Board statement 21.07.15

Posted By on Jul 21, 2015 |

In recent weeks there appears to have been a lot of misinformation about Brixton Green and the Somerleyton Road Project published in the Brixton Buzz, Urban 75 and the Brixton Come Together Facebook pages.

For the record, Brixton Green is a community benefit society set up by Brixton residents so Brixton people can be at the forefront of the redevelopment of Somerleyton Road. We are proud of the work we have done, we have nothing to hide, and welcome questions, challenge and scrutiny. The latter is one of the good things about Brixton and the Brixton Buzz does a great job in making Brixton an informed community. At the same time, the Brixton Buzz also has a responsibility to report facts.

What is Brixton Green?

  • Registered community benefit society: We started in 2008 and registered as a community benefit society in 2009.
  • Non-profit & voluntary: Brixton Green has no paid staff. Our director and trustees give their time to the project on a voluntary basis.
  • Democratic & inclusive: We set up as a community benefit society to ensure a proper, inclusive, democratic structure was in place.
  • National community share pilot: In 2009 we become one of the Department of Communities and Local Government and Cooperatives UK’s ten national pilot schemes for community shares. They provided support and legal advice to help ensure we had a robust, democratic structure. The £1 community shares represent a stake-holding in Brixton Green, and are not a way of investing for a financial return.
  • Owned by Brixton people: Anyone over 16 years old who lives or works in one of the five wards of Brixton can become a member of Brixton Green (community benefit society) by buying a £1 share. One share per person. One vote per person.
  • Board elected from the community: Only members can be elected to the board. This ensures the trustees are accountable to the membership (who have to be local people) and ensures the trustees keep to their contract with the membership. The board can chose to co-opt a few trustees who have useful skills.

Over 1,200 members of the Brixton community are members of Brixton Green

Over the past seven years we have all worked hard on a voluntary basis to make sure a wide cross section of our community are aware of the project and able to become members. We have distributed over 60,000 leaflets, held many community events (some attended by over 1,000 people), held workshops in schools & community groups, run a series of deliberative workshops, held many consultation events dealing with all aspects of the project and carried out door to door discussions in the immediate area of the project. Over 1,200 members of the Brixton community have become shareholders, including one of the founding members of the Southwyck House Resident Association.

Owned by Brixton people

Brixton Green is owned by Brixton people. Brixton Green has achieved the rare success of keeping a wide cross section of the community involved in a long term project. Many community projects succeed in getting short term interest, but few can maintain democratic representation over the long term. Our view is that the democratic representation is essential and our rules set the high bar that at least 10% of our membership have to vote at our annual general meetings. We have achieved in excess of this at each of our AGM’s since we started. Few community organisations (or local political groups) can boast such success - especially working on a voluntary basis and with such a large membership.

Somerleyton Road

Somerleyton Road is important to the Brixton community. It divides our town. The only access to the 1,600 (approx) homes in the Moorlands Triangle is via Coldharbour Lane or Somerleyton Passage (an unwelcoming alley). Somerleyton Road sits in one of the most deprived wards in the UK. The aim of local people is for a development that helps connect our town, provides truly affordable homes, jobs, sustainable development and improves quality of life.

7 years working hard to make this happen

In 2013, after 5 years of campaigning, Brixton Green convinced Lambeth Council to develop the road in partnership with the community. This was a hard slog. There were dozens of meetings and a lot of lobbying and work to prove what the community wanted was viable. It was touch and go at times. But we succeeded. Early next year construction is due to start.

Shaped by Brixton People

This is a development shaped by Brixton people:

  • The project will pay its own way, and over its lifetime, and will not be a cost to Lambeth taxpayers
  • There will be no ‘poor doors’. The social and market rent housing will be mixed throughout.
  • There will be over 300 new homes all for rent and all owned by a new housing cooperative.
  • At least 60 of the homes will be part of an extra care scheme for older people
  • 40% of the homes will have genuine low cost rents, the kind of rents that the Council sets. 50% of all the homes will be Affordable Homes, as defined by the government.
  • The homes will be built to meet, and if possible exceed, the London Housing Design standards, with an aim for 100% of the homes to have dual aspect.
  • There is an ambition for a high level of environmental sustainability in the build and use of resources.
  • The layout of facilities and access to services is being structured to make it easier for people to look after each other.
  • The scheme includes real job opportunities for local people.

Great organisations coming to Somerleyton Road

We’ve convinced some great organisations to locate on Somerleyton Road.

  • The Ovalhouse Theatre will be moving to the Coldharbour Lane end, along with a creative hub for other Brixton creative and cultural organisations.
  • One of the best chef’s school in the UK will be opening a satellite school and training restaurant on the site (98% of their graduates go straight into work in all types of catering, and business management).
  • There will be an outside gym run by Blockworkout (a great business set up by some young entrepreneurial Brixton residents who were previously involved in gangs).

There will be a children’s nursery, extra care housing for older people, hair training salon (a key community hub), and a community facility including café, rooms for health visitors and a flexible hall built in a way that its use can be maximised throughout the day.

The aim is to make sure that the maximum benefit is gained for the community from the development.

250 year lease to a new community body

  • The whole development (apart from the theatre) will be leased to a new overarching community body for 250 years.
  • The board of this new body will be elected from the residents, wider community, non-residential occupiers (e.g. the chef’s school) and Lambeth Council. This structure makes sure this public asset continues to benefit the community throughout the 250 years and its management is publicly accountable.
  • The objectives of this new overarching community body are being developed from the community’s feedback during the many engagement events/workshops we’ve held and they will continue to be developed during the next few months.

Brixton Green’s role:

  • Brixton Green will not be the new overarching community body, and it has never sought to be.
  • Brixton Green was set up to help make sure the community were at the forefront of the development. We’ve succeeded in doing that and continue to work to make sure the community remains at the forefront.
  • When the new overarching community body is up and running, Brixton Green will have completed its role for Somerleyton Road. The task of making sure the project meets the community objectives will be the responsibility of the new community body.

The Somerleyton Road Project (No private developer)

  • The Somerleyton Road Project has a steering group which includes Lambeth Council, Brixton Green and the Ovalhouse Theatre.
  • Rather than have a private developer deliver the project, Brixton Green encouraged Lambeth Council to develop the site directly themselves.
  • Lambeth is getting the funding for the project, and this will be repaid from the rents over time.
  • Lambeth have employed Igloo who provide their development experience, but receive a fee not a share of the profit.
  • Some great architects, who are each known for their specific expertise, are working on the project, including a local Brixton architect. It’s looking fantastic - see below:

  • None of the 1,200 members of Brixton Green can profit from their shares. We are a voluntary, non-profit community benefit society. Brixton Green is not a private developer.

Jobs for local people

We are committed to making sure local people get jobs and skills from the project. Building starts next year, but we are working now to make sure we get real skills for our young people, not just tick boxes. The Green Man Skills Zone taking over management of Number Six is part of this. We want to make sure we have a group of young people ready to benefit from the apprenticeships.

Number Six (meanwhile space – a ‘pop-up’ space)

Brixton Green is currently leasing Number Six from Lambeth Council, on a short-term basis, until the building is demolished to make way for the new development. Brixton Green agreed with Lambeth to turn the old kitchen building into a space which could be used constructively by the community during this period, until it is demolished. It has taken a lot of effort to turn this near-derelict building into a vibrant space. We have asked other organisations to manage the building on our behalf because, as a volunteer run organisation, we do not have the capacity to manage it. We recognise that there have been a number of changes in management since it opened which have perhaps been confusing for groups wanting to use the space.

Brixton Green is fighting against gentrification

We have worked hard to find a viable solution where public land can be about people, not profit. Local authorities have a duty to get best value and there is the temptation for them to go with a private developer. It was a huge task to convince Lambeth Council to take a new approach from 2011 to 2013.

This project is not just important for Somerleyton Road, if we can prove a viable model it will be important for the whole of London. Public assets used to build homes for local people, provide jobs, empower local communities and improve their quality of life. Not sold off to developers.

There are plenty of private developers in London who are creating developments with ‘poor doors’ or no social housing. There are plenty of developments which cause all but the richer members of the community to move away from their family and friends. It is disappointing that a small group of people are working to discredit   a community project that aims to solve many of the challenging issues our community faces.

Responding to specific allegations appearing in social media, online and on posters made by the certain people, we set out the facts:

1. The community have not been locked out of Number Six:

1)      There has been community activity at Number Six throughout this period when accusations were made that the building was locked.

2)      Brixton Green sent an email to the various members of Brixton Come Together to let them know that the building was still available for them to hire when the accusations were first made. Brixton Come Together had done some great work for the project and we wanted to ensure there continued to be a positive, supportive relationship.

3)      Maria Santos’s (the founder of Brixton Come Together) initial frustration was that she wanted to hire office space in the building in addition to being able to hire the main spaces. At the time, we spoke to Green Man Skills (the new management) and they were agreeable for Ms Santos to have an office at Number Six.

We need to make sure this space is available for the whole community for positive activity. The cost of running the space needs to be shared fairly by all users.

2. Brixton Green’s trustees are always willing to answer questions, if information is not clear on our website:

Brixton Green does not have an office, as we do not have the finances to rent one, so most of our communication is through meeting people face-to-face, emails and providing information on our website.

Comments on Urban 75: A few years back Brixton Green spent half a day on the Urban 75 forum answering all the questions regarding the project. These posts were later edited by Urban 75. Mr Slocombe, the editor of Urban 75, explained to a Brixton Green representative in 2013 that this was done because “the threads were too long”.

3. Brixton Green’s Finances are transparent, and show how any money that is raised is then spent – these accounts are shared and approved at each AGM by the membership of Brixton Green: -

No one from Brixton Green can make a profit from the development.

The accusations regarding Brixton Green’s finances are untrue.

1)       Brixton Buzz questioned why Brixton Green’s accounts show a deficit for the year ending 2014. The only substantial funding Brixton Green has received was funding we raised from the GLA’s Community Right To Build programme. This GLA funding programme was structured so that community organisations had to spend the money before the GLA would pay the funds. This is quite common with funding programmes. Therefore Brixton Green had to raise a loan from Big Issue Invest against the initial funding approval. The funding was not paid until the following financial year which is the reason for the deficit in the 2014 accounts. The funding helped provide the evidence which Brixton Green used to convince Lambeth Council to work in partnership with the community to develop the site. The funds were used for legal advice on the community trust, architects, planning & cost advice, community engagement (the deliberative workshops & consultation events) and marketing.

2)       Brixton Buzz has queried funding that Brixton Green has received from Lambeth Council. The only funds Brixton Green has received from Lambeth Council were to pay for the Blockworkout gym equipment, an upfront hire fee for use of Number Six and repayment of costs Brixton Green incurred for engagement and events we carried out on behalf of Lambeth Council.

3)       Use of the “Awards for All” funding that Brixton Green received for activity at Number Six has been queried. Brixton Green has been in touch with the Big Lottery to inform them of the nature of these queries. The Big Lottery is not “investigating” Brixton Green. The programme period was to initially finish on the 8th July, and we are in discussions about extending the programme. £5,000 was paid for a sessional project manager. The gardening project budget was paid to Small World Urbanism. The Brixton Stories and enterprise elements are now being led by the Green Man Skills Zone.

Our trustees are happy to meet anyone to discuss the Somerleyton Road project, but we will not engage in any online debate on Urban 75 or Brixton Buzz, because when we tried to do this in good faith, the information has been misrepresented.

Please feel free to contact us either send us an email to [email protected], or speak to one of our trustees.

This statement is from the Board of Brixton Green. It was amended on the 21.07.15.