Last night, I attended the launch event of the Collective Custom Build website. This resource is the product of an academia meets practice project, ‘Motivating Collective Custom Build‘ that includes the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield, architects Ash Sakula and Design for Homes. The website includes what I would describe as a public information-style video that seeks to give a common sense explanation of what collective custom build is and the value of this in terms of meeting contemporary housing need.
The event was very well attended by practitioners, industry professionals and several researchers (such as myself) interested in self- and custom build. It featured speeches by a range of people variously involved in the project. The real sense conveyed by these speeches really was the urgency of the collective custom build agenda; as the video describes it ‘Collective custom build, an idea whose moment has come’. The advocacy from a range of actors including those currently struggling to meet their housing needs and turning to custom build as a possible solution was a clear message. Ted Stevens (NaSBA) noted a need to grow and scale up the industry beyond the individual households, to make it an accessible option to households with a range of resources and assets and broaden it would beyond grand designs. Current shifts towards the establishment of custom build developers who would help people to get the houses they wanted, and collective custom build, which open up the market for people on more modest incomes to build their own homes were interesting and necessary developments of the industry offer that NaSBA were fully behind.
But what was also apparent that there still a lot of ground that needs to be covered in order to custom build to meet its full potential, or perhaps rather, a lot of obstacles that still stand in the way of people achieving their housing aspirations through these modes of housing delivery. Rather unsurprisingly, but no less depressingly, the study conducted as part of the project demonstrated that finance, planning and land remain significant challenges to achieving these goals. During further discussion, it also became clear that a lack of knowledge, for example on the part of local authorities, planners etc. about custom build and about their obligations in terms of measuring the demand for self build was also potentially damaging to the industry. In this respect, it became clear that there was a definite need for education. One final point that I thought was particular interesting came from Nick Devlin who had been part of a community build project in Dorset. This was to do with the legal fees and expertise that had been involved in setting up their project; his intention was to draw attention both to how much this had cost but also the necessity and complexity of this process to the project. He concluded by stressing that there was a real need for this type of expertise.
Overall, the event had an air of excitement about it, and there was an apparent enthusiasm for driving the agenda forward. The advocacy agenda, which seems to be so central to the mechanics of the industry at the moment, was strong. Now for the challenge for rolling this out and promoting it further to other stakeholders, policy-makers, planners and local authorities.