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Walterton Neighbourhood Builders Ltd. provides opportunities for employment and training for local people in carrying out work to their own estate and to enable them to take up construction employment on a permanent basis.
Walterton and Elgin Community Homes (WECH) was the first, and is still one of very few, resident-controlled housing associations to use the Tenant's Choice legislation under the 1988 Housing Act to take over ownership from the Council. Residents live in eight streets of Victorian houses and a prefabricated low-rise estate which had been allowed to fall into disrepair. The Council were planning to re-house tenants and sell the houses but residents argued that the houses should be retained and improved. Although unable to convince the Council, the residents were able to force a transfer in April 1992 by using the Tenants' Choice legislation, at a valuation which takes account of the cost of the work required. A 25m programme of repair has begun, funded partly from a dowry created as part of the transfer and partly from housing association grant.
WECH was keen to see this work make a contribution to the local community by providing
employment and training opportunities. Requiring local contractors to take on local people
was tried but, partly because existing skill levels were quite low, a decision was taken
to set up Walterton Neighbourhood Builders (WNB). Grants from two charitable trusts
enabled the organisation to be properly established before undertaking any work. WNB
finally tendered for work alongside other builders in early 1994 and has now completed
nearly 400,000 of work.
Investment in large building projects has the potential to provide work and training opportunities. All too often however the need to obtain the lowest price and to complete work on time and to an agreed standard become the only factors which can be taken into account in appointing a contractor and in completing the work. With a co-operative contractor, local labour and training opportunities can be generated but these inevitably last for the period of the contract only.
WECH's programme of repair work may take ten years or more to complete and offers the opportunity of building skills and experience for local people over an extended period. By setting up Walterton Neighbourhood Builders with the dual aims of winning building contracts in competition and providing local employment and training, these opportunities can be developed and expanded.
WNB's aim of generating local employment goes wider than the residents of WECH's homes
to cover people living in the neighbourhood generally. So far as WECH residents are
concerned, a skills audit showed that the number with existing skills was low and WNB will
in its second year be looking at ways of increasing training and low skill job
Quantitative and Qualitative Impact
WNB has completed 400,000 work in its first year.
The number of local people employed and trained is as follows:
Of those employed, 21 have gone on to employment with other contractors or become self-employed.
In low income neighbourhoods, money tends not to circulate around as it does in middle class areas. Nearly all income leaves the area immediately to go to pay a landlord and the utilities.
By increasing employment in the area, more money is available to circulate locally to
shops and amenities increasing their viability and making them available for everyone.
Major projects spread over a long period of time offer the best hope of achieving this
Changes in Policy or Practice
Few community building businesses have been established with WNB's aims. Generally it has been seen as too difficult a route and local labour and training has been targeted through agreements and contract clauses with existing builders.
WECH are a member of People for Action which is a national network of housing associations who are seeking to find ways of maximising the value of expenditure to local neighbourhoods.
Through monitoring the success of WNB and the way they have funded and set up a well-organised and resourced structure before beginning work, their ideas will be disseminated and taken up by other members in other parts of the country.
WECH are now looking at establishing other community businesses in retailing and a cafe.
Large scale demolition and redevelopment are often seen as the only solution to deteriorating estates. But these remedies take no account of the communities that live on the estate. The residents of Walterton and Elgin rejected the plans of the local authority which would have broken up their community. By taking over ownership of their own homes, they have embarked on a resident-controlled regeneration exercise aimed at preserving and improving the existing community.
Residents in the area are often on low incomes and a high proportion are from ethnic minorities. All of them now have the right to control WECH by electing its committee.
Demolition of unfit tower block homes has been followed by provision of higher quality homes with a much longer shelf life.
Walterton Neighbourhood Builders Ltd
National Federation of Housing Associations (NFHA)
Walterton & Elgin Community Homes (WECH).
Walterton Neighbourhood Builders Ltd (WNB).
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