Many organisations, particularly Housing Associations, have to find new ways to deliver affordable homes due to shrinking funding, rising demand and complex risks. Using their own initiative, communities are developing housing provision that meets their specific needs rather than facing endless battles with absent developers out to make a quick buck.
Recognising these trends the Schumacher Institute has founded Initiative Homes, a support service that works closely with organisations, communities and groups to co-create, or collaboratively design and develop, solutions for affordable and accessible sustainable homes that meet the needs of the community.
We do not merely design buildings. We take a broad inclusive view of sustainable living, recognising that lifestyles and wellbeing are not just about bricks and mortar, carbon reduction or even solar energy! These are important – but so are community, family, livelihoods, affordability and sense of place.
To achieve these positive outcomes we consider not just the design and build of the individual dwellings. We take a systems approach to identify how best each development might fit into the existing environment, both built and natural, in a manner that positively contributes to community sustainability.
Our aim is to give back a degree of control for developments to the local community and residents.
Michael Clinton, Director of Initiative Homes and Director of Research at the Institute, says: “Our approach allows us to consider how communities may want to operate. We can create opportunities for inclusive facilities like accessible allotments, which could be used as a community asset or even as a micro business – supplying the local area with fresh produce and generating a small income.”
While design cannot solve all of the sustainability issues we face, starting with a long-term and inclusive viewpoint can equip us with the tools we need to realise and maintain a sustainable lifestyle within a close and inclusive community.Our approach to design and construction
Our approach to development has two phases:
- Stakeholder Engagement and Brief Development. In order to find the most appropriate solution for each community, we work closely with them to clarify their needs and identify the best organisations to work with. We then engage all stakeholders – including the community itself, investors, Housing Associations, Local Authorities etc – to develop design brief catered specifically to that community – no one size fits all! Getting the design brief right is a pre-requisite for a successful project, hence the level of importance we attach to this phase.
- Design and Construction Phase. Armed with the comprehensive design brief, our architects work with the community and stakeholders to develop a sustainable and suitable design solution for the site layout and the individual homes. This co-creation is intended not only to generate good designs, but also to encourage continued community engagement in the project. Once the design is sufficiently mature the construction can get underway. We use innovative construction techniques that yield high quality homes with excellent energy performance. In-keeping with our philosophy of co-creating solutions we work closely with our supply chain, including them in the design process, to ensure that completed development lives up to expectations.
How do we create affordability?
Affordability can be achieved in two ways.
- Selecting developments sites to which Exception rules apply. This is land that would not normally gain planning permission but can be granted permission in exceptional circumstances, namely, for the provision of affordable homes. This tends to suppress the land costs by excluding open market developers. The money saved can be passed onto residents in the form of reduced rents or shared ownership costs. Such exception sites often have a community benefit clause associated with completed property further ensuring affordable homes for the community.
- Designing in long-term sustainability features. Features such as high energy efficiency and/or solar panels minimises running costs throughout the lifetime of the homes. This approach can save many thousands of pounds over time. These can be passed onto the residents either directly in reduced bills, or indirectly by providing the home owner / operator reduced maintenance costs or additional shared income streams from, for example, solar panels.
For more information contact Michael Clinton, MSc, Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems or call +44(0)776 357 7125
(Image credit: Karol M)