Housing People Building Communities (HPBC) celebrates 15 years: Interview with founder
Liverpool-based charity Housing People Building Communities (HPBC) is 15 years old this year and, having finally completed its first community-led, low-cost housing development in Granby Toxteth, is now looking ahead to future projects. Your Move caught up with Reverend Canon Dr Shannon Ledbetter, founder and chair of HPBC, to find out what the charity has achieved – and what’s next.
Interview by Christine Toner
Can you tell us a bit about the history of the charity?
We celebrated our launch in 2002 during the ‘twin beams’ one-year commemoration event for 9/11. At that time we were known as Liverpool Habitat for Humanity. The Liverpool Roman Catholic Archdiocese had generously donated 2.2 acres of land in Granby Toxteth where we proposed to build 32 homes “built by the people, for the people” in order to fulfill the charity’s vision to build good quality, affordable homes and create a diverse and loving community.
Although the model of using volunteers, trainees, corporate giving and the home partners themselves to build was challenging and many thought it was “crazy”, the rewards have far outweighed the difficulties we have encountered. The story of the charity can be told through the many partners who have supported us, the Archdiocese, Liverpool City Council, local, regional and national businesses, colleges and universities, community groups, housing associations and the countless individuals from literally across the globe, who each contributed significantly to creating what is now the Housing People, Building Communities ‘family’.
An integral part of our history has been those board and staff members who have been on the ground dealing with the many challenges and highlights we have faced. I am grateful to them all.
We’ve also had good support from local media organisations, not least Your Move magazine, which made us the beneficiary of one of its property award ceremonies in our very early days, donating £5,000, and has continued to support us ever since.
When the charity was formed in 2002, what was the primary aim?
The primary aim is two-fold. Firstly, to help provide one of the most important human needs – a safe and affordable home for families who otherwise would not be able to afford to purchase one of their own.
Equally important is the model and ethos of bringing people from every walk of life and background to work together alongside the future homeowners, who put in their ‘sweat equity’ by helping to build their own home and those of their neighbours.
What challenges have you faced in the last 15 years?
There have been many challenges, including the more conventional ones that all housebuilders face within the industry itself, i.e. the various codes and regulations, plus increasing costs of materials and subcontracted labour. However, while the greatest value is our model it is also our greatest challenge.
Fifteen years ago when I was first gathering support for the project I had a lot of explaining to do – build houses with volunteers and a significant amount of donations? Many thought I was having a laugh, but the underlying principles must have intrigued people because our wide network of support meant that with each challenge we were able to access the appropriate assistance and together meet those challenges.
Along with the people who will eventually live in the homes you also have many volunteers who won’t be living in one of the properties. Why do you think the project resonates so much with people and makes them want to help?
People are fundamentally good and want to contribute to society. Most people want to feel like they are making a difference and helping to improve the lives of others. Whether you volunteer for a day or more regularly, helping to build homes for people is a tangible way to build lives and communities. It’s also been a great way for students, graduates, apprentices, the unemployed, people with mental health issues and ex-offenders to get valuable work experience or to help them back onto their feet.
How difficult is it to get materials donated?
It’s a case of selling the vision. We’ve had a lot of fantastic businesses who get it immediately and want to support and partner with us, people like Wienerberger, B&Q and Wickes, for example, to name just a few. With others it is more of a challenge to explain the need and how their input can make a difference to the charity, but also to show them how positive giving back is for their business.
What’s next for the charity?
We are in the advanced stages of planning a very exciting new project in Liverpool which we are eager to tell everyone about. We hope to be in a position to make an announcement on or close to our 15th anniversary, which is 11 September. We can’t wait to welcome volunteers and other organisations and businesses, as we demonstrate once again how HPBC is building homes by and for the community. We’ll make sure Your Move readers are among the first to know.
Your Move spoke to some of the Granby residents to find out how Housing People, Building Communities has helped them.
“The idea that I could use the only thing I have – my energy – as a resource, that my own ‘sweat equity’ could get me a stake in my own home, was a godsend. I work hard but have not been able to save enough for a deposit, but because of this scheme I now own my own home and have improved my life and that of my family.”
– Joyce Msiska, social worker
“I used to rent because I couldn’t afford to buy my own home, but I found out about the special scheme where I could swap 500 hours of work on my home for £10,000, and that meant I could finally do it. Doing my ‘sweat equity’ meant I met the neighbours before I moved in and it feels like I’m part of a community.”
– Paloma Linaza, pharmacy manager
“When I moved to Liverpool 12 years ago to do a course and start a new career it would have been a great time to get a mortgage, but as a student I couldn’t do it. Since then Liverpool has boomed and so have the property prices. This was the best chance we had of getting a house, and we could really take ownership of our own home and neighbourhood by working together to build it.”
– Kieran Bohan, youth worker and freelance web designer/marketing consultant
“As soon as I started working I wanted to own a home of my own but it just wasn’t possible to save a deposit while paying rent. When I first heard of the opportunity to help build my own home it sounded like a ‘Grand Designs’ kind of dream and I never thought it would be possible, but it turns out it was. Not only do I own my own home but I helped to build it too – and I built it with my neighbours. It’s an amazing project and I’d love to see more of them around the UK.”
– Hannah Anderson, youth worker