COMMUNITY ANCHORS: ‘They’re not just our houses, they’re your homes’ – a short walk through the history of the Perry Common Estate

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics supplied by WLCA

Perry Common dates back to the 1920’s when farmland was acquired by Birmingham City Council to re-house families from elsewhere in the city.

The development of the Perry Common Estate provided residents with a spacious 2 or 3-bedroom houses and the added bonus of a front and back garden.

But by the 1980s, these non-brick Boot Houses were in very poor condition with chunks of concrete falling from properties, dampness wreaking havoc with people’s health, and metal supporting frames becoming very weak.

In 1989 a total of 908 families received a letter from the City Council declaring their homes would have to be demolished. The implications of this were devastating but community spirit soon change the course of history,

Passionate residents, united in their fight against the demolition, established Perry Common Residents Association. Shortly after, in 1994, eight of its members became the founding directors of the new Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA).

Twenty-eight years later, WLCA has a long and proud track record of housing and capital asset development and management across the north of the city. The registered landlord is thriving, with a portfolio of 200 homes, providing affordable, safe sanctuary to families across North Birmingham.

In 2017, the Association set up a subsidiary, Witton Lodge Community Homes (WLCH) to progress housing and community asset development aspirations. It pursues a dedicated housing agenda, namely, to provide affordable and social housing which meets the needs of the local community.

WLCH targets such empty properties to bring them back into use while working with the City Council and other stakeholders to explore opportunities for new build development which can provide affordable housing solutions.

In February 2021 there were over 17,000 applicants on Birmingham City Council’s housing waiting list; the local authority area within which we deliver our services. In addition, there are more 9,000 empty properties in the city.

Having achieved registered provider status with Homes England, WLCH can now apply directly for funding to develop and manage properties.

WLCA Homes and Assets Development Manager, Gareth Hopkins, said: “We have invested in our homes to make them more energy efficient. Solar Photovoltaic panels have been installed on 93 of our properties (the remaining properties are not eligible for the SPV Panels) ensuring that our tenants benefit first hand from savings with electricity consumption costs.

“As a renewable source of power, solar energy has an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change, which is critical to protecting humans, wildlife and eco systems.

“We have also installed 132 A Rated Boilers. This has helped our tenants save up to £500 a year on their energy costs. The new boilers are also more energy efficient and help cut carbon footprint. We have also installed new doors and windows to 86 of our properties meaning our homes are more energy efficient.

“We have aspirations to do even more using our planned maintenance programme to replace more boilers (non-gas), doors and windows. When we purchase new properties we will retrofit them with new windows, boilers but also consider improvements such as solar water heating, floor and wall insulation where this is possible.

“We are proud to be investing in our properties and working towards local and national carbon zero targets and helping our Tenants save money on their energy bills.”

For more information on Witton Lodge Community Association visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

For press and media enquiries call Steve Sharma on 0121 382 1930 or email: steve.sharma@wittonlodge.org.uk

NEWS: UK’s community organisations get a sneak peak of Witton Lakes Eco Hub as energy saving example

Words & pics by Ed King

Delegates from the Locality Convention in Birmingham have been getting a sneak peak at the Eco Hub in Witton Lakes this week, as a national example of energy saving construction and community focused regeneration.

On Wednesday 17 November the first open viewing was held of the renovated Park Keepers House at Witton Lakes, which has had over £1m invested to turn it into a new ‘Eco Hub’ – in a project led by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) after an asset transfer from Birmingham City Council.

A special bus brought representatives in from the conference for a guided tour, before the team behind the development presented the concept and construction of the Eco Hub – with an open Q&A about how to apply similar models to projects nationwide.

Attended by community organisations from across the country, the Locality Convention is the largest community sector event in the year – with delegates looking for inspiration for new concepts, campaigns, and designs.

Anoushka Deighton from the Architectural Heritage Fund told Erdington Local: “I thought it was a really inspirational vision of what you can do when you let a community organisation take over a disused building and turn it into something for the whole community.

“The way they really thought about the construction and made sure that was environmentally friendly was very positive, alongside getting input from local people and using their knowledge.”

Afzal Hussain, WLCA Chief Officer, said: “Today we wanted to showcase what local communities can do practically, on the ground, for themselves, which will make an impact to address the climate crisis – but also really helps people with everyday costs, the costs of living.

“To make the kind of big impact we need both the pledges from governments, and we need things on the ground very practically.

“That’s how change happens, and we think, equally, grass roots action can and will play a huge role in addressing the climate challenges – but also looking at positive and creative ways of bringing people together.

“So, it (environmental awareness) becomes something you do, something you enjoy with your family and friends and have fun doing it. Look at the surroundings here (Witton Lakes), it’s beautiful.

“The delegates are primarily from organisations like WLCA; they are community associations and community trusts, some agencies as well – there are some stakeholders from the combined authority, so it’s important they see this.

“The community organisations will recognise the challenges of managing assets and community buildings, but in many ways they’ve come here because they want to know that it can be done. “

An asset transfer from Birmingham City Council to Witton Lodge Community Association, the transformation of the 100 year old Park Keepers House at Witton Lakes has been designed by Axis Design Architects – using energy saving techniques and materials to reduce its carbon foot print during both the construction and maintenance.

A Wolverhampton based firm, Axis Design Architects have been spearheading ecologically focused construction across the West Midlands – working with local councils and housing associations.

Rob Annable, Director of Axis Design Architects, explained what the driving force behind the Witton Lakes Eco Hub project was: “Sustainability, and the discussion about services and the resources the building will provide in relation to ecology and health and wellbeing.

“So, the building is dubbed the ‘eco hub’ but not just because of architectural construction issues but also because it will be connected to health and wellbeing, and ecology based activities with the landscape here in the park. So, it’s all those topics combined.

“You could look at it as a benchmark, but I would be fairly humble about that in terms of trying to set a realistic benchmark with what’s possible with funding support from an organisation like Witton Lodge Community Association.

“We haven’t tried to construct or build an experimental project that spends a lot of money on brand new, cutting edge technology – the products, the materials, and operational benefits of this project are as much about trying to set a bar that is achievable for other clients, contractors, and the building sector generally.”

Set to open before the end of the year, the Witton Lakes Eco Hub will run a programme of community and ecologically focused activity – building on the work already being done with the Velvet Community Orchard and other community outreach projects from WLCA.

Once finished, the Eco Hub will help local residents find ways to ‘enhance and encourage the potential for environmentally sustainable lifestyles,’ whilst also acting as a social centre.

On the WLCA website, it further states the Eco Hub will ‘also include the creation of a hydro-power facility on the lakes, sustainable food growing, healthy eating, environmental management responsibility and a range of linked, sustainable living options addressed through community engagement, advice, and practical projects.’

Rob Annable added: “We call it ‘the eco hub’, but for me the reason it’s an ‘eco hub’ is for that long list of landscape and environmental based activities being programmed here.

“Yes, the architecture and the construction seek to reduce carbon emissions, through embodied carbon and operational carbon, but its primary benefit will be health and wellbeing issues around environment, landscape, and ecology.”

For more on the Eco Hub from Witton Lodge Community Association visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk/our-projects/environmental-projects/our-environmental-projects

For more on Axis Designs Architects visit www.axisdesignarchitects.com

NEWS: Housing boost for Erdington as Witton Lodge CIC becomes official Registered Provider

Words by Steve Sharma / Pic of refurbishment supplied by WLCA

Hundreds more homes could now be refurbished and built across Erdington, as Witton Lodge Community Interest Company (WLCIC) has successfully become a Registered Provider.

The official status will allow the Perry Common based WLCIC to apply for funding to refurbish derelict properties, as well as to build new affordable and social housing – helping to address the city’s ongoing housing crisis.

According to the Birmingham City Council, Birmingham is facing a population increase of around 156,000 people by 2031 – leaving a housing shortage of nearly 90,000 homes.

Gareth Hopkins, Homes and Assets Manager for Witton Lodge, said: “Achieving Registered Provider status enables Witton Lodge CIC to progress its housing development aspirations.

“There are currently around 17,000 housing applicants on Birmingham City Council’s waiting list (May 2021) and over 9,000 empty properties across the city (August 2019)

“Homes England (the national government agency for development and regulation of affordable housing) has a national funding pot to address the housing shortage.

“By becoming a Registered Provider we can now apply directly for funding to develop and manage properties.

“We can now pursue the refurbishment of even more empty properties, those which have become a blight on local communities and can cause issues such as anti-social behaviour.”

Before/after refurbishment by WLCIC

Witton Lodge Community Interest Company was formed in 2015 as a subsidiary of Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) to progress housing and community asset development goals.

WLCA is a charity with a successful track record of community-led housing and capital asset development across North Birmingham – established by local residents in 1994, in response to plans to demolish the Perry Common estate.

Since then, WLCA have built and manage 187 properties, as well as developing other community assets such Perry Common Community Hall and Perry Common Library.

The Association organises and delivers a rolling programme of community support and engagement activities – tackling issues from employment and digital poverty to health and wellbeing, many of which became crucial lifelines during lockdowns.

WLCA are also currently running special employment support services from Perry Common Library as part of the Ignite Aspirations initiative, to help people over 29 get back to work after Covid.

Chief Officer, Afzal Hussain, said: “We’re delighted that Witton Lodge CIC has achieved Registered Provider status. The team and Board have worked hard to get us to this stage, however, in many ways the real work starts now as we know there is huge demand for good quality, affordable homes.

“Another important feature is the ‘community-led’ element, where we are able demonstrate that there is a different model to developing new housing, which works with the grain of local communities.

“The work of the CIC will also complement the charitable activities of the Association which provides health, employment and community support services to hundreds of local residents.”

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association visit wwwwittonlodge.org.uk