It’s a chance to get a foot on the property ladder and create sustainable and affordable homes across the UK. Community-led self-build projects are increasingly becoming an innovative way to construct housing.
But what does it mean? In short, it’s a group or movement of like-minded individuals who manage housing projects with the aim of building sustainable and affordable homes. It could range from a group of friends joining forces to a community land trust (CLT) made up of community members.
This kind of approach is the way forward according to Jon Broome, one of the lead architects working on a community self-building project in Ladywell, south-east London. He worked on the strategy for the project with architectural practice Architype to develop a site in Lewisham to include self-build housing. Jon worked with the Rural Urban Synthesis Society or RUSS, a volunteer-run CLT and charity, which was founded in 2009 to create sustainable community-led neighbourhoods and affordable homes across London.
Together, they designed 33 homes on the site of an old school. This trailblazing scheme includes a mix of one to four-bedroom homes across a mix of tenures including social rent, affordable rent, shared equity, and shared ownership. The designs will be built to Passivhaus standards to reduce energy consumption. The site also includes shared gardens, a community hall, office, and kitchen. The project was granted planning permission by Lewisham Council in 2018, and it is due for completion in 2021.
Jon explains: “Building individual homes can be expensive due to the land costs but if a dozen or two dozen people can get together you’ve got a better bet. You have to approach the local authority with something to offer. Ask yourselves: ‘Why would they give land to me?’ The whole social value thing comes in - community self-building is ultimately embedded in the local community and it should reflect the local population.”
He adds: “Anyone can build a house from single mothers to pensioners. Given the right level of support and accessible technology anyone can do it. Our expectations are higher when it comes to energy efficiency but any self-builder should build with flexibility and adaptability in mind and make environmentally sensible choices. The government has put funding into community-led housing and it represents a real opportunity – people coming together for the greater good.
“You only have to look at what happens on the continent, for example. The quality of what is produced is inspiring but they have a different infrastructure. Look at Berlin, for example, they have self-build groups which account for around 10 percent of new homes built in the city. The Dutch city of Almere in the Netherlands has its own affordable self-build city – a fine example of what can be achieved.”
Keep it simple
The one-acre site, owned by Lewisham council, has granted RUSS a 250-year lease, and the flats are designed to be simple and cost-effective to build. Residents estimate homes are expected to sell for £70,000 for a 25 per cent starting share of a one-bedroom flat, £150,000 for a share of a four bedroom house and £340,000 for the outright ownership of a two-bedroom flat. A professional contractor has been appointed to construct the shell but future residents can opt to build the rest.
Jon adds: “It’s all about keeping it simple – it’s about value and spending money where it matters.”
Jon, who worked with pioneering architect Walter Segal on an unusual 1980s self-build housing project in Lewisham says that the Ladywell community self-build is ‘Walter Segal-inspired’. It will use timber frames and natural reclaimed materials and ultimately be adaptable.
So, what is Jon’s top tip when it comes to community self-building? “Land is the key but perseverance is essential – you can’t be put off as a self-builder.”
Jon Broome, an architect and self-builder, specialises in sustainable design. He has worked with radical German architect Walter Segal and many self-builders from different backgrounds.
He built his own low-energy, low cost house in Forest Hill, South London in 1998 using timber poles and locally sourced materials. He constructed his house in two years, building it around a couple of dozen Douglas fir trunks.
For Jon, building his own house was fairly straightforward and not quite the emotional rollercoaster often featured in Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs. “Kevin and the team came to visit our house some years ago but it wasn’t overpriced and our story was relatively drama-free so not quite what they had in mind,” he says.
In 1984, with some other architects, he set up Architype whose interests remain in low-energy design and ecological building. High quality sustainable housing, at a reasonable cost, is at the heart of his practice.