“We’re feeling bullish…” is how I signed off on the previous update when referring to a preferred site in the London Borough of Lewisham. I naively assumed that it was a deal done. Although that particular Lewisham site does remain an option, I’m beginning to understand how the Older Women’s Co-Housing project, which recently launched so successfully in High Barnet, North London, took more than 15 years to realise! But before talking sites, let me tell you about some of the other achievements and the milestones that we've passed on our journey so far.
For those of you following us on Twitter or Facebook, or just keen observers of Tonic’s own website, you’ll know that we employed our first full-time member of staff in July. We’re delighted that Luke Warner has joined our small team as Project Coordinator, bringing with him a wealth of experience in supporting operations and evolving governance structures within nonprofits and small businesses in both the UK and the US. Luke’s time as a trans* mentor at the Los Angeles LGBT Center and his work with underrepresented groups will help to strengthen Tonic’s own work with our own community stakeholders. One of his early Tonic achievements was relocating our operations from a temporary base in Lewisham to a new shared office space in the heart of Soho.
We’re equally delighted to be working with igloo Regeneration, the UK’s leading responsible real estate business and our new development management partner. We liked their high-minded vision of working with investors, communities, local authorities, and landowners, “to make the world better one place at a time”, coupled with a hard-headed business delivery model as evidenced by their award-winning developments across the UK, including in London’s Bermondsey Square and Somerleyton Road, Brixton. Founder Chris Brown and Development Manager Kym Shaen-Carter are now adding value to our business and post-operational plans, and putting our case to agencies and individuals who can help us secure that elusive site. On the latter point, we’re also receiving support from the Land Team at Jones Lang LaSalle, a global property company with an enviable reach.
We continue to benefit from invaluable support from the creative crowd at Publica, London’s leading public realm agency. Recently Publica engaged a diverse and talented group of nearly twenty professionals to participate in a charrette at their offices in Clerkenwell. A charrette is a collaborative session which draws on the knowledge and experience of designers and architects to help develop and tighten a building and site specification. We were delighted to have such a creative and enthusiastic crowd from whom we were able to draw much inspiration about the ideal site (realism and compromise included) and types of buildings we would want to develop on the site. Luke will be sharing drawings and narratives from this session with you shortly through the usual social media channels.
Finally, here’s my update on sites: We’ve got mud under our boots from seven sites across London, we’ve met with five leading commercial developers, and spoken to officers and politicians at ten inner London councils. We have London-wide support through the offices of the Greater London Authority and Transport for London. Despite Brexit looming, the London commercial property market remains remarkably buoyant so we’ve learnt rapidly to understand our value to both councils and developers. As many of them have put it to us, Tonic Housing is one of the more exciting development propositions in London at the moment. Good sites come to those who wait!
Our goal is to build the first residential retirement scheme in London where older members of the LGBT community can feel safe and secure at a time of greater vulnerability. As well as incorporating affordable housing, the scheme aims to have a broad appeal to all age groups within the LGBT community and beyond with relevant amenities and resources. Our vision extends beyond this. We want the first Tonic Centre to be an exemplar of best practice; a place where people and organisations across the country can learn about what it takes to build an inclusive environment for older LGBT people, which supports living a fulfilling and happy life, until the end of one’s life.
The idea was born two years ago. We spent the first twelve months researching the concept, visiting fifteen retirement schemes in the process. We convinced five of the UK’s most respected trusts and foundations that our idea was worth investing in and assembled a coalition of seven pro bono corporate partners. We also put together an accomplished board of six directors who are supported by five talented advisors. London was quickly identified as the location for the first centre and, with some funding and expertise behind us, we began looking for the perfect site.
Two years in and we’ve learned the perfect site does not exist. However, since the beginning of our journey we’ve purposefully courted the media, and it’s now paying dividends. We were approached by Lewisham Council who showed a genuine interest in what we wanted to achieve. We met with senior council executives and the cabinet lead for housing to tell them what we are looking for. We visited five sites across the Borough, from Deptford in the north to Blackheath Village in the south; four of them owned by the council and one of the them owned by a local community arts charity. As we go to press on this newsletter, we are actively pursuing one of these options and will provide you with an update as soon as we know the outcome.
Our site quest is also being supported by the London Communications Agency (LCA), a company which has helped many of the city’s largest and most ambitious developments over the line, including the King’s Cross regeneration project. LCA has contacted twelve council leaders across London on our behalf and we’ve been encouraged by their responses. We’ve met with the councilor responsible for housing and regeneration at the Borough of Haringay and will be following up soon with leads at Barking and Dagenham, Ealing, and Tower Hamlets.
We’re feeling bullish. Expect details of a site to be announced just in time for the next newsletter…