Over 75 people packed into the Garden Room at Trinity College on Wednesday 15 February, to hear about our work, and Aspire’s work to combat homelessness.

The evening was kicked off by our Chair, Bob Colenutt, thanking our generous sponsors Guy Simmons of Fine & Country, Ben Procter of Oxford Property Consulting and Jon Lester of St James Place.

Bob put the evening into context of the housing crisis that Oxfordshire is facing, with Oxford having the unwelcome ranking of being the second most unaffordable city in the country. Bob then outlined the night’s programme, and why it is so critical to reach our community share offer target by the end of February - to help us bring more community led homes to the county.

Bob welcomed our keynote speaker, Baroness Jan Royall (Principal of Somerville College, Chair of the Conference of Colleges and Co-Chair of the Oxford Inclusive Economy Partnership), who spoke with great passion about the work that the Oxford Inclusive Economy Partnership was doing with the public, private, community and voluntary sectors to address the unacceptable levels of inequality across the city and county. Baroness Royall applauded the critical work of Aspire and confirmed her strong support for community land trusts as a way of addressing the affordable housing crisis. Encouraging others to follow her lead, Baroness Royall committed to being our latest investor and generously invited us to hold our next event at Somerville College.

Representing our host, Trinity College, was Christopher Ferguson the college’s Estates Bursar. Christopher welcomed the courts’ recent decision on charities law that has restricted the social and environmental work of the Oxford colleges. He detailed Trinity’s new development to the west of Banbury that will provide a welcome number of affordable rental homes for NQ teachers, the first development of its kind for the college. Christopher was hopeful that should that development be a success that other projects could be forthcoming.

Craig Dransfield, Head of Development at Soha Housing outlined his organisation’s contribution to the county, counting over 7,000 homes, 16,000 residents, and 700 residents and staff that have become members since Soha became a mutual in 2017. Craig detailed Soha’s role in supporting our Crofts Court development, which has included consultant selection, financial modelling and assistance managing the site. Soha will also be helping to manage the development upon completion, together with our newly formed cooperative.

We also heard impassioned appeals from two of our directors, Deborah Glass Woodin and Fran Ryan. Fran introduced the audience to what makes a community land trust and why we do what we do - to help all those people who keep our city and county moving. She explained the construction progress we had made at Crofts Court, the origins of the site name (Tony Crofts) a former director who sadly died during the pandemic. She also shared the latest photographs of the site and how new tenants could apply to live in one of the new homes.

Deborah explained why we had launched our community share offer, to reduce the cost of finance and grow our membership base, but also to help us deliver our next site. Deborah set out in detail what community shares are, how everyone can own a share in our work from £250 and that we need a big push to hit our £500k target by the end of the month. She also announced a CALL TO ACTION for the audience to invest, ask their friends to invest, and if that was not possible to join us for £1 and spread our messages on social media.

Paul Roberts, Chief Executive of Aspire Oxfordshire, recapped the work that his organisation delivers county-wide, setting out their mission to “empower people to rebuild their lives and futures and realise their potential, by providing person-centred employment, enterprise development, housing and support opportunities”. Paul explained how Aspire had launched its ‘Homelessness Prevention Service’ recently and was rolling out its ‘Housing First’ programme across Oxfordshire. Paul also introduced the audience to Rachel and Suhail, two people that had benefited from Aspire’s employment and housing support services. It was a real pleasure to share the occasion with Paul because Aspire’s work is so closely linked to our work.

Following a delightful musical interlude of the Goose and the Common, the evening was brought to an end by Bob after some insightful questions during our Q& A session. Guests then spent the rest of the evening enjoying wonderful food provided by Damascus Rose Kitchen and networking.

Thank you to everyone who came and made the evening so special.

We’re now inside the last two weeks of our share offer. We’re at 75% of our target and yes, I must ask one more time, to help invest and spread the word to your family and friends. You know the deal by now, find the link here and help us reach our target and bring even more affordable homes to the county.