20 Nov 2013

Collective Custom Selfbuild. What is it?

Short answer is I'm not sure. But something is happening here and I want to find out more.

There is a three and a half minute cartoon you must watch. Link is here. I'm not quite sure I agree with every sentiment but it's nothing if not interesting. And whilst it might come on a bit preachy (reinforced by the music which makes it sound like a wartime information film), there's an awful lot packed into it. It ends with the prophetic words "an idea whose time has come." Cliche? Maybe, but I think it might just be so.

Many of the new policies of the coalition — Community Right to Build, Localism, NPPF granting status to selfbuild for the first time — seem to be combining with grass roots movements like Community Land Trusts, Custombuild sites coming on stream and cohousing developments. And it's all pointing us somewhere a bit different to what we have grown used to, the usual diet of spec built apartments and houses, a little social housing and a small amount of individual selfbuild.

Critics will say it's just the Guardian-reading, Waitrose-shopping middle classes looking for something more interesting than another pilates class or a new farmers' market. But volume housing as practiced in the UK is so damn miserable, and its outcome is so damned expensive that it's about time we found some half-decent alternatives. Not everyone can afford a Grand Design and, even if they could, not everyone wants to live in a five-bedroomed detached house in the countryside. Maybe the answer is lurking in the thought processes behind this video.

It was certainly enough to draw a crowd of 50 or so people to a soft-launch event on Monday night at the offices of AshSakula in London. Lots of movers and shakers in the selbuild world took the trouble to turn up and the enthusiasm was infectious. So much so that I found myself volunteering to organise a tour to Berlin, spiritual home of this sort of thing — baugruppen they call it. They not only do it but they provide guided tours.

Anyone interested in coming along, email me at markbrinkley@mac.com and I'll keep you informed as to dates.

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