Midlands and visits to a sample of innovative projects in the various mutual housing fields
- Co-producing a scoping report for a deeper study of localism and co-operative governance of housing to meet the needs of the evolving mutual housing sector and provide a platform for international comparative research. This report will be presented to an invited audience from the sector and refined based on participant feedback and social media dialogue
The high expectations associated with community-led housing models need to be married to a realistic understanding of the types of institutional support required for effective innovation, balancing economic effectiveness and social sustainability. This fellowship project provides insights by applying an informed ‘external gaze’ to localist innovation in English housing. Drawing on international perspectives will enhance learning about essential and desirable success conditions for co-operative governance and its application for localism policies in England. Developing and testing typologies of governance and support through close interaction with sector actors provides an opportunity for rich mutual learning. These links will also help build mutual understanding of key features of the Austrian and the English contexts, provide the basis for further exchanges, and open up access to knowledge transfer for co-operative practitioners in the UK. This will also strengthen the applicant’s experience of policy and practice of mutual housing in England and thereby contribute to his academic career development.