© French + Tye
Citizens House, Unity Way, Lewisham
Status: Residents moved in
Size: 11 homes
Affordability: ~65% of open market value (2-bedrooms for £272,500, 1-bedrooms for £215,000)
Citizens House is an 11-home, genuinely and permanently affordable housing project in Sydenham, Lewisham (near Brasted Close), and is London CLT's first direct development. Home prices are set at rates that are accessible for people on average incomes in Lewisham, and when residents move out, they must sell at a similar level, giving new local families a chance to buy a home they can afford.
Citizens House is a major achievement as the first community land trust in London that has been directly created by the community using London CLT’s unique affordability model.
It has been co-designed by the community, with local people making key decisions at every step of the way. With construction now completed, we have 11 households moving in from January 2023. Our new residents have roots in Lewisham, including an assortment of local teachers, artists, and NHS workers, as well as families who will now be able to raise their kids in their community.
Lewisham Citizens telling the story of Citizens House at the ribbon cutting and opening celebration, April 2023. © Yiannis Katsaris
With Citizens House now completed and residents moved in, community engagement is far from over. London CLT has been training and collaborating with the new residents to form a resident management company, to build relationships with neighbours on the surrounding estates, and to continue advocating the local council to create more opportunities for similar community-led projects.
Meet our residents
Lewisham Citizens action at Lewisham Town Hall to present the planning application to Mayor Damien Egan, May 2018.
Led by Lewisham Citizens (the local chapter of the community organising charity Citizens UK), the campaign began in 2014 with people in Lewisham talking about the challenges facing local people. A lack of affordable homes came up time and time again. Community-led, permanently affordable homes in the form of a community land trust was selected as a campaign priority to ensure that there are homes available for key members of the community who would otherwise be forced out. Ahead of the 2014 elections Mayor Bullock and other candidates were asked to find land suitable to build CLT homes on. With 400 people in attendance the candidates agreed in principle to finding a site. When no land was forthcoming members of Lewisham Citizens worked with London CLT to identify possible sites. Community leaders walked the streets of Lewisham and made a note of potential sites; a list of 43 sites was presented to the council. Simultaneously Lewisham Citizens ran a community share drive selling hundreds of shares to Lewisham residents to help demonstrate the widespread support for the idea.
On 23 March 2016, the Mayor of London directed Lewisham Council to start working with Lewisham Citizens and London CLT to develop a fully affordable housing scheme on a garage site adjacent to the Brasted Close estate.
This was a major win for local people – the possibility of genuinely community-led affordable housing to keep people in the neighbourhood they grew up in and have contributed to their entire lives. Lewisham Citizens and London CLT then embarked on an intensive community-led design process to engage the local Sydenham community in transforming their own neighbourhood starting with this small piece of land.
“Years ago, in May 2014, Lewisham Citizens made the first approach to the [then] Mayor of the Borough, Sir Steve Bullock at an Assembly of 400 Lewisham Citizens, to request the Council to provide us with some land on which to build some CLT homes. He responded positively if cautiously to that request, which it fell to me to make, and after many explanatory meetings first with Mayor and Councillors, and later with Council officials, we were granted a garage site in Sydenham, part of a council housing estate. We made overtures to the residents and neighbours, and gradually built up a steering committee to help us with the plans, they chose an architects team, who also were very community orientated, and in May 2018 our plan went to the Council. We... are delighted with the beautiful, thoughtful plan our team have finalised and shown to the residents.” - Nano McCaughan of South London Citizens
"Temporary architect's office" community engagement event with Archio, October 2016.
Community-led Design Process
Local people, nearby residents and neighbours, led the entire process, making all key decisions on land, money, design, planning and management. Inclusion, responding to local needs, building capacity, listening and community ownership were all central to the community-led design process.
Once the site was agreed in 2016, Lewisham Citizens kicked off the design process with a July community picnic, followed by open meetings over the following months to engage more and more residents through leafleting and inviting neighbours. Local people discussed hopes and fears, as well as criteria for selecting an architect. Local people participated in a “choose your architect” event in September 2016 where Archio Architects was selected to co-design and Rooff was selected as the construction company, after presentations from multiple different architecture and construction firms.
Archio held a three-day open workshop, setting up a “temporary architect’s office” for local people to get involved with making, modelling and drawing ideas. 30+ residents joined and shared stories about the site and discussed how they would be affected by the development. 48 students/staff from nearby St. Bartholomew’s Primary School also attended a workshop about designing a community garden. In 2017, London CLT convened a core group of residents to act as the Community Steering Group for the project, committing to meet monthly and play a valuable decision-making role, as well as helping to organise wider engagement events. 2017 culminated in a big Christmas workshop to update the community on the latest proposals and to ask residents about building materials, public space usage and more.
In 2017, London CLT convened a core group of residents to act as the Community Steering Group for the project, committing to meet monthly and play a valuable decision-making role, as well as helping to organise wider engagement events. 2017 culminated in a big Christmas workshop to update the community on the latest proposals and to ask residents about building materials, public space usage and more.
After years of local workshops and collaboration with Lewisham Council to develop designs, proposals were submitted for planning in June 2018, and the team received planning permission in April 2019. London CLT entered into a funding agreement with the GLA in October 2020 to help fund the project, construction began in 2021 and the first residents moved in at the beginning of 2023. Since planning was submitted in 2018, local people have continued to be involved through workshops about landscaping and sites nearby, painting a mural, a start-on-site celebration in April 2021, discussing and voting on a name for the building (“Citizens House, Unity Way”) in August 2021, tile-picking workshops with new residents, and site tours in 2022.
The allocations process was developed by the Community Steering Group and focused on guiding principles of fairness, transparency, simplicity, legality and scalability, developing the eligibility criteria and working to interview applicants and select residents. Over 1000 people looked to apply for just 11 homes, with almost 400 people completing the eligibility test and over 60 going on to submit their final application. Read more about the Citizens House Allocations Process by clicking here.
Community involvement and ownership of the project is far from over - the residents and local people will continue to manage and make decisions over the land and shared community spaces at Citizens House. We hope that it will become a local hub for interaction, play, events and social action, providing safe and accessible public spaces for the local community.
Through this process, we have developed local leadership and supported community organising. Citizens House is an example of community wealth building, shifting local economies away from centralised decisions by government and the market, to focus on delivering what local people need.
Citizens House would not have been possible without the community leaders and organisations that campaigned for years on end, as well as the support of Lewisham Council, elected officials and council officers, funding from the Greater London Authority and Community Led Housing Hub, Big Issue Invest, investors in London CLT’s community share offer, and mortgage providers Nationwide Building Society and Ecology Building Society.
See here for the planning permission and learn more about the designs for Citizens House on Archio's website here.
"Securing the land and gaining permission to build was only the first part of the journey. Ensuring the homes would be a place of warmth, comfort, safety and ultimately a sanctuary would be the next step, as well as making good on London CLT’s commitment to transforming neighbourhoods by supporting the local people to have control over where they live. The main aspiration for our steering group was... to create a community, where nature and green spaces are fully utilized so children can play safely and residents meet. The homes had to be affordable whilst ensuring the quality would be maintained... Everything from the layout of the space to the material finishes contribute towards residents’ health, mood and productivity. So the homes were designed to be light and airy, optimising space efficiently and boosting spirits and energy... The existing walkway linking Brasted Close to Carlton Terrace has been kept and will be landscaped as a communal area to invite discussion, conversation and friendship." - Janet Emmanuel, Citizens House Community Steering Group & Deputy Headteacher at Sydenham School
Community engagement event with Mayor Damien Egan and Archio, May 2018.
Citizens House new residents, May 2022. Photo © Ian Miles for NCLTN