Church Grove - group self build in Lewisham

This page summarises feedback from interested residents on how the project should be organised, received during the detailed discussions held at the end of 2013.

Group Membership

There was consistent support for a self build group made up of a mixture of backgrounds and financial circumstances, including market rent and shared ownership, but excluding those who can afford to buy outright at full market value.


While residents were not in a position to show a clear preference for any particular financial model at this stage, there was a commonly held desire for:
- long term stability and ownership, and
- some form of control by residents.

Many people felt that the self builders need to have a stake in their home or in the site as a whole. Some were of the opinion that “if everyone owns part of their home, it gives them more of a stake in the community.” Others approached from the personal perspective; “if you have helped to build something suited to yourself, then you should have a stake in it over the long term”.

Although residents would like a high degree of control in the scheme, their financial circumstances meant most of them didn’t want to be exposed to too much risk. For example, the group could lead the briefing and selection of architects and consultants, and may be able to access grant funding for consultancy costs, whereas borrowing money and hiring contractors would carry greater risk.

The desire for some form of “ownership”, or the ability to access ownership, may take different forms for different financial circumstances. There was quite a bit of interest in community partnership in ownership and control. Community Land Trusts and Co-operatives were explored in some depth, as they can provide forms of communal resident ownership or part-ownership, providing housing equivalent to a range of tenures. There was also an interest in the role of such models in organising the community. However a few people pointed out that council homes are available for ‘right to buy’ after a certain period of time, and that shared ownership might also be possible. It was accepted that the financial work should be developed to suit the needs and circumstances of the selected self-builders.

Changing needs

A number of people were concerned about changes in household circumstances during the project timescale. Some younger people raised the possibility of having children during the process or making allowance to start a family once they move in. Similarly there were specific concerns from people with older children who may move out soon after the project completes. Understandably, people do not wish to put time and effort in, and then find they are not able to take up residency in the completed homes, because their personal circumstances had changed. People thought the project should be about “people living for the long term” and “building a community.” People did not like being “forced to move every 5 years”, as their circumstances changed.

Management and Maintenance

Generally people thought it was good for the group to have a fairly strong responsibility for management and maintenance of the completed scheme and associated costs in line with the desire for greater resident control. Most people felt there were advantages in making decisions closer to the people they effect. Some felt “everybody should contribute in terms of effort.” Some also recognised this would be valuable in terms of ongoing community relations.

Skills and Time

There was a consistent desire to have a group of people with a mixture of skills. People thought that skills can be learnt from each other. Several people were concerned about making time alongside their job. Residents agreed that there should be a minimum amount of time that everyone should put into the project. The minimum amount could be based on and agreed by the selected group. People suggested any extra work could be considered voluntary or could go into a ‘time bank’. People also noted that time and effort may not only be in construction, but could be around administration, design, organisation, or even input into the future management.

A couple of people wondered if it was possible to get a qualification through an accredited construction training / apprenticeship scheme, and insurance for self-builders. There were a few people who suggested organising opportunities for others to volunteer for the building work as well. The cost of sending people to college will need to be considered.

Group Governance

There was discussion about how the group should make decisions amongst themselves. Democratic voting was generally preferred. Some suggested there ought to be a clear majority of around 70%. If there was only a slight majority, there could be attempts at building consensus, understanding why people did not agree, and might be uncomfortable with a particular decision, and asking how it could be changed to accommodate their views, and find a common way forward.

People noted that relationships within the group could become fraught, particularly in dealing with people who were not performing. People recognised that the decision making processes would be very important, and needs to be agreed by all early on. A facilitator could provide a neutral figure to chair meetings.

Several people suggested that it would be useful to visit other projects and to hear from previous self-builders. Some also suggested a voluntary advisory panel to learn form the experience of other group self build projects.

Church Grove
Ladywell group self build
Lewisham Council