South Brent Community Land Trust: Tim McGill

Tim McGill joined South Brent Community Land Trust when he started struggling to afford the house he was living in. While Tim is relatively new to South Brent, other locals hope the Trust will stem the flow of younger families leaving the area by addressing the basic need for homes.

What’s your name?My name is Tim McGill and I have been working as a freelance TV and video post production person for about 12 years. 

I got involved with South Brent Community Land Trust about 18 months ago. 

After our last wave of recession type conditions I had a few bad years work wise and accrued some debt, which left me struggling to afford the house I was living in. I fell down the property snakes and ladders game and realised I couldn’t dig myself out unless things got good and stayed good for about 20 years. So joining the CLT was a practical decision motivated by my situation. 

What’s the point of the CLT?
South Brent is a small rural community, around 3000 residents. It’s very active and community-minded. 

A good few years ago now an organisation called Sustainable South Brent was set up as to engage the local community in the benefits of sustainable development, which resonates with the level of local interest indicated by Transition Town Totnes.

Sustainable South Brent got a composting centre set up and a wind turbine that is benefitting the community and they’re looking at all sorts of sustainability issues including fee home insulination, a community school garden, woodland  activities and awareness of food sustainability and food miles. 

There have been an awful lot of younger families who have moved away, which is really sad. 

John Presley, who became the chair of the CLT, had a conversation with Sustainable South Brent about three years ago to ask where they were with housing, because there was a need for affordable housing. For instance, the younger generations that grow up in South Brent can’t afford to buy here any more. 

Out of that conversation a couple of people from Sustainable South Brent explored the possibilities. It became obvious that the best thing to do was to become a CLT. Given the area already has an active community, a lot of the issues that might be the concern of a CLT had already been addressed. So we are currently a single-issue group that wants to create affordable local housing that people qualify for by being registered as having housing need and local ties. 

Learn more about Community Land Trusts.

When did you decide to get involved?
As I had a mortgage, it took me a while before I realised I qualified. It’s that thing where people say you’re only three pay packets away from homelessness. I was talking to a friend in Sustainable South Brent and the CLT at the drama group when we were working on a production together. He said I should look into it and I did. 

But it’s not just for me – the properties we’re building will have a lifespan of centuries. We’re looking at building 14 that have pretty much already been accounted for. Half of the people who will live there are very local, the remainder includes some relatively recent incomers like me. The CLT will keep a proportion of the properties and I imagine it will be run like the housing co-ops in the US. 

How do you fit it in?
We got quite busy earlier this year with pre-planning preparation. We were having two meetings a month at once stage. Then things slowed up as we looked at getting the land options secure. Over the last few months the meetings are less frequent. 

When we don’t have meetings we’ve been putting a team into the local skittles league. The lovely thing is that you have a team from each community group, from the pub staff, and the cricket team and other groups, so they all get to learn a bit about what we’re doing, which is so much more effective than a newsletter.

What’s been your proudest moment so far?
Probably the skittles team! We’ve lined up our eggs and we’ve done the first markers securing the land option and getting planning sorted, so I think our proudest moments for the CLT are yet to come. So while it sounds silly, for me, personally, the skittles team is probably the best thing. I’m sure you’d get a very different answer from some of the other members.

What’s been the hardest?
The hardest thing has been keeping the faith as the land option comes into focus, because it is slow going. We’re buying from a local landowner and it has been quite slow at times.

What keeps you going?
Everyone’s passionate about the project – people have really bonded in the community. 

Then there’s the basic needs for homes that keeps us going. There have been an awful lot of younger families who have moved away, which is really sad. I understand that the woman who runs the café, she’s the only one from her year at school who is still in the village. It’s not a huge village but it’s getting that balance, some people will want to move away and they might come back later in life to settle. But the people involved in the CLT have a need and a desire to remain connected with the village. 

What’s the next step?
The next step is securing the land option and getting through planning. On that front we’ve had good support from parks and the parish council and planners. If can do this we can show it can be done. 

What happens at the minute round here is that a parcel of land comes up, a group of developers jumps up and down, pays through the planning issues and we get our housing done to us. We can either do our housing or have it done to us. 

Developers are oblivious to local needs, like the build quality and the commitment to sustainability. On the previous plan to this one, the parish council identified sites that were picked off by developers. As more contiguous land is identified you get the  landowners holding out for the best offer, which isn’t likely to be coming from a CLT.

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