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New communities for a new generation

Man speaking

Housing dominated the headlines at this years’ party conferences – and with good reason. The UK finds itself amidst a housing crisis, most recently defined by a ‘Housing the Nation’ report by the Home Builders Federation (or HBF), published in September.

The report found 78% of respondents agree there is a housing crisis in the UK.

The reasons for that crisis are multi-faceted. The post-war baby boom exploded populations and a second boom in the 1990s has exacerbated pressures on the availability of housing and supporting infrastructure. A retired generation are living longer and staying in their own homes – while younger people struggle to amass the wealth to get on the housing ladder.

Alongside these population trends, there is an increasing need to address the makeup of our communities. How are they formed, built and expanded? What roles do different sectors – from housebuilding to education and energy – have to play?

This question sat at the heart of our first workshop in The Phoenix Future Programme. The programme is a series of workshops, centred in the local community of Lincolnshire, Huntingdonshire, Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, that seeks to spark conversation and solutions by bringing together representatives from multiple sectors in our region.

Garden communities offer the roots of change

Our introductory speaker at our first event was Lord Matthew Taylor, who brought his vision and insights from his work developing the Garden Community programme.

Lord Taylor highlighted the trend of adding endless housing estates to existing communities, as a big cause of resistance to new home building. Put simply, they add congestion, stretch public services and blight the setting of historic town settlements and identities.

The Garden Community programme seeks to address these challenges with new communities that provide not just homes but all the facilities needed for day to day living and employment close to the home.

“The focus now needs to shift from simply constructing housing estates to building cohesive communities. It is crucial to prioritise the availability of green spaces, convenient nearby services within walking distance, and avoidance of isolation from peers. Additionally, ensuring the affordability of heating and cooling homes is essential.”

Lord Matthew Taylor

The concept of a sustainable community revolves around providing for day-to-day activities within the community itself, rather than relying on commuting to other areas. The goal is to create a self-contained community like a traditional market town that provides all necessary amenities and services for day to day living.

Lord Taylor identified successful examples of this approach. Including the Duchy community of Nansledan in Cornwall, which has been developed as a community on the edge of Newquay since 2015 functioning as a distinct, well serviced community.

The benefits – and demands – of community

The discussions that resulted from our workshop presented ample evidence for the need of community in its many forms.

Lord Taylor highlighted a stark statistic – that only 1% of people prefer living in flats. That there is a strong desire for gardens and green spaces wherever they’re available.

Julie Farrow, Chief Executive, Hunts Forum of Voluntary Organisations, tied this to our collective desire for connection: “It’s about providing places where people can be together and communicate (whether indoors or outdoors). Defining these spaces for communities is essential.”

She added the needs and demands of building long-lasting coommunities: “In order to combat loneliness and foster a sense of community, it is crucial to have homes that adapt as we age – a true ‘home for life.’ This includes convertibility for wheelchair use and a supportive network of neighbours.”

This article is adapted from our report on the outcomes of our first Phoenix Future Programme workshop. You can download the full report here.


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