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Community Project, Laughton

Laughton Lodge

A short introduction

Welcome to the Community Project. This document aims to introduce you to the project, explaining who we are, what we are hoping to achieve and how we are trying to do it. We are a group of people who have jointly purchased a site and converted it into 21 homes. The project is situated on the edge of the small village of Laughton in East Sussex. The 23 acres of land and a small number of other buildings on the site provide communal facilities. Whilst maintaining the privacy of individual homes, the aim of the group is to live co-operatively, jointly managing the land and communal facilities, informally sharing skills and support and generally enjoying each other’s company. There is no one specific ideology that defines the group, but we have outlined some of our shared aims in more detail below. Members of the group created the Community Project according to their own ideas, however it resembles the “co-housing” model which while fairly unfamiliar in the UK is more widely-known elsewhere

Our aims

We maintain privacy as a family unit by having individual housing, but we share communal facilities and land (so nobody has a private garden). We share resources where feasible and have a regard for ecological factors in our management of our facilities and land. We wish to positively support each other in practical ways. While we broadly share these ideals, we also value the range of philosophies and lifestyles that individuals within the group aspire to. We do not feel that we have to like each other, although friendships inevitably develop, or agree with each other’s points of view, but we aim to treat each other with respect and try to listen thoughtfully to each other’s ideas. We wish to develop a strong sense of community within the group, we have no desire to be overly introspective or to cut ourselves off from the wider world in any way. In summary, we are all keen on a spirit of community. We do not want an institutionalised feel, but we do want to be more than simply a housing estate. We want to live next door to people we know and trust and perhaps like, and with whom we can work and play.

Who are we?

We are a group of families and individuals, currently 35 adults and 36 children, ranging in age from a few months old to mid-sixties. Most of the group consists of families with 1 or more children. We are keen to try and maintain a balance within the group of both age and family situation. A few people are at home engaged in childcare, most have either full or part-time jobs. The skills in the group are wide-ranging, including managerial, artistic, teaching, computing, financial, to name but a few. A number work in the health, social services and voluntary sectors and others in the media and related areas. The majority of children are between 10 and 17, and most attend local schools.

The site

The Community Project purchased the site of a former, small hospital in 1998 and organised for the main buildings to be converted into individual homes. The land is shared communally and consists mainly of open meadow land, with some clumps of trees, and a larger patch of woodland along one border. There are gardens immediately around the houses, and a small pond, which we would like to expand.
One large building, Shawfield, is our common house and provides considerable communal facilities, including a hall, a large kitchen and dining area, meeting rooms, guest rooms and an office complex. We have a workshop and tool pool in the old pump-house and another building has been converted to provide artist studios. Laughton Lodge is on the edge of the small village of Laughton, which has some 600 inhabitants, a church, a primary school, a pub and a thriving village shop. Ringmer, a larger village, with a secondary school is just 2 miles away, and Lewes and Uckfield are both 6 miles away. The coastal towns of Brighton and Eastbourne are both about 15 miles away.

Structures

The Community Project is a company limited by guarantee and owns the freehold of all the buildings and land on site. Members purchase individual properties from the company by leasehold. All leaseholders are directors of the company. We were always keen to ensure that the project was watertight from a legal point of view, and so the main structure has been set up with legal documents (memorandum and articles and leases.) These would ultimately provide recourse to the law if members did not meet their obligations. We believe clarity in this area is crucial.

All major decisions regarding the community are made by members at main group meetings. Wherever possible, decisions are made by consensus although there is a fallback voting procedure. Main group meetings can be attended by all residents, by those waiting to move in and any others by invitation.
The day to day workings of the project are managed by sub-groups covering a range of areas including finance and maintenance. Sub-groups also prepare information for discussion at main group meetings.

Financial stuff

Members of the project purchase their properties leasehold from the company. At this point they also become directors of the company and share in common with the other directors the responsibility for the freehold of the site, including the land and communal buildings. Members obtain mortgages to purchase in the normal way. The lease requires members who wish to leave the project to negotiate the maximum house price with a sales team representing the project. The maximum price is determined by considering three valuations obtained by the seller. In order to maintain the land, communal buildings and the fabric of individual homes, each household pays a monthly service charge.

The life of the community

Every Friday evening we have a pot-luck supper in our communal building. Once a month we have a work day, where we tackle tasks on the land or in the communal buildings. Birthdays and seasonal events provide plenty of opportunities for parties.

We encourage members to belong to one or more sub-groups, which carry budgets, although large spends need to be ratified by the main group. In a more formal manner, the we meet once a month for a “main group meeting.” The agenda is circulated in advance, there are minutes taken and the meeting is chaired by rotation. This is where major decisions are taken about any aspect of our communal life and policy issues are aired and discussed. Occasionally we take an afternoon to look at broader philosophical and social aspects of the community. None of these organised community activities are compulsory. Individuals choose how much they wish to or are able to take part in any of these events.

The children are often seen playing in larger and smaller groups, travelling around the site on their bicycles. They are in and out of each other’s houses constantly. They have formed their own informal way of operating and it is noticeable that the older children look after the younger ones. The children have the opportunity to express their views at their own meetings and we encourage them to contribute to main group meetings and work days.

Some home truths

We would not wish to hide the fact can be hard work and that sometimes the going gets tough. It would be easy to come and visit our beautiful site and be carried away by the romance of it all. But generally things are as good as the effort put in to them, and community living requires commitment. It is not easy, for example, for a group of 30+ adults to make decisions together. Meetings can be very lengthy as everyone wants their say and it can be difficult to resolve opposing views. Everyone, at one time or another has to let go of dearly held opinions, for the sake of finding consensus with the group. Inevitably members need to give up certain individual freedoms. For example, with no private land, people need to negotiate before undertaking anything major in the garden. Compromise and negotiation are the name of the game.

Those of us here, however, feel that the benefits we derive from the community outweigh the individual sacrifices. We are not all similar types of people. Some are naturally more sociable than others. Some have strongly-held, very individualistic ideas. Some love meetings, others loathe them! Some adore the chaos created by children, others find it trying. But the community way of life seems to suit us all in different ways.

December 2008