Crofts Court by Oxfordshire Community Land Trust

Introduction to Oxfordshire Community Land Trust

Oxfordshire Community Land Trust’s mission is to help solve Oxfordshire’s housing crisis through the provision of permanently affordable homes, and to act as a positive example for other community land trusts throughout the UK.

Today, the need for affordable homes has never been greater with increasing numbers of working people finding it difficult or impossible to find and secure an affordable place to live in the UK.

Set-up in 2006, Oxfordshire Community Land Trust have worked tirelessly every day since to make a difference for people struggling to afford somewhere they can call home.

We caught up with Fran Ryan, one of the founding members of the Oxfordshire Community Land Trust to talk about their Crofts Court project that Ecology Building Society supported through the provision of a mortgage.

Directors of Oxfordshire CLT

What is a Community Land Trust?

It’s a democratic, member-led, non-profit organisation that owns and develops land for the benefit of the community.  The types of projects range from permanently affordable homes, community gardens, energy schemes through to pubs and shops.

At Oxfordshire Community Land Trust, our current focus is on affordable homes.

What is Crofts Court?

It’s a development of 8 affordable apartments, completed in June 2023. It has 13 adults and 3 children living there with a Tenant Management Coop taking on some of the property management duties.

Tenants outside their new home in Croft's Court

It’s located on the edge of the City of Oxford in a high-rent area where there’s an acute shortage of affordable houses.

What was the timeline of the project?

We acquired the site in 2019, and that was the year we started working with Ecology Building Society to get a Mortgage in Principle.

We obtained full planning permission for the site in April 2020 and became a Registered Provider in 2021, which allowed us to access grants and local government funding.

We secured the funding for the project in the first half of 2020, then COVID hit causing some delays but we got on-site in May 2022 with our wonderful builders Life Build Solutions, and completed the build June 2023.

Why are affordable homes so important for the UK?

Having enough genuinely affordable housing would solve many problems we face today in the UK. Having a secure and decent place to live reduces poverty, improves health and well-being and crucially, improves children’s educational performance.

People are having to work so hard just to survive today that they have no time for anything else. If less of their income was taken up with housing costs, and less time taken up with long commutes, they might have more left at the end of the day to put into their family and their community.

Why is it important to have affordable homes close to the city?

We’ve currently got about 40,000 people commuting into the City of Oxford because they can’t afford to live closer.  This is not good for the environment or for those people commuting.

There is also the impact on the local economy. There are vacancies in many sectors not least health and social care but also in hospitality and retail.

These strains would be reduced if there was enough affordable housing closer to where people work.

What were the main challenges you faced when delivering this project?

The thing with painful moments in projects is that you often forget about them once you’ve finished a project and have something wonderful at the end of it.

However, I can say that for me, securing finance brought the most stressful moments.

We needed to raise money to complete the project, but we also needed to have additional on-going funds to keep the organisation functioning.  Now that the Crofts Court homes are complete, we still need revenue funding to pay for critical work in managing it and in coordinating and developing our next project.

Right now, most of us are volunteers working 3 days a week (and more) for free to make these projects happen.

We know that’s not sustainable, especially if we want to fulfil our mission on a bigger scale.

What are some of your key highlights of the Project?

There’s so many when it comes to delivering a project like this, but here’s three in no particular order:

  1. Getting the first applications through from local people on the local housing waiting list to live in our homes. That was an amazing feeling and really brought the project to life. Then they moved in!
  2. Getting such generous grants from Vale of White Horse, the Future Oxfordshire Partnership and Homes England was critical for this project and an amazing high.
  3. Ecology Building Society being so flexible with the mortgage. We originally applied for £1 million, but we managed to raise more money than we expected with the Community Share Offer meaning we only needed to borrow £500k.  Most other banks or building societies would have looked to charge us more for reducing the amount borrowed, but you stayed with us every step of the way and even encouraged us to unlock more community funding.

Our final thoughts…

To deliver a project like this is amazing, what makes it even more amazing is that most of the people delivering it are volunteers doing it for free.