Community-led Housing Solution Addressing the Needs of Vulnerable People

Daniel Brewer reflects on Resonance’s First Ever Impact Investment in Mustard Seed Property (MSP) ten years ago, and how it helped shape our successful large-scale property funds.

Many of us have a connection with Cornwall – it is the place we live, go on holiday, work, surf, grew up, have a friend who’s got a place or have a family member who has retired there. For me, I married into Cornwall. Growing up I had little idea what ‘coming from’ a place really meant. Home was where I lived, not really where I felt I was from. There are however many places around the UK with a strong sense of identity. When I met my wife and her family, I was taken by this deep connection with the place – and whilst it is fiercely defended, it is somehow coupled by an inclusiveness that in some ways feels contradictory.

And yet with all its inclusiveness it creaks with an infrastructure that can’t easily cope with the increasingly disproportionate number of people who need support. There is an above average number of isolated retirees, people with learning disabilities and people with dementia, all in the context of fewer jobs, more disparate communities, and higher house prices.

The economics for local residents are difficult to shoulder, but there are many folk who have little ability to fend for themselves and are isolated from family or friends. Cornwall is their home too and Mustard Seed Property was set up by people in Cornwall intent on providing the right support for individuals that need it. People who might need a permanent home or a bedroom for a few weeks; somewhere to work or train; a place to connect with others or to access land where they can grow something. Through its partner charities and social enterprises, Mustard Seed Property acquires and develops properties, which are leased to its partners, that make them available as homes or work places for the most vulnerable in our society.

Jonathan, a resident living in MSP’s property explained what a difference it has made to him: “I have been here since January 2018. I was sleeping in a car after my mum died and I was evicted from our home of 50 years. People put in a good word for me with St.Petroc’s and coming into this house, well, all my worries were answered! I now have an address so I can look for work and I have a safe home. It was a challenge sharing a house, but it’s the only answer when you have little hope of getting back into employment or housing.”

As Gandhi once said, “A society’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Cornwall’s hospitality is world renowned.  Mustard Seed Property hopes to demonstrate that this is a strength, not just for those who can most afford it, but to the most vulnerable in the community.

When MSP was set up in 2007, it was in direct response to a call from people in their sixties and seventies who were trying to plan for a future for their autistic adult children, who were still living at home. £300,000 was raised from a few dozen people, a local charitable trust and a bank and MSP bought an old bed and breakfast that changed the lives of five families. Ten years on, this property has been through a number of iterations and is now used by St Petroc’s as a supported house for formerly homeless individuals.

MSP is a charitable organisation, but it is also a robust commercial investor.  It has a decade of paying shareholders a financial return every year without fail. Today it has a relationship with several amazing charities and social enterprises all growing and needing access to more property, both commercial and residential.

In line with the biblical story of the mustard seed being a metaphor for small beginnings but emerging into something substantial, this business model was one of the inspirations for Resonance’s larger property funds housing homeless families in cities across the UK with national homelessness charity St Mungo’s.  Mustard Seed Property is a fiercely local-led solution engaging predominantly individual investors with a connection to Cornwall, but just like Resonance’s property funds, it raises capital into a dedicated property investment vehicle, which enables the partner charities to access capital at levels that their balance sheet could never dream of accessing as debt from a bank or a bond issue.

If you are interested in finding out more about putting your money to work for the most vulnerable in Cornwall or to apply, please visit Ethex’s website.  If you would like to know more about our large-scale property funds, please visit our website.