Hedgehog Housing Co-op is a grand design

Jocelle Lovelle, Communities Creating Homes Project Manager, gets inspired by The Hedgehog Housing Co-op which has been featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs

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Like many people during lockdown I have been watching repeats on TV. Last week I stumbled across Kevin’s Grandest Designs on Channel 4, where the host Kevin McCloud reflected on the past 20 years of the programme and revealed his top 5 all-time builds.

Why I am I talking about this? Well to my amazement in his top 5 was a housing co-op.  Not just any housing co-op but a community self-build one. As I started watching I could remember seeing it the first time round in 1998, long before my career in housing had started. Even then I remember being really excited by the idea. Maybe it was the sense of empowerment and we are ‘in this together, nobody gets left behind’ attitude that really appealed to me.

Taking matters into their own hands

Inspired by another self-build project in Brighton called ‘Diggers’ a small group of people (four households) who were in housing need, but unlikely to be housed by the local authority, decided to take matters into their own hands (literally). The group spent the next two years building up support for their idea, developing a partnership with a local housing association, lobbying councillors and finding more people who wanted to do the same thing. The group’s determination paid off and they were offered a piece of land.

It wasn’t the easiest of sites to develop and had already been turned down by private developers. But even this didn’t deter them from realising their dream of developing permanent homes for them and their families, offering secure tenancies, low rent and low energy bills.

The group (now ten households) became known as The Hedgehog Housing Co-op.  None of the members had any experience of building houses. Some already had part time jobs, others were single parents. Regardless of this, each household committed to 30 hours unpaid work per week on site. This is often referred to as sweat equity, not a phrase I like but it is what it says. They helped each other out, set up a council approved shared childcare facility on the site and used a timeclock to record their hours.  Their journey began in 1996 and after many months of determination, hard graft and personal sacrifices, the ten homes were built and the families moved in.

Twenty years later…

In 2019, at the time of filming the Kevin’s Grandest Designs episode, none of the families had moved out, their children growing up and thriving from the experience. Not only had they built affordable, sustainable, ecological homes with their bare hands, many of the adults went on to forge careers as carpenters, carers, mental health workers, teachers and lecturers. What started as a group of people with a very real housing need turned into a journey of discovery and life-long friendships forged from shared values and determination.

For me this story, this build and this housing co-op encapsulates everything which community-led house represents – a community of people coming together to take control of their own, often precarious, housing situations, and providing long term affordable housing solutions for themselves and future generations.

What lessons can we take from the Hedgehog Housing Co-op?  Well for me it’s the following:

  • Community self-build is not easy. The time, commitment, energy and resolve you need to make it happen should not be underestimated.  But that the rewards, far outweigh the sweat, tears, physical and emotional challenges. Could modular build units with a self-finish element be the compromise here whilst still creating the same sense of empowerment and community?
  • The principles and values on which the housing co-op was based.  Nobody would move in until the last house was complete.  Supporting each other, sharing, learning and growing together as a community.
  • The positive partnership with the housing association who were able to access the funding (via the Housing Corporation) for the build, and provide the experienced/technical resource to support the group through the build.
  • It was led by a community of people who came together to address their own housing need.

Like Kevin, I ask myself why haven’t there been more projects like this, and how can we change that? In Wales we have a government which recognises community-led housing as part of the solution to providing affordable homes, the Self-Build Wales Scheme which can be accessed by local authorities, registered social landlords (RSLs), individuals and collectives. We have the social housing grant and RSLs experienced in development, organisations developing modular build units and timber frames and we have land, lots of land!

In addition we have the Wales Co-operative Centre’s ‘Communities Creating Homes’ programme with its team of dedicated and accredited Community-led Housing advisers who support groups and organisations across Wales to create thriving community-led housing projects (including, but not limited to, housing co-operatives, community-land trusts, tenant management organisations, cohousing and collective self-build schemes).

We have the building blocks to create something truly remarkable. All we need now is your help!

We want to hear from you if you are:

- An RSL or stock retaining local authority in Wales wanting to explore this approach to housing
- A community group or individuals interested in self-build (to rent)
- A Charity, local authority or organisation supporting people who have a housing need and would be interested developing their own housing solution.
- Public or private sector landowner with potential plots for affordable housing that remains in perpetuity.

Contact us

 

Jocelle Lovell is Project Manager for Communities Creating Homes at the Wales Co-operative Centre