Since our last newsletter in April, we have all been getting used to living in changed conditions. We hope that you are keeping well and safe. Here in Orkney we have been fortunate to have a low prevalence of serious cases of coronavirus. For several months only essential, sanctioned, travel both in and out of Orkney was possible. But the cost of this protective isolation has been noticed in the economy, especially in tourism-related activity. Our local community has, as always, responded to look out for friends and neighbours. From November 2020 we are in Level 1 of the Scottish Government restrictions and are permitted to resume modest socialising
Like many people, we in Hope Cohousing have learned to use digital media for meetings and discussions. In this way, we have kept up work on our project, albeit at a slower pace than we would have liked.
Planning permission granted at last
In March we submitted a planning application to Orkney Islands Council. Unavoidably it got held up by limited capacity in offices, but then there were site drainage issues to resolve. Permission has now been granted and we are thrilled to pass this important milestone on our journey. Huge thanks are due to our architect and drainage engineers for all their work.
Our next exciting news is that an important component of our financing package is in place. In September Orkney Islands Council’s Policy and Resources Committee considered an application we had lodged for financial assistance. The committee effectively proposed to give us the council-owned site in St Margaret’s Hope by agreeing to the request for assistance and at the same time reducing the price for the site to match. We were delighted and gratified by the expressions of enthusiastic support for Hope Cohousing from many members of the committee. Our special thanks go to our local councillor, Steve Sankey, who has supported Hope Cohousing from the start and whose advocacy helped to bring about this result. We also owe thanks once again to Luke Fraser, our indefatigable adviser and facilitator in the housing department. The recommendation was endorsed at a full Council meeting in October.
As part of the work of putting the financing package together, we also started the tendering process. Five local contractors were invited to bid with two submitting tenders. Andrew Beedie has been working with us as our surveyor and has now finished evaluating the submitted bids. Unfortunately, prices are much higher than expected. Our analysis is that both the COVID crisis and Brexit uncertainty have had a major impact on costs. There are elements of the design that have turned out to be expensive while the site also has quite high potential costs associated with it. Architect Grigor Mitchell and Andrew Beedie are looking at how to resolve the issues.
Other funding news
Making a main grant application to the Scottish Government Rural and Island Housing Fund (RIHF) is central to financing the project. The news that the Fund will be extended beyond March 2021 is very welcome as it eases the pressure on making the application. Click here.
We are continuing to research fundraising through community shares. These would be issued through a community benefit society (CBS), regulated by the Financial Services Authority, and would pay dividends to investors. Our ambition is that the CBS will work to help other community-led housing projects in Orkney through offering support and advice. We have learned such a lot on our journey towards establishing Orkney’s first cohousing project that we think could be useful to other groups. We have been lucky to recruit two new members of the team, Halle Omand and Hannah Richards. Both are recent graduates interested in acquiring some work experience. They will be helping especially with marketing via social media.
We are sorry to report that for health reasons Lesley Livsey has decided to resign as a director of Hope Cohousing Community Interest Company. Her links with the community have always been a strength to the group, while her participation in discussions and plans has been grounded in good sense. Thank you, Lesley, for all you have contributed to the Hope Cohousing project.