Case Study: The Rural Urban Synthesis Society (RUSS)

London’s largest Self-Build Community Housing Project

In 2016 CAF Venturesome provided RUSS with social investment in the form of a £100,000 unsecured loan, from the Community Land Trust Fund II, to meet the costs associated with getting to planning stage for the construction of 36 affordable homes comprising of shared ownership, social rent, affordable rental and shared equity in Church Grove, Lewisham, South London.


ABOUT RUSS

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 communities’ dependence on fossil fuels, increase food security, encourage bio-diversity and provide affordable housing for Londoners.

Funding for the scheme has come from a combination of sources including grants from the Greater London Authority (GLA) and loans from CAF Venturesome as its first backer at pre-development stage and then Big Issue Invest with development stage loans from Triodos Bank UK and Big Issue Invest.

The scheme has also been supported by Lewisham Council, who leased the land to RUSS.  RUSS were able to fully repay their loan to us in November 2021 as they received follow on grant funding for the build costs from the GLA.

AFFORDABLE HOMES FOR LONDONERS

In September 2021, RUSS formally broke ground for the construction of the homes.  The building work, being delivered by ROOFF Ltd, is due to complete in 2023. 

RUSS Chair Bernadette Marjoram and future resident Kareem Dayes with key stakeholders including Mayor of Lewisham Damien Egan and Deputy Mayor of London for Housing and Residential Development Tom Copley.

RUSS Chair Bernadette Marjoram and future resident Kareem Dayes with key stakeholders including Mayor of Lewisham Damien Egan and Deputy Mayor of London for Housing and Residential Development Tom Copley. Photo: Jeff Teader

 

The new homes, available to local people who meet the scheme’s affordability criteria, will be high-quality, sustainable and permanently affordable to future generations of tenants and buyers, with no developer profit being made and a resale covenant in place to maintain affordability in perpetuity. 

A range of property sizes and tenure types, including six social rented homes for residents on Lewisham Council’s housing register, will help to create a diverse and mutually supportive resident community. The project includes communal food-growing and gardening spaces, a shared laundry and a publicly accessible playground. A Community Hub, built by nearly 100 volunteers in 2019, stands alongside the new homes and will serve as an affordable, eco-friendly work and events space for the local community.  

The scheme concept was co-designed by a group of the future residents working alongside expert architects, and the residents will also have the opportunity to build some of it alongside local apprentices and volunteers.


Church Grove - Artist impression from within the eastern courtyard looking west

Church Grove: Artist impression from within the eastern courtyard looking west (courtesy Shepheard Epstein Hunter)

 

TESTIMONIALS

“My parents built their home as part of a pioneering Lewisham Council project 30 years ago, and this inspired me to set up RUSS to see if the next generation could deliver something similar. It’s taken a long time – more than a decade – to get to this point, and hundreds of local people, volunteers and councillors have been involved and supported us along the way. It’s been tough going too, with various set-backs along the way. But the passion and perseverance of the people involved has won through, and we are now finally ready to start the building work.” 

Future resident of the scheme and RUSS founder Kareem Dayes 

“I want to thank the many people who have helped RUSS reach this tremendous milestone of starting construction, including the future residents of the scheme, Lewisham Council, the GLA, funders, including CAF Venturesome and our more than 1,000 RUSS members.  Together, we have secured an affordable site, funded the design team’s work, financed the construction contract, recruited volunteers and spread the message that communities really can deliver affordable, sustainable homes for themselves. We hope this project will inspire other groups to follow the RUSS example”.  

RUSS’s Chair, Bernadette Marjoram 

“At a time when many people in Lewisham are struggling with a broken housing market, it is fantastic to see work begin on this community-led housing project, delivering permanently affordable homes for local residents and new social homes for families on our housing waiting list. We’re proud to be supporting RUSS with the land for this scheme, as part of our commitment to tackling the housing crisis in Lewisham, and I look forward to seeing residents move into their new homes in 2023.” 


Damien Egan, the Mayor of Lewisham

 “RUSS is a fantastic example of what community-led housing is about and can achieve. With unwavering determination, and sheer resilience, they are about to deliver one of the largest and 100% community led schemes in the country. By putting the interest of the community at the forefront of all their activities, the impact of this scheme will benefit many generations to come. It’s been a privilege to be an early supporter of their scheme and witness their journey. I hope their success will inspire and give confidence to other community groups looking to embark on this journey.” 

Anne-Helene Sinha, CAF Venturesome

CAF VENTURESOME’S COMMUNITY LED HOUSING FUND

CAF Venturesome is a pioneering social investor. We've been providing flexible loans to Community Land Trusts since 2008 through our funds CLT Fund I and II and now our Community Led Housing Fund (CLH Fund).

With our help, 190 affordable new homes have been built with 470 in the pipeline. We're now able to support all forms of community-led housing schemes through our CLH Fund. 

We can help you with affordable, flexible finance at every stage of your project. This can involve a new build, regeneration project or refurbishment of existing buildings. 

Find out more here.

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