The artist occupied ‘Vittoria Wharf’ this year has become one of the first buildings in the UK to be listed under the new ‘asset of community value’ act. The listing which was achieved by the local gallery and studio space manager, Stour Space. The listing means that if and when the plot is up for sale, the landlord can only sell the property to a community interest group associated with the land within the first six months of that period.
AffordableWick held a workshop with Neil MacDonald from StourSpace and the leaseholders of the rest of Vittoria Wharf to discuss what this might mean for a community such as this, which has always been uncertain of its future.
Before the olympic games in the summer 2012, A large portion of Vittoria Wharf was compulsory purchased by the Olympic delivery Authority, to make way for bridge over to the Olympic Site. The remaining half of this factory complex has been speculatively put up for sale, potentially jeopardising the dense creative community with its buildings, especialy StourSpace.
The listing as started the ball rolling for this community to find sources of funding to make a deposit, as well as time for defining a business plan. It is clear that, as it stands, the factory brings in more than enough money in rent to be able to repay a mortgage for its purchase. The question is who can or will buy it, and to what ends. A perhaps simpler solution would be if individual collectives where able to buy their own plots, but this seems impossible in this case, as it is the whole site which is up for sale, and most tenants are not in a position to desire collectively mortgaging their units. Instead, the creation of a non-profit communal entity led by the community, might mean a new kind of grassroots development which sustains the character of the area, influenced by social and cultural interests instead of financial gain for the few.
The workshop brought up many queries, regarding the community entity which would become the so called new landlord, how would this be led democratically? Also, if the tenants rents are paying a community mortgage, what happens when that mortgage is paid off ? Furthermore, what of the community? One of the most useful discoveries of this workshop, was that very few in the room would want to commit to buying their own unit, or even living here indefinitely. Instead, residents hope that when they move on, the same opportunities and lifestyles can be offered to those new creative practitioners and residents moving into the area.
Stour Space intend to create a community land trust with the aim to sustain the creative community here. The trust will hopefully enable affordable rents and security of tenure as they are the most fundamental means to keeping artists and creative production in an area. What night be acheivable, is commuity governance of an area where profits from rents go back to the community, and instead of cheap repairs and difficult negotiations with landlords, tenants will call the shots on what kind of changes happen in the block.
It is now crucial to define the terms of this Vittoria Wharf community, what is trying to be sustained, and what is realisticaly acheivable? The next steps for this process, needs community involvement, and the next meetings are already being planned for VWharf, with the aim of creating a local community interest group led by residents.