Bringing real localism into practice through co-operative housing governance: The prospects for community-led housing in England

Richard Lang, David Mullins

Research output: Working paper/PreprintWorking paper

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The overall aim of this fellowship project was to explore the potential that co-operative housing governance offers for effective localism and sustainable community building. The empirical results outlined in this report are based on interviews with housing experts as well as stakeholders and representatives of community-led and co-operative housing in England and Wales between April and June 2013. Furthermore, case studies of innovative community-led projects in the English West Midlands have been undertaken in order to take an in-depth look at localism practice “on the ground”.

The report lays down a number of challenges for co-operative and community-led housing models as well as for the role of housing associations in supporting real localism. First, the study results show that the 2010-15 Coalition Government’s localism agenda did not result in substantial reforms to promote real localism in social housing. While new funding streams, such as the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme (EHCGP) and the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) community-led stream were important, they were not sufficient in themselves to create a more attractive environment for community-led initiatives. Nevertheless, on a discursive level, the Coalition Government did give some legitimacy to ideas of mutualism and community self-help as part of its promotion of “localism” and “big society” in the context of welfare retrenchment. On the other hand, it did not stimulate transformation of mainstream housing in England into a more community-led model.

Secondly, the report deepens our understanding of the emergence and evolution of different community-led housing fields in England. Although these sprang out of different social movements, the study highlights their common grounding in principles of co-operative governance. Nevertheless, the identity of newer community-led models, particularly community land trusts (CLT), differs from traditional co-operative housing as it involves a wider range of residents in local development issues rather than being confined to the actual residents of a specific housing scheme. The results further suggest that an integration of the innovative CLT model with traditional co-operative governance elements could complement the recently introduced community rights with necessary participatory governance structures on the local level.

Thirdly, the research has shown that external support mechanisms play a crucial role in the development of different community-led models. This is due to specific challenges community-led initiatives are facing in order to ensure long-term building activity, such as sustainable funding and financing, or management and governance competence among residents. For most community-led initiatives, this can stimulate engagement in partnerships with housing associations and local authorities. The study results suggest that it is crucial that such external partners have a real commitment to supporting local community leadership.

Finally, the report points to the importance of international comparative research in identifying similar dilemmas but different mechanisms to resolve partnership and external facilitation challenges. In this respect, the case of Vienna, Austria, can be seen as an example where public promotion and developer competitions at the local site level help to institutionalise co-operative housing projects. However, strong state promotion and central umbrella bodies also favour organisational isomorphism which is counterproductive to the co-operative idea of local experimentation with organisational structures to meet housing needs. The lesson for the English community-led housing sector could thus be to support organisational diversity on the local level and to retain multiple umbrella bodies while seeking stronger alliances within the broader movement.

Further research is now planned to build on this platform, to explore any differences of approach from the incoming Conservative single-party government, to explore the impact and outcomes of different forms of governance and organisation on social capital, both vertical and horizontal. The emergence and evolution of community-led fields in England will be analysed to consider the role of actors in constructing social fields during an uncertain period.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Birmingham
Number of pages74
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


  • Community-led Housing
  • Communities
  • Community Development
  • Social capital
  • Housing
  • Housing associations
  • Housing Cooperatives
  • Community Land Trusts
  • Self-help Housing
  • Self-build Housing
  • Cohousing
  • Social housing
  • Social enterprise
  • localism
  • Affordable Housing
  • Housing Policy
  • Locality
  • Local development
  • Regional Development
  • Planning
  • Urban Planning


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