Building our way up

The success of a local self-build housing project has inspired a new group to take on the challenge, writes Susan Higgins

Family Foundations

The Family Foundations group celebrate their first birthday

On a warm summer evening last year a group of local families met in the Warrant Officer pub in Higham Hill, Walthamstow. We all had something in common; serious housing problems.

Insecure tenancies, cramped and unsuitable living conditions, several facing eviction, all on the local council housing register with no prospect of being rehoused for a decade, if at all.

Another thing everyone had in common was that they had all met or heard of John Struthers and his highly successful self-build project in the borough, Headway Gardens. His house had been part of Green Open Homes, a national event, organised locally by the Hornbeam team, and many people had visited his home and been highly impressed.

John’s project, which had turned 50 derelict garages into ten spacious family homes, was undertaken in conjunction with Waltham Forest Council and Circle33 Housing Association. Circle had been very pleased with the result and had indicated to John that they would be happy to undertake another self-build in future.

John said he was keen to help, and John Gillespie from the Community Self Build Agency, who had been involved in and supported the Headway Gardens project, also came to our meeting to answer questions.

Afterwards, having shared our stories, we were feeling fired up with enthusiasm. Email addresses and phone numbers were exchanged, and a group created on social media to help us set up a new community self-build group. One month later, in July 2015, we had our first meeting in the back room of a local cafe, and our group ‘Family Foundations’ was born.

None of us are experts in housing or building. We are eleven ordinary families, all seeking to give our children a decent and secure home to grow up in. Our group grows in strength and confidence. We are looking around at what is starting to happen in response to the terrible housing crisis in London, and indeed the whole country. People are talking about innovative, cost-effective and environmentally sustainable housing solutions, community-led housing, co-housing, self-build. Inspired by what we see, we have continued to meet faithfully every fortnight and work towards our goal of building environmentally-friendly family homes for ourselves.

Like Headway, our project will be a self-finish project, meaning shells of the houses are built by the contractor and the future tenants carry out all of the internal carpentry and fitting out. We have met with Waltham Forest College, who tailored a course in ‘second-fix’ carpentry for the Headway Gardens group, and discussed a training course for us too. The training, and the tools we need to carry out the work, will have to be funded by our group.

Over the last year we have written our constitution, opened a community bank account, and started saving. We have had meetings with other self builders and found an architect to work on our project. We have held two very successful fundraising events, and we are now researching sources of finance and putting together our formal proposal in order to approach potential partners.

There are many positive outcomes from a self-build project such as Headway Gardens, and we are hoping and expecting that our group will be the same. By using local contractors and suppliers, the local economy is boosted. People working on the project gain self-esteem. People can also gain life-changing skills, discover an aptitude they didn’t know they had, and go on to further training and employment.

The path ahead may be full of challenges and set-backs, but we are fully committed and determined to succeed in our goal.