Anne-Helene Sinha

Senior Investment Manager

Charities Aid Foundation

Our “virtual” guest panel

Community-led housing from a funder and investee perspective

18 May 2020

We invited a selection of our partners, funders and investees to give us their thoughts on the community-led housing sector and our new CLH Fund.

780 Panel

From left to right:  Leigh Pearce - Nationwide Foundation, Richard Hunt - CAF Bank, Dinah Roake - RUSS

Leigh Pearce – Chief Executive, Nationwide Foundation

The Nationwide Foundation was established by the Nationwide Building Society in 1997 as a fully independent charitable foundation.  Their vision is for everyone in the UK to have access to a decent home that they can afford.  They strengthen, support and champion the growth of community-led housing, so that more people who are in need will benefit. We are very grateful to Nationwide Foundation for funding our social investment loans to community-led housing schemes since 2010.

What support do you offer to community-led housing groups?

The Nationwide Foundation has supported community-led housing for 12 years and has seen the growth and strengthening of the sector in this time. The magic of community-led housing is the people. They are excellently placed to understand and meet the housing needs of their community and their energy, commitment and can-do approach is refreshing and much needed in housing. The Foundation supports community-led housing groups by funding activity to strengthen the foundations of the sector that are crucial for individual groups to thrive. This includes the provision of information, support, advice and technical expertise. We also believe that as the sector grows, robust knowledge and sharing of learning is important to strengthen it further. We support action learning and collaboration to help achieve this. We also support work to achieve better access to finance and funding for the sector – a crucial element of any CLH scheme.

Why have you chosen to support CAF Venturesome?

Increasing access to suitable finance for community-led housing is one area that the Nationwide Foundation focusses on. Over the last 10 years CAF Venturesome has not only provided much needed finance to schemes, it also has developed a deep understanding of the needs of the sector and how to make sure the finance it provides is the most appropriate financial solution for community-led housing schemes. CAF Venturesome has used the experience of its previous CLT Funds and the feedback from the sector to shape a new fund that meets these needs. It will continue to learn and use that learning to not only inform its own practice, but to share with and encourage other finance providers to join in and invest in the community-led housing sector. Not only that, but the team at CAF Venturesome uses its knowledge and experience to provide support beyond the provision of the funds.

What are you hoping the Fund will achieve?

We hope that the CLH Fund will support community-led housing schemes to raise the finance they need to make their plans a reality and deliver increased numbers of decent, affordable homes that meet the needs of local communities. That it does this in a way that supportive and enabling to individuals schemes and for the growth and strengthening of the sector as a whole. We also hope that other finance providers will take advantage of the learning and evidence from the Fund to inform their own activities and open up more sources of finance for the sector.

Where do you see the community-led housing sector in 5 years?

For me the success story for community-led housing will be when it is considered to be an attainable option for the development of decent, affordable homes and considered equally alongside other forms of housing delivery by others such as planners, finance providers and land owners. We have seen this happen in patches and in five years I see community-led housing scaling out (not up) to have greater prominence in more communities.

Richard Hunt - Head of Lending Business Development, Charities, CAF Bank 

CAF Bank offers both day to day banking services for the not-for-profit sector and a specialised loan finance unit aimed at supporting the UK social sector. All profits go to Charities Aid Foundation, to support its charitable objectives to promote giving and transform lives and communities around the world.

How does CAF Bank support community-led housing groups?

With over £150 million lent to charities over the last 8 years, CAF Bank is used to working with a variety of partners to support their projects. Our funding solutions include both development and long term repayable finance. Our approach is built upon developing partnerships and long term relationships. We recognise that every project is unique, and are happy to discuss options and proposals.

How do you work with CAF Venturesome on community-led housing projects?

I think the best example of working together has been on a Cornwall CLT project. Here the two organisations were able to support the development of a number of properties for sale. CAF Bank was able to provide competitive development finance, whilst CAF Venturesome provided the social investment necessary to support the project. The result - local families able to afford homes in the locations they live and work in. 

What other kinds of housing projects does CAF Bank support?

The fundamental importance of housing means that it forms an important part of the work CAF Bank does with the sector. We have been able to support both the acquisitions and development. Projects have included single units, multiple occupation, multiple properties, general needs, supported housing, purchase, development, refinance of existing schemes and many more. Our team of experienced relationship managers are happy to talk through propositions at any stage in their process.

Dinah Roake - Operations Director, The Rural Urban Synthesis Society

The Rural Urban Synthesis Society (RUSS) is a member-led Community Land Trust based in South London, founded in 2009 with the aim of creating sustainable community-led neighbourhoods and truly affordable homes right across London. Their mission is to reduce the community’s dependence on fossil fuels, increase food security, encourage bio-diversity and provide affordable housing for Londoners.

In 2016 CAF Venturesome lent RUSS £100,000 for the pre-Development costs for the construction of 33 affordable homes comprising shared ownership, social rent, affordable rental and shared equity in Church Grove, Lewisham.

What are the funding challenges you faced as a community-led housing scheme?

Back in 2015/16 RUSS was moving from the ‘we now have a site’ stage, to the ‘we need to get planning permission’ stage.

As an organisation we had – up to then – relied mainly on occasional small grants and the fund-raising activities of our members. But this typically only generated a few thousand pounds a year, and it wasn’t going to be anywhere near enough to finance the complex design and technical work we needed to get done to enable us to submit a detailed planning application.

When we met you early in 2016 we had an outline design only, and we reckoned we needed a total of £462,000 to get the project through planning and ready to start on site, for 30+ flats, on a complicated inner-city site with issues of flooding and conservation sensitivities.

Like many CLT’s we have found the pre-development phase very challenging to fund. The costs are significant (typically many hundreds of thousands of pounds), and the people we are trying to help get a home are all on low incomes. Consequently it is completely unrealistic to ask each low-income household to raise £10-£20k upfront to cover the pre-development costs – they just don’t have access to that sort of money.

So, your support was a game changer for us – without your loan, a similar loan from Big Issue Invest and a grant from the GLA we would not have secured planning permission, and we would not be close to starting on site.

Why did you approach CAF Venturesome for investment?

We had been scouting around to try to find organisations that might support an innovative community-led housing scheme, and CAF Venturesome was mentioned as a potential partner.

What has been the impact to your CLT?

Your loan, and the other organisations that have supported us (like the Co-op Foundation, Big Issue Invest, Lewisham Council, the Greater London Authority, and the Tudor Trust) have made it possible for us to climb the very steep and expensive pre-development ‘hill’. We now have planning permission, Triodos Bank and Big Issue Invest have agreed in principle to fund the construction work and we are hoping to get on site early in 2021.

What would you say to other community-led housing schemes considering social investment?

Go for it! If you need finance to get your community-housing project off the ground there aren’t many organisations that offer help, so engage with the ones that do, like CAF Venturesome, and consider it. It may not always be the cheapest option, but they are a good ethical organisation, so they are very helpful, understanding and easy to work with.

We are very grateful to our partners for giving us their time and views. We look forward to working with them for many years to come.

To find out more about our CLH Fund please visit our website or talk to our team on 03000 123 300 or email us at