You only have to see the joy on the faces of the young mums who have found their dream homes in the Cornish village of Ruan Minor to realise how much it means for them to finally be able to move back to the place where they grew up.
Like so many people in Cornwall they were forced out by rising house prices, sky-rocketing rentals, a lack of accommodation caused by landlords swapping to the lucrative holiday market and the proliferation of second homes in a parish which contains such desirable coastal locations as Cadgwith.
Cornwall is facing the worst housing crisis in its history but thanks to a growing number of community land trusts, there’s a helping hand for many sons and daughters of Cornish parishes who thought they’d never be able to return home.
The daddy of these organisations is the Cornwall Community Land Trust Limited (Cornwall CLT) which was established in April 2006. It is one of the most progressive and successful community land trusts in England, delivering or enabling more than 260 affordable homes and has more projects in the pipeline.
Many people in Cornwall will know Andrew George as the former Lib Dem MP for St Ives, Penzance and West Cornwall. He also sits in Cornwall Council’s chamber representing Ludgvan, Madron, Gulval and Heamoor. However, Andrew is also chief executive of Cornwall CLT.
He said: “The trust joined forced with Grade Ruan Community Land Trust as residents were concerned about a lack of affordable housing for local people and the growing number of second homes in nearby Cadgwith and other areas.”
There was some money available from a Section 106 grant via an agreement following the development of land elsewhere in the parish. That stimulated Grade Ruan CLT into using the money to deliver affordable homes.
“We helped set them up as a CLT, guided them through the development process and how to deliver the scheme, and took it to planning. They owned the land and we helped build and develop it for them with Cathedral Builders who did a brilliant job. It’s a scheme that is entirely community-led,” added Andrew. “We now have six really high quality affordable rented homes. The rents are never allowed to go above the housing allowance level for the area, so they’re significantly below the open market rents.
“The people who moved here had to have a strong local claim to Ruan Minor. That’s really very important to a lot of the community-led schemes that we’re involved in all around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. People have to demonstrate that they have a strong local claim to the area because that’s what local communities are really concerned about. They have homes but locals can’t get them. These they can and have.”
Andrew introduced us to some of the residents of the Plain-an-Gwarry estate, which was built at the entrance to Ruan Minor on the Lizard Peninsula almost two years ago and was opened by Call The Midwife actress Jenny Agutter who lives locally.
One tenant had lived in Ruan Minor for 40 years, attending school in the village, but was unable to afford to carry on living there. “I was living in a one-bedroom property miles away with two children which was damp. It wasn’t ideal.”
She added: “To be able to come home was amazing, absolutely amazing. I grew up here, spent my whole childhood here, my whole life … and now my children can grow up here as well which is fantastic. It’s an amazing place and these houses are brilliant. I saw about it on Homechoice [the register for letting council and housing association homes to rent in Cornwall]. I thought I’d give it a go, but thought I’d have no chance – you had to have a local connection and I was really, really lucky.” Her children will now be able to go to the same nursery and school she did.
She said a private rental for a two-bed house as recently advertised in Ruan Minor was £950 a month and she pays £600 “which is perfect”.
Alice Tattersall works at the local nursery in Ruan Minor and her husband, who’s from Ruan Minor, works at The Lizard. “It’s so much easier now and we’re so much better off. I feel more comfortable here than when we were living in Helston – this is a family village and everyone looks after each other. My husband always wanted to move home because as nice as Helston is it’s not home.
“My father-in-law sent us details about the houses and said ‘come home’. We had a look and thought there was no chance but when we got the phone call we just beamed from ear to ear.”
Both residents say it has been a lifesaver. Another resident who agrees is Amie Gribble, who has two young children and was living with her mum and dad. “The house was so overcrowded – my parents took in my niece, my brother was there, my younger sister. I wasn’t even on the Homechoice register and then I saw the houses and applied. I was very lucky.”
Amie, who’s a healthcare assistant in Helston, added: “We couldn’t afford to buy or rent here before even though I work part-time and my partner’s full-time and works six days a week. I don’t think I’d have been able to afford to live in the village even if I was full-time, so this scheme has been a godsend.” The proof is the beaming smile on her one-year-old daughter Hallie’s face.
Nigel Green, of Grade Ruan Community Land Trust, whose family own the land on which the houses were built, is rightly proud of what he and his fellow villagers have achieved at Plain-an-Gwarry. He said: “It’s really important for the community for local people to be able to stay where they grew up. There’s so little affordable housing around. The housing situation has got worse since this development – more and more landlords are selling up and availability has got worse.”
He believes that the average house price in the area is around half a million pounds now. The last time he looked there were about 30 people on the housing register desperate for accommodation in the parish.
“People have been displaced especially in the Cadgwith area because of landlords turning to Airbnb. There are so many houses in Cadgwith which are just dark during winter,” added Nigel.
Andrew pointed out that at a publicity event to promote the Ruan Minor development about 30 people showed an interest who weren’t on the Homechoice register. He believes that this is a sign that local need is far greater than official statistics would suggest. “A lot of people feel they don’t have a chance so what’s the point of registering.”
He added: “There’s a desperate need and everyone involved with the community land trusts are involved for the right reasons. We are blessed with some amazingly talented people, many of whom have worked in the housing sector. We have planning permission for 50 homes at the moment, so we’re working with some of the larger housing associations on delivery.”
The success of the Ruan Minor scheme is now seeing proposals for similar developments elsewhere on the peninsula.
“What we find is that where you have a success like this that stimulates neighbouring parishes to say why don’t we do that too. So in Landewednack parish, The Lizard, the next parish to the south, they’ve set up a housing working party, on a site which is on parish council-owned land as you go into the village. We’re a good way down the track of preparing a project which will be submitted to planning probably later this year or early next year,” said Andrew.
“Similarly in St Keverne, a neighbouring parish, we’re working with a local community group there as well. We’ve identified a really good site and there’s a fantastic family who are working with us on that development. That one will be for up to 20 homes, The Lizard one is for nine. They’re not ginormous schemes but they make a significant impact for the benefit of people in the area.
“These schemes are vital – we’re in the biggest housing emergency crisis in my living memory and I’ve been involved professionally and as a local Member of Parliament on this issue for all of my working life. Things have never been worse than they are now. A lot of people in private rented accommodation are finding that they’re being evicted and pushed out to make way for holiday lets.
“I was just talking to one of the tenants here. One of her friends from this area has a very young child and another one on the way and is desperately in need of affordable accommodation, and is currently living in a Premier Inn 25 miles away. It is just desperate at the moment. Families are literally being made homeless as a result of the housing pressures in this area.”
On providing affordable homes for locals who would otherwise be forced to move away, Andrew added: “We’re chipping away at it. It’s gradually getting bigger.”
You can find more about Cornwall CLT here: https://cornwallclt.org/