The UK housing market is dominated by a small number of large PLC housebuilders, whose ‘product’ is remarkably similar – neo-vernacular houses designed and built speculatively for ‘typical’ nuclear families. To maximise return for shareholders they are generally built to minimum technical standards and generic design briefs. Buyers have little choice beyond tile-colours, kitchen worktops and cupboard doors, even if they get in early and buy off plan. But there is another way. It is possible for individuals, groups or communities to design and build homes tailored to their own needs, in a variety of different forms of ‘community-led housing’:
Groups of individuals or families working together to commission their own homes. Each individual or family has its own private dwelling but there is usually some shared space, most often in the form of a ‘common house’ – a dining and party space, sometimes with guest accommodation – and outdoor spaces such as gardens or allotments.
Community Land Trusts
CLTs are not-for-profit organisations set up and run by ordinary people to develop and manage homes or other community assets like allotments or workspaces. CLTs act as long-term stewards of housing, ensuring that it remains genuinely affordable, and fully within the control of the community.
Individuals or collaborating groups, commissioning and sometimes literally building their own homes, usually without the communal facilities of a co-housing development. In a self-build project the individual or group directly organises the design and construction of their home; Custom Build generally refers to a project where a developer takes on more of the project – often finding a site and obtaining planning permission, then customising the new home to each purchaser’s requirements.
These non-standard methods of creating new homes each bring advantages over ‘normal’ speculative housing, including:
- Enhanced environmental performance
- More varied and interesting designs
- A greater sense of belonging and neighbourliness.
- Potential savings on projects costs for increased affordability
- Additional housing delivery, often on harder to develop sites
The government is keen to promote community led housing, and is funding the creation of a network of community housing ‘hubs’ to provide information and support community led projects, with a particular emphasis on affordable accommodation. Eastern Community Homes, our local hub, was set up late in 2020 and our Head of Housing, Matt Wood, is supporting the initiative by joining their new Technical Advisors Panel.
According to Homes England, ‘community led housing is about local people playing a leading and lasting role in the provision of homes within their community’. What a great idea to build on!
Eastern Community Homes is planning a series of launch events in March. Go to their website for more details.
Matt Wood, February 2021. / Matt Wood is the Head of Housing at Hudson Architects