After being involved in the self build and community-led housing sector for over 15 years, I’ve recently been incredibly honoured to have been chosen as a 2018 Churchill Fellow by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.
The fellowship funds UK citizens to investigate inspiring practice in other countries and return with innovative ideas for the benefit of people across the UK.
My research topic is Unlocking the potential for affordable Baugruppen projects. ‘Baugruppen’ is a German word meaning ‘build groups’ and is used to describe projects where individuals come together to form groups in order to design and commission their own homes. It’s a very popular model in many parts of Germany as well as in the Netherlands and Switzerland.
The Baugruppen or group-build approach has many benefits over the standard models of developer-led housing that have dominated the UK housing sector for the last 50+ years. More choice, lower costs and a greater sense of community are some of the key ones, while it’s also worth mentioning that virtually all group builds that I’m aware of have a high priority to including environmentally sustainable features.
A critique of many of the group build schemes in Germany is that they are mainly private ownership schemes, initiated by people with access to money and it is harder for people without equity and/or on lower incomes to start or join these kinds of schemes. My interest is therefore to investigate projects that explicitly aim to be financially accessible to a wide range of people and that offer homes that will remain affordable in the long term.
To do this I’ll be travelling not only to Germany but also the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand. I’ve chosen these destinations so I can compare projects where there is strong public support for group builds (Germany and Netherlands) to projects that have succeeded with little or no public support (Australia and New Zealand). This means that my findings should be relevant to a range of contexts back home, from areas where the local authority is ready and willing to back schemes with offers of [lower-cost] land and/or finance, to locations where land and finance options are much more constrained.
In the UK we have incredible opportunities to boost the number of community-led housing projects over the next few years. Through the work of organisations such as the Community Land Trust Network, Confederation of Co-operative Housing, the UK Cohousing Network and the National Custom and Self Build Association, there is not only growing political support but also more coherent organisation of the sector to help channel support, networking, advice and funding where it is most needed.
In my own local patch, my social enterprise Ecomotive is co-ordinating a project to create a community housing ‘Hub’ for the West of England area (including the local authority areas of Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset).
My ambition is to use my Churchill research to present inspiring case studies and identify models for affordable self build groups that we can pilot within our local area, with the support of the local authorities. At the same time, I’ll be working to promote my findings more widely across the UK, inspiring communities, sharing best practice so we can get councils, policy makers and financial bodies on board and making group build a mainstream option for people to create their own affordable, sustainable and community-minded homes.
I’ll be posting news and updates throughout my fellowship in 2018-19 so please follow this blog to stay up to date with my latest findings as well as hopefully some top tips for travelling in Germany, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand!