On Saturday 29th April, Fair Housing for Frome launched its one–year campaign to raise awareness of and find solutions to the housing crisis in Frome with a lively public meeting attended by more than 60 people.
The event was opened by Frome Mayor Toby Eliot, who described it as a wonderful model of community activism. “This is one of the most important issues facing our town” he said. “The people of Frome chose to fund it through the Town Council’s participatory budgeting process last month, and are now coming together to see what’s in their power to change. This is an example of what Frome does and the extraordinary way that it tackles problems. Its good to see so many people here.”
The assembled crowd listened to four moving stories of local housing need. The first was a young working couple who are leaving their home town because they can’t find stable affordable accommodation in Frome.
Louise and her family are in the process of fitting out a van with beds for them and their three young children in case they can’t find a new rented home before their current tenancy expires.
Pete is paying £70 per week to share a bedroom with one of his mates rather than go back on the street.
James has spent the winter in a yurt with his two children aged 4 and 6 years, without running water or electricity. He is self-employed and has been turned down for a mortgage even though his parents will help him with the deposit.
It turned out that some of the people present at the meeting had equally harrowing stories to share. One woman who spoke up is fighting the eviction of her family just as her 18-year old son is preparing for his A-Levels. Another mother spoke about having to go round to her friends and beg them for something to eat because all the family’s money was going on their housing.
Real-life stories of housing need were interspersed with worrying facts about the extent of the housing crisis.
After this powerful beginning to the meeting, participants divided into six groups focusing on: homelessness, shared living, self build, tenants and landlords and housing policy. There was also a ‘What if?’ group looking at fresh ideas and approaches. After a tea break full of lively conversations, questions and suggestions were put to a panel of national and local housing experts. Information stands were provided by Mendip District Council, Mendip Credit Union and Frome Co-Housing.
Many practical suggestions were made during the afternoon. These included: setting up a Frome-owned investment company that can buy and let properties at an affordable rent; developing a Community Land Trust; recruiting and training up a team of volunteer advocates to support families in housing crisis; building on the Fair Landlords scheme; and providing better information about what is already available. Simon Keyes, who chaired the panel, also encouraged those present to make housing a key issue in the upcoming election, noting that it was disappointing that MP David Warburton had chosen not to attend.
The next meeting of Fair Housing for Frome will take place from 6-8pm on Monday 22 May at Frome Town Hall, focusing on the potential of self build. It’s free of charge and everyone is welcome. For more information and to join the mailing list visit www.fairhousingforfrome.org.uk.