Meet … Claude Hendrickson: Leading light of community self-build housing

‘I’d like to see the government and local authorities put their money where their mouth is so the sector can get on and give people a real opportunity’

Claude Hendrickson was project manager on the Frontline community self-build scheme in Leeds which in 1996 saw 12 unemployed Afro Caribbean men and their families build homes for themselves. In 2016/17 he was commissioned to produce a 10-year strategy for Leeds Council around self-build, custom build and community-led housing, and is a founder member of Community Self Build agency, which works with homeless ex-soldiers in Bristol. He serves as equality, diversity and inclusion advisor at Leeds Community Homes and the Confederation of Co-op Housing, and this year received an MBE in the King’s Birthday Honours.

How did you get involved in the community self-build movement?

It goes right back to 1989 when I was trying to get housing because men and boys, when I was about 28, were always at the bottom of the housing waiting list. I thought it was a good idea to try to self-build. It took us six years from the idea to complete the project, to build a street of 12 houses. So late ’80s, early ’90s, was my introduction to community housing and the potential of co-operatives.

It was empowering, putting men through a process where they gained skills, which gave them employability, their own houses and the confidence to know they could do it. It made them good role models in the community and also made their families very proud of them. Many of them, 25 years later, are still in the construction industry employing other people. So it ticks all the boxes for me. There isn’t a box it doesn’t tick – positive role models, employment, training, a roof over your head and building a better future.

What projects are you involved in now?

I’m a community-led housing adviser and a national Community Land Trust ambassador. I recently received an MBE for my involvement and my support for the community-led housing network. I’m part of the Four Million Homes programme which is being run by the Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CCH), and am CCH’s equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) advisor. We’re equipping residents to be more confident and involved with dealing with their  landlords. And I’ve just been offered a place on the Right to Build Task Force. I’m filling in the paperwork now to go on that so I can continue lobbying for community-led housing, more land trusts, more empowerment of communities. 

Related: How a housing co-op is working to foster unity and cohesion in Leicester

What are your proudest achievements?

The 12 houses that we built at Frontline – we laid 92,000 bricks, 52,000 blocks, 8,000 roof tiles and built 12 semi-detached houses. After my children, that is my greatest achievement without a doubt.

What should the co-op movement do to be more inclusive?

The sector needs to look at the Equalities Act 2010 and look at characteristics earmarked in it and ensure that they give the opportunity to people listed in the Act – based on race, based on gender, based on sexuality, based on disability. All co-ops should have an EDI policy in place. 

Even if you live in a part of the country where there aren’t a lot of ethnic minorities, are you ensuring that people with a disability get the option, are you making sure there’s wheelchair access? Are you making sure single mothers fleeing domestic violence are getting a chance? Are you making sure people from the LGBTQIA+ community are getting the chance? Are your projects intergenerational? Don’t just make them for elderly people, engage young people. So what I’d say to any group, or any residents’ group, is base your EDI policy on the Equalities Act and make sure the characteristics are met within your organisation. You can’t do better than that.

Related: Management expert’s advice on diversity, equity and inclusion for co-ops

At last year’s CCH conference you co-presented a session on a new research project with the University of Liverpool into BAME communities and the housing co-op movement. How is that going?

Well, we’ve had all the meetings with the stakeholders. That’s the big players, the funders, Homes England. We’ve interviewed the Community Land Trust Network and CCH, now we’re in the process of interviewing grassroots groups. It’s going quite well. I know there’s lot of people waiting for it, but I think with a lot of the outcomes and recommendations, people will kind of know who’s been ignored in the past, but it’s looking good. By mid to late September we should have the first draft ready hopefully ready to launch during Black History Month in October.

What are your big asks for the housing co-op sector?

To see the government, local authorities and Homes England ring-fence 5% to 10% of their annual budgets to community-led housing, land trusts  and the co-operative sector for five to 10 years. It would give the sector a real chance of showing what it can do. We’ve got a lot of good practice models now around the country, whether they’re co-operatives, co-housing, self-build or empty home projects. So I’d like to see the government and local authorities put their money where their mouth is so the sector can get on and give people a real opportunity of doing more of these projects and help deal with the housing crisis we have in Britain right now. 

Secondly take the self-build register, remake it as a community-led housing register – the current name isn’t right because not everyone will want to self-build. And if local authorities are finding it a struggle to manage the register, give it to an organisation, like Leeds Community Homes or one of the hubs that have been set up to manage that register. It’s not really working because the councils are not taking it seriously enough.

What else does the housing co-op and self-build sector need to do?

It needs to look at the opportunities around training and employment as well as delivering units. And the sector needs to take on the homeless agenda. I think community-led housing and co-ops and self-builds could probably deal with maybe 75% of that homeless agenda, those people that are homeless. We’ve done some projects around ex-veterans because ex-veterans make up around 50% of homeless men out there. I think we could also look at ex-offenders coming out of prison. The construction industry is one you can get into regardless of your past, we could be tackling some of those issues: as well as tackling the housing issue, we could be looking at softer outcomes for ex-offenders. We could also look at people who are migrating who have got construction skills, so we could be utilising them in building housing.

We could do a deal with the main contractors who have sites of, say, 500 houses to build, so that maybe 30 or 40 of the houses on that site could be done by community-led housing. And local authorities could look at the smaller sites that they’ve got in their cities, that the big developers aren’t interested in, and give co-ops, community-led housing projects and land trusts a heads-up so they can move that forward.