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Rylands Farm; an exemplar for community led housing:

How can repurposing existing sites support communities to develop?
Last edited 441 days ago by James Gardiner

Situating the site:

The site in Plumpton is currently owned by a single family, accommodating four residents. FFS are proposing that this site would initially provide for seven families within the existing buildings and curtilage. This will increase the density of occupancy without changing any of the building footprints. Not only will this enable the site to increase in density, but it will showcase the flexibility of co-housing models to adapt to the local built environment, creating a fivefold increase in density without the need for additional new structures to be developed.
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The site potential:

Rylands Farm is an 11 acre site, comprising a 17th century farmhouse, 3 separate annexes, stable blocks, tennis court, sand school and swimming pool.

Title Plan of Rylands:
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Arial picture of Rylands building footprint:
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Existing floor plan at Rylands:
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Potential living spaces within existing floor plan:
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Currently the site in Plumpton provides for one family unit, albeit multi-generational. It is clear that the re-purposing of existing spaces needs to take front and center if we are to live more harmoniously, with minimal impact, and look to regenerate, not just sustain, biodiversity.
The local Neighbourhood plan for Plumpton, 2017-2030, provides a framework for which FFS can set out this master plan document. Alongside this, the wider ecological and economic future impact of this site are embedded within FFS’s planning code. The local plan captures the voice of the parish and of the local community but does not take consideration of the broader potential that a new paradigm might enable. It is here that FFS propose to showcase how it is possible to transform sites like this into hubs for the community.
The relationship we have worked to build with the National Park and Lewes District Council are critical for our proposed operations and, as we collectively transition towards a not-for-profit, but for planet, regenerative practice, it is clear that the current system for planning falls short of what is required. FFS aim to address these issues directly, not just to meet planning requirements but to demonstrate that research led, evidence based practice, aligning to the needs of the entire ecosystem, are available, equitable and accessible for future generations to follow.

Proposal for the site

The proposal for the site takes consideration of regenerative principles, practices and processes, underpinned by the climate crisis and considerate of the urgent action that needs to be taken in order to provide new paradigms, providing templates for new communities to come into action.
FFS has three site specific objectives: (i) to provide affordable and sustainable housing and increase the density of people living on the site; (ii) enhance the site’s biodiversity by taking a sustainable and regenerative approach to land use; (iii) to develop a range of community wealth opportunities that increases local skills and prosperity . These objectives will be achieved by developing the existing brownfield sites sustainably and retrofitting existing buildings. There will be significant biodiversity net gain and opportunities for food growing and nature recovery.

Directly meeting the challenges set out in the local planning documents:

The local neighbourhood plan provides a framework for all planning and development to be considered against. FFS recognise that these frameworks have been created to prevent the exploitation of the local vernacular and are a result of the 1948 statutory instrument; The Town and Country Planning (General Development) order. Unfortunately, the administration of 1948 did not move to make all land publicly owned, capitulating to the pressures of private land owners. The resulting order was designed to set out the criteria for all developments, curtailing landowners from exploiting their power of ownership whilst also facilitating the state’s essential infrastructural development.
With this in mind, FFS consider the planning frameworks to be supportive of community led developments, particularly when the ownership of such operations is out of any private model and governed across a collective membership, such as a fully mutual co-operative, like FFS.

Ecological assessments:

As part of our process to regenerate the land and ecosystem, FFS propose to conduct a number of ecological surveys. These will determine priorities and will inform the design towards which FFS will work.
FFS aim to reduce energy use, through retrofitting buildings to align them to high energy performance, as well as creating renewable energy onsite. The ambition for the site will again be determined by the ecological surveys and a realistic pathway for off-grid living is our aspiration, considering bore hole and water storage solutions, grey water recycling systems, reed bed filtration and heat recovery. FFS are working towards carbon zero, taking Rylands off the grid by 2027.
FFS will be working to embed the Government’s Environmental Land Management (ELM) initiatives and will build these into our initial assessments, focusing upon the three schemes as set out in ELMI:
Sustainable Farming Incentive;
Local Nature Recovery;
Landscape Recovery

Increasing biodiversity:

FFS are not only committed to biodiversity gain but are value driven by regenerative practices and processes. A site of this size must become a haven for nature and we aim to develop several practices that will increase biodiversity. Dependent upon our ecological assessments, FFS would like to consider:
planting the paddock area with a range of complementary flora that will not only attract and increase the number of insects to the site but will also work to regenerate the soil, fixing nitrogen and putting depleted nutrients back into the ground;
bolstering hedgerows, planted with suitable traditional and local plants, leading to an increase in the number and type of species that will use them for habitat;
increasing the number of hedges and, over time, woodland corridors for wildlife;
creating a wild water area, planted to encourage a range of bird, insect and aquatic life that will be nurtured throughout the seasons. This natural water feature will also ensure that the land can effectively support natural water management systems.

Develop local enterprise and support local employment:

The site is currently used mainly as paddocks for horses, and FFS aim to realign the site to both support the local ecosystem and the community of inhabitants.

Regenerative food production:

A key enterprise to consider from this site will be regenerative agriculture. It is clear that as our current systems of agriculture and the marketing of that produce fail, communities will become increasingly dependent upon locally grown, sustainable and organic produce. Systems of regenerative nature for the production of food, along with the nurturing of the environment and biodiversity, seem a natural consideration for all green spaces and it is here that we will work to identify the most appropriate use of the site. On completion of ecological surveys, FFS will begin discussions with existing local producers to establish how to develop partnerships and support and bolster existing infrastructure, aligning to a not-for-profit model.
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Education:

Education is a key tenant to our project and although it may not be overtly viewed as a site for education, in the traditional sense, the way that this site will be nurtured, is itself an education. Regenerative practices, community living and social structures that enable people to become aligned with the natural processes and ecosystem around them is a key message that FFS wish to voice. To this end, it is intended that a small group of primary children will be regularly involved within the site process, learning from the site and understanding how they are entwined within it.

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Transformative enterprises:

FFS are a transformative organisation. We are working to create paradigms that will enable communities to live both in harmony with nature and collaboratively with one another. This transformation can only come from new ways of thinking. One simple example is the fully mutual nature of FFS. We are an organisation that recognises the limitations to hierarchies. The power dynamic within most organisations is one that is not mutually recognised, democratic, fair or just. Those with the highest needs often have the smallest voice and it is this divide in equality that we aim to eradicate through a fully member governed process.
Not only this but we are working to build an ecosystem of community led organisations that are designed upon needs. Our current paradigm, with organisations focused upon wants, driven by greed or egos, with outcomes that focus upon individual as opposed to community wealth, is driving the breakdown of culture, civilisations, ecosystems and the climate.
It is here that we aim to bring positive change to the forefront of the development of enterprise, inviting the community to engage with our mission.
Our commitment to these enterprise developments is with the same due diligence as we employ to the development of the site. It is important that FFS understand the nature of the site and the needs of the community before we fully commit to any specific enterprise development. Again, what we can be held accountable for is that any enterprise will demonstrate that it enhances the functions of the wider community and nurtures the ecosystem.

Create systems and structures that prevent the continuations of dormitory villages and commuter towns:

A key value for the society is affordable living and affordable homes. At Rylands, none of the dwellings will be open to the market and each will afford tenant residents modest private spaces, with the benefit of having access to large communal areas. All residents will be members of FFS and have a voice in the governance of the organisation.
The initial residents occupying the site are not necessarily the only ones who would and should be considered as beneficiaries of affordability. FFS will be managing the site to ensure that it is affordable in perpetuity.
Affordability, through a traditional rent, does not enable the resident to build any share with the community and, at the end of their tenancy, renters do not have any stake to mark their time commitment to the tenancy and often feel disenfranchised through the process. This is where Mutual Home Ownership considers affordability much more holistically than a traditional affordability matrix. Within FFS, each resident will build equity over time, which supports the organisation in its operations, and in return, the organisation enables each resident to withdraw that equity if they leave.
This level of affordability removes the need to have any deposit and removes the market rent that might be applicable at any given time. FFS consider each applicant on its own merits, in line with our allocation process. Local connection is weighted highly due to individual’s commitment to the existing community; living, growing and learning together.
The community of residents at Rylands will form part of the wider community, supporting and nurturing the local environment, along with the needs that arise from the existing community of Plumpton.

Current market models do not address this issue. They enable individuals to prosper at the expense of the community. The Plumpton local plan identifies this, directly citing comments from residents about not wanting Plumpton to become a dormitory village, (Plumpton Neighbourhood plan 4.9 and 5.67) only inhabited by commuters. The plan also notes that it is important to be able to provide suitable housing for older and younger people within the village.
Market models allow for the wider market to denote the price of houses and within villages that are particularly well served by train lines to London, it is easy to understand that scarcity in the market leads to these escalating prices. The case in point, is that houses in Plumpton are in high demand by those who commute; higher salaries from commuters coupled with a scarcity model, move to the point where houses are not affordable to local residents, priced out by market driven economies.
This is not a simple issue to solve but it is one that can be mitigated through non-private ownership models, where, in the case of Future Folk, it is possible to provide housing for the local community, young and old, attracting diversity and supporting community resilience.

Development of new dwellings:

Rylands has a number of brownfield sites; a stable block, tennis court, swimming pool and all-weather sand school (for horses). It is these sites that FFS propose to repurpose, further increasing the density for habitation on the site. These dwellings will be designed for the site, not simply with a anthropocentric design, but with consideration on what the site lends itself to. We will use natural, locally sourced materials with minimal impact to the delicate ecosystem.
Ecological surveys, along with geological, topographic and natural resource surveys will enable us to determine what and how to build upon these brownfield areas. Until we have further clarity upon the potential of the site, we are unable to justify identifying a specific number of dwellings that we would consider. What we can be held to, is that each dwelling will demonstrate both a biodiversity gain and a positive impact upon the site. If the dwellings become the focus of this site, we fail in our mission and aspirations. Aesthetically, the dwellings created will entwine with the site to create a space that demonstrates a commitment to its natural beauty.
The embodied carbon of each dwelling will be fully mapped, and it is here that FFS trailblaze specific modelling, adapted and developed through research, enabling our journey to be mapped through the lens of the wider ecosystem.

FFS vision to counter the development of greenfield sites:

FFS propose to demonstrate that repurposing existing sites is a genuine, feasible and scalable model to meet the rising housing requirements imposed upon local areas. Not only do safeguards need to be put in place to stop the ownership of second homes but it is also essential to reconsider the current built environment as an opportunity for regeneration. This site can increase the density of habitation, without impinging upon greenfield sites. There is no socially just argument for maintaining single dwellings on such large sites. If we are to build resilient communities, we have to tear down the systems that divide us and develop ones that unite us. FFS are shifting the paradigm to enable this to happen and we welcome discussions with the community to continue our journey.

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