A little taster of the end of project exhibition!

On the final stretch of preparing for the end of project exhibition and other events! If you are interested in coming along to the exhibition next week, please do. It features photos taken by selfbuilders, stories that draw on the ethnographic research that I have been doing for the last 3 years, and more! You can even draw your own dream house!

And, here’s a little taster of what’s to come!

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EXHIBITION Beyond Grand Designs … everyday stories of selfbuild



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Ever wondered what it is like to build your own home? This exhibition takes you behind the scenes, into the everyday lives and experiences people who have. It displays visual material produced with and by selfbuilders to tell the story of selfbuild in contemporary Britain from the perspective of selfbuilders. From the diverse motivations that lead people to build their own homes to their everyday experiences of building, it makes clear the importance of social relations in the project of selfbuilding.

This exhibition has been prepared as part of the ESRC-Funded Project ‘Selfbuilding: the production and consumption of new homes from the perspective of households’ (Grant Number: ES/K001078/1).


15th-19th September 2015

Opening Times

9.30am – 5.30pm (Late closing Thursday 17th 8.30pm)


310 New Cross Road, London SE14 6NW

Further information

Free entry; all welcome!

For further information contact:


Putting the social into alternative housing – end of project workshop

Time flies! I can’t quite believe it, but after three years I am now on the final stretch of my ESRC-funded research project, Selfbuilding: the production and consumption of new homes from the perspective of households. To mark this, I have arranged a series of events to take place in the week 14-19th September, including a project exhibition, academic and stakeholder workshop, report launch etc.

Today I am writing about the academic and stakeholder workshop. It will take place 17-18th September 2015, at the Geffrye Museum. The workshop will foreground the development of narratives focused on the social dimensions of the alternative housing practices (in its broadest sense) that are often the subject of our research, but seem to take backstage within broader discussions of alternative housing. The workshop aims to allow space for discussion between academics working on this area and generate some take-home messages about the importance of understanding the social dimensions of these practice that might be usefully communicated to practitioners, housing specialists, and other interested parties in a dedicated session at the end of the workshop. It will also include a focus on the findings of my project through a report launch and the private view of the project exhibition.

If you are interested in participating as an academic researcher working on these issues, you will need to prepare a paper focused on the theme Putting the social into alternative housing to be circulated a week in advance, a 10-minute presentation of the key themes within this on Thursday 17th September. You will also be asked to act as a discussant for one of the other papers in the workshop and actively participate in the generation of take-home messages for practitioners and housing specialists. Please do let me know if you are interested in participating by sending an email to michaela.benson@gold.ac.uk and I will send you further information.

If you are a practitioner, housing specialist, journalist or other stakeholder and would like to attend the dedicated session at the end of the workshop, please register at the eventbrite page for the event.

There is no registration fee; the project will support the cost of the event including catering and the conference dinner. For those attending from outside London, if you cannot meet your travel and accommodation costs, please do let me know as I have some (limited) resources that I could use to support your attendance.

Revisiting Segal: testimonies from original self builders

Last night, I hosted a viewing of The House that Mum and Dad built (1982), the BBC Open Door documentary focussed on the council-led development of Segal Close in Lewisham, a scheme that enabled people on the housing waiting list to build their own homes. Following the viewing, several of the original selfbuilders – Pauline Kennedy, Jon Broome and Geoff Stow – gave testimonies of their experiences. Since building their homes in the 1980s, all have gone on to use their experience in a professional capacity – Jon in his architectural work, Geoff in his work project managing group selfbuild schemes, and Pauline in her community work. Their contributions were followed by Kareem Dayes, one of the founders of RUSS, a Community Land Trust recently set up in Lewisham that hopes to develop housing focussed on building and developing community.

It was really inspirational to hear both from people who have been through this process and what it had done for them. But also to realise that even in today’s toxic housing climate, people are using some of the lessons learned from these schemes. You can listen to them here!








An up-to-date(ish) list of academic references on self build in Britain

Prompted by an email from a student, I thought it might be a good idea to list here the (limited) academic publications on self build! Relative to other forms of housebuilding, this is a topic that has not attracted a lot of academic interest, although it is important to bear in mind that there is research out there on self build, but this might be masquerading under a variety of different names–self-help housing, self-provided housing, self-commissioned housing, self-provision–and that is not even including group housing projects–cohousing, mutuals, low impact living, community-led housing–that might include an element of what I refer to here, and in my project more generally, as self build. Despite the significant problems of conceptual clarity that I identified in my interim report, there is, nevertheless, some important research out there on self build that is valuable for anyone interested in this topic to consult.

When I first started looking at the topic, I overlooked the substantial body of work on self-build housing in the developing world, believing that the conditions would be so different that the comparison and contrast to the British case would not be particularly helpful. However, the more apparent housing inequality becomes in Britain as highlighted so well by Danny Dorling (you can listen to him talking about it here), I have started to wonder whether it is time to turn back towards this literature? Given that there are so few examples of how this has been successful in Britain, these might be give a sense of how some forms of self-build, particularly those that are government or charity aided, might form part of the solution to the housing disaster that we find ourselves in.

The list of publications below represent what has been written on self build in Britain. It is highly possible that there are publications missing from this list, so if you know of anything to add in, please list it in the comments box at the bottom of the page. In most cases, these are behind paywalls, but where they are not, I have included a hyperlink that will take you through to a copy of the publication.

Barlow, J., Jackson, R., and Meikle, J. (2001) Homes to DIY for: The UK’s self-build housing market in the twenty-first century. York: York Publishing Services.

Barlow, J., Jackson, R., and Meikle, J. (2001) The Current State of the Self Build Housing Market. York, UK: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Barlow, J. and Ozaki, R. (2003) ‘Achieving ‘customer focus’ in private housebuilding: current practice and lessons from other industries’, Housing Studies 18(1): 87-101.

Bredenord, J. and van Lindert, P. (2010) ‘Pro-poor housing policies: rethinking the potential of assisted self-help housing’. Habitat International 34(3): 278-287.

Brown, R. (2004) Making home: a study of recent self-build projects in the UK, DeMontford University: Unpublished PhD thesis.

Brown, R. (2007) ‘Identity and Narrativity in Homes Made by Amateurs’, Home Cultures 4(3): 261-285.

Brown, R. (2008) ‘Designing differently: the self-build home’, Journal of Design History 21(4): 359-370.

Clapham, D., Kintrea, K. and McAdam, G. (1993) ‘Individual self-provision and the Scottish housing system’, Urban Studies 30(8): 1355-1369.

Duncan, S. and Rowe, A. (1993) ‘Self-provided housing: the first world’s hidden housing arm’, Urban Studies 30(8): 1331-1354.

Edge, M. and Duncan, P. (2001) ‘Planning for local economy and individual empowerment: self-build housing and the ‘new vernacular’, in Edge, M. (ed.) Old World – new ideas: environment and change and tradition in a shrinking world. Conference proceedings, p. 53-59.

Hall, P. (1989) ‘Arcadia for some: the strange story of autonomous housing’, Housing Studies 4(3): 149-154.

Hardy, D. and Ward, C. (1984) Arcadia for all: the legacy of a makeshift landscape. London: Mansell.

Harris, R. (1991) ‘Self-building in the urban housing market’, Economic Geography 67(1): 1-21.

Harris, R. (1999a) ‘Aided self-help housing, a case of amnesa: editor’s introduction’, Housing Studies 14(3): 277-280.

Harris, R. (1999b) ‘Slipping through the cracks: the origins of aided self-help housing 1918-1953’, Housing Studies 14(3): 281-309. 

 Hutson, S. and Jones, S. (2002) ‘Community self-build for young homeless people: problems and potential’, Housing Studies 17(4): 639-656.

Samuels, F. (2008) ‘Suburban self-build’, Field 2(1): 111-124. 

Crane, J.L., McCabe, R.E. (1950) ‘Programmes in aid of family housebuilding. «Aided Self-Help Housing»’, International Labour Review/ – 1950. – № 49, P. 1-18
 Turok, I. (1993) ‘Tackling poverty through housing investment: an evaluation of a community self-build project in Glasgow’, Housing Studies 8(1): 47-59.

Wallace A et al (2013) Build it yourself: Understanding the self build market. York, UK: University of York.

Walliman, N. (1993) A study of recent initiatives in group self-build housing in Britain. Oxford Brookes: Unpublished PhD Thesis.

Why it is time to revisit Segal


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Copyright 'Walter's Way' by Brian Whittle is licensed under CC by 2.0

Copyright ‘Walter’s Way’ by Brian Whittle is licensed under CC by 2.0

On 19th March, I am hosting an event at Goldsmiths on the community-led self build schemes supported in the 1970s and 1980s by Lewisham Council. These were self built for social housing by future residents using the Segal method of construction. The event coincides with the 30th Anniversary of Segal’s death, and while it commemorates his legacy it also intervenes in the discussion about future housing in Lewisham. In particular, it focusses on the council’s historically progressive approach to housing, an approach well-captured by Walter Segal in his discussion of Segal Close reproduced below:

Friends of mine thought it would be possible to encourage people on their local housing list to try and build such houses within a council scheme. The scheme of 14 houses … was based on the fact that the local authority was going to provide land. The government was going to provide the money for acquiring the building materials and the self builders would be providing the labour … the 14 families were selected by a ballot. It was stipulated from the beginning that you could enter the scheme without having any capital or any other resources. That you were not in any way prevented by age or occupation, you were to build in your own time, at your own speed. That women were expected to work with their husbands; in other words this was a scheme produced by families and not a team product, that older children were encouraged to assist as well. And that families were giving each other mutually that kind of help that was required. By not having anything regimented, the amount of mutual help was astonishing. But so was also the ability and the comprehension power of these ordinary people that never in their lives would have thought that they could be building houses. It meant from their part a considerable amount of courage, a sense of enterprise, and then as I found later the pure enjoyment of doing something with their own hands and seeing results. When you can reduce buildings to that kind of level, you will be finding that you will doing very much more for people than simply to just stick them into dwellings you provide.

(Walter Segal (1983) Learning from the Selfbuilders*) 

Since the start of this research project on self building, I have been referred to the work of Segal over and over again. When I moved to Goldsmiths in 2013, I found myself in the ideal location to look into Segal’s legacy in Lewisham further. I have since spoken to several people originally involved in these schemes who have in a professional capacity gone on to work on similar projects, including Jon Broome and Geoff Stowe. In my discussions with them they have made clear that these schemes became a possibility because of the progressive approach of the council to social housing, and in particular their desire to produce something different than the high rise blocks going up across London at the time. But it was also made possible by the coming together of Brian Richardson – then assistant borough architect for Lewisham – and Walter Segal. This is an early example of how self build schemes have come to fruition as a result of local championing within the council. As an aside, some of the most lauded contemporary council-led custom build schemes, often those in the Government’s right to build vanguard (e.g. Cherwell and Teignbridge), are headed up by longstanding local champions of self build.

It is particularly the social dimensions of Lewisham and Segal’s progressive approach to self building that I find particularly inspiring, and from which I believe we should learn going forwards. Not only were these schemes directed towards people who were in housing need – a dimension which would be welcomed in any contemporary scheme of this kind – but they were also fundamentally underpinned by a democratic approach. The selfbuilding was led and undertaken by local people, the future residents of the properties; the method of construction was such that they could have a significant say in the final layout of their homes; it provided opportunities for them to skill up; and their involvement within the process was considered as empowering.

This whole experience has taught me personally an awful lot about human beings and has taught me an awful lot about the ability which, provided the methods of construction are not overbearing can be brought to the fore, and where people can discover in themselves all kinds of talents which in their former lives had absolutely no opportunity to use. That in itself is very gratifying because in each form of housing there is a social factor, which is in this case by those that are building for themselves, those that are living there … I would certainly think that this is one form, provided greater support was enlisted, housing could be provided in a way in which up to now it has not been possible. But self building must be understood as building with your own hands and using methods for which you will have to acquire only very limited skills …

(Walter Segal (1983) Learning from the self builders)

Throughout the project, I have been keen to find examples of self build in Britain that demonstrate its diversity. These rare group or community-led projects are an important part of this picture. Perhaps more than other forms of self build, these need to be part of the conversation about the future of self building in Britain. More than anything else, they help to demonstrate the contribution that self build could make to diversifying the housing offer in Britain.

The recent Government and industry push towards the formation of a custom build sector takes forward some of the benefits from these historic schemes, namely the cost savings and some degree of control over the overall outcome. By introducing facilitating or enabling developers into the marketplace, they aim to offer affordable customised housing to ordinary households. However, while new homes will be delivered on scale through the vanguard right to build schemes and by these new intermediaries, the social dimensions that were central to earlier schemes and so clearly addressed by Segal is lacking.

Within the context of the wider housing crisis, both in terms of supply and access,  it is more timely than ever that we examine the legacy of progressive schemes such as the Lewisham self build schemes. If carefully considered in relation to current housing need and markets and with the right support, they could be an important part of the solution to increasing housing supply. Perhaps unsurprisingly, following in footsteps of their predecessors, Lewisham council is now supporting a new community-led self-build venture and part of the wider conversation about how to diversify the housing supply in London.

* to access the original recording visit pigeon digital

Useful web resources about Segal and his houses

Architectural Journal’s Building Library – Lewisham Self-build Housing Association

Celebration of Walter Segal website – where they will be listing events for the 30th anniversary celebration of his death

Walter Segal Self build Trust

Learning from the Selfbuilders, Recording of Walter Segal (1983)