Pioneers Post
features

Building a better way to live

5 December 2011
Photo of Leona McDermid, commercial director at Aberdeen Foyer

Leona McDermid, commercial director at Aberdeen Foyer

When a leading housing developer embarked on a mission to build Scotland’s first sustainable village, a social enterprise model offered the best opportunity to combine innovation, partnership and social purpose. Claire McBain reports

In 2008 Wayne Hemingway, one of British’s best-known designers, reinvigorated the centre of Gateshead in Newcastle, transforming redundant buildings into a thriving business district. He believes it takes people to build solid housing and successful communities. Bricks and mortar come later. Hemingway predicts that house purchases will no longer be based on investment potential.  Instead, people will seek homes in communities in which they want to lay down roots.

Kincluny Development Trust is taking Hemingway’s vision north, with plans to build Scotland’s first sustainable village. Inspired by the north-east housing shortage, intricate new technologies and a clear passion for social purpose, the development trust has proposed a new village in the heart of Aberdeenshire’s Royal Deeside. Expected to be the country’s largest sustainable construction project, the village will blend social enterprise principles and practices with 32 years of building expertise to harness the most up-to-date technologies and produce comfortable, desirable, affordable properties across the entire housing spectrum. 

The development trust, a social enterprise incorporated as a limited company by guarantee, was set up to complement the growth of the village. It was initiated by CHAP Homes, a well-established north-east housing developer. 

Bill Burr, managing director at CHAP Homes, says he then brought on board Aberdeen Foyer, who operate a portfolio of successful social enterprises. “It was clear that the village’s resources would need to be managed. I had heard about social enterprises and approached Aberdeen Foyer who suggested the development trust model.”

Leona McDermid, commercial director at Aberdeen Foyer, then produced a feasibility study on how the development trust might work. “Since then, we have recruited many local ambassadors,” says Leona.  “Eventually, the development trust will be made up of property owners, developers, local authorities and businesses. Each householder and business will be a stakeholder through a formal ‘share’ agreement in the development trust.” 

Leona has also engaged a working group made up of local people and businesses, housing associations, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen Foyer and CHAP Homes

“This group is key to gaining momentum,” explains Bill. “The physical place still has to be built but the foundations of the community are well underway. The working group has a clear, shared vision of what the village will look like and what it could be like to live there. It’s truly inspiring.

Leona adds that the development trust is already writing the social history of the village by thinking through how it can develop and manage shared resources for the benefit of the community that will one day arrive. “We’re setting the culture of the place, embedding sustainability and creating the potential for outstanding social impact.” 

This vision has become the Kincluny mission, which is about much more than having objectives.  Social purpose is at the heart of Kincluny. The development trust business model means that the village will be financially stable with the micro economy ‘locked in’ so that the community-owned social enterprise can unlock and build social capital for its people.

More than a parish council or committee, Kincluny will turn sustainability principles from rhetoric in a glossy brochure to a day-to-day community reality. CHAP will initially invest £400m towards land, building work and amenities, such as a school, shops and renewable energy. But the village will take responsibility for managing its own income and amenities, promoting community life and securing future development. This is real sustainability. 

Kincluny will enhance local amenities, not only for the new village but for surrounding communities too. A primary school and leisure facilities will be developed. Employment and entrepreneurial opportunities will be created. Approximately 150 construction jobs will be generated each year over a ten year period and permanent employment will be available in the community itself. Training will be available in modern sustainable construction techniques and new technology as the build develops. The village will incorporate low cost workspace for start-up local businesses. Tangible revenue will be generated from business unit rentals, allotments and renewable energy sources. All profits generated through Kincluny Development Trust will be reinvested in the village to sustain and develop the village according to need. This, coupled with CHAP’s donation of £1,000 from the sale of each of the 1,500 properties, will provide a solid, long-term income for the development trust.

With prices ranging from approximately £90,000 to £500,000, this genuine community housing development aims to be truly open to all. Kincluny promises at least 30% of the mixed tenure homes will be affordable to those on low incomes, which is particularly attractive due to rural issues and high levels of homelessness.

The organisations involved in leading the development of Kincluny see this as an opportunity to pioneer how housing is developed, says Leona. “You can build a village or a town with the best designs in the world but it’s people who make it a desirable place to live and work. Our experiences of operating social enterprises and working with young people have now given us the opportunity to influence the development of a new community. For us, the most exciting aspects are the creation of affordable housing for our young people and the new jobs that will be created, not just around the creation but also the upkeep of the village.”

Kincluny will be built on a former quarry, a brownfield site, and will designed to the highest specification in terms of renewable energy, conservation and environmental technologies. For Bill, the timing of the development was ideal given that the quarry site is nearing the end of its operational use. “To be able to develop the quarry as a catalyst for sustainable design was an exciting option for us and, unlike other developers, we are promising a carbon neutral target. But most of all, it’s the chance to develop much needed mixed tenure housing in the north-east. I hope other developers will follow suit – Kincluny could be very replicable.”

There is no doubt that Kincluny challenges how new developments are thought through. “It has a vision for community involvement that goes way beyond the obligatory public consultations,” adds Bill.  “The project has the potential to alter the perception of creating and managing community life.” 

Leona agrees, maintaining that social enterprise has paved the way for Kincluny to pioneer a new era of housing developments:  “I think it has the potential to influence how new communities in particular are thought through and managed. Normally, development trusts start because there is an issue. This development trust has started because it values the social capital of the community just as much as the bricks and mortar and infrastructure.”

Facts and figures:

Who is involved? CHAP Homes and Aberdeen Foyer.

What will be built? 1,500 mixed tenure homes, business and amenities.

Where did inspiration come from? Other development trusts and the Garden City Movement.

What is the investment? £400m from CHAP Homes to go into land, building work and amenities, such as a school, shops and renewable energy. CHAP will also donate £1,000 from the sale of each property.