We Can Make was born as a ‘bottom-up’ response to community demands and concerns about housing need in Knowle West:
– People are priced out of a market where housing is the most expensive it has ever been – full-time workers can expect to pay an estimated 7.8 times their annual workplace-based earnings in purchasing a home.*
– Many people we’ve spoken to aren’t eligible for the ‘last resort’ supply of council housing. When they are eligible, the housing they’re offered is often in a location far away from their care and support networks.
– Many people lack the professional skills and financial resources required to “go it alone” through the development and planning system. For example, planning applications in Knowle West are twice as likely to be rejected than applications made in neighbourhoods in Bristol that rank lower in national deprivation indices.**
We Can Make uses an asset-based approach to re-imagine “how to do housing” differently in Knowle West. It starts with the know-how and resources the community already has, and uses a process of co-design to work with people to develop the tools to do housing on their terms.
We call this approach “urban acupuncture” – where people with particular needs opt in to using a small piece of land to meet their housing needs.
Typical needs that are failing to be met by conventional housing solutions include:
1. Downshifters: individuals or couples whose house is too big for them and they are looking for a smaller home but want to stay in the neighbourhood.
2. New shoots: families that need more space because kids are growing up and want independent or are having children of their own.
3. Extra care: families who need more space so they can look after elderly or disabled family members.
4. Better fit: families where someone is experiencing changing mobility needs and the home needs to be adapted.
5. Making ends meet: individuals and families that want to swap space for extra income or lower bills.
So far, we have:
– Worked with artists to creatively map the housing needs and resources of Knowle West. Artist Charlotte Biszewski made a mobile wall-paper making machine taking it door-to-door to help bring everyday stories of housing need to the surface.
– Brought local people, academics, designers and policy-makers together to create a “test space” to explore and develop new approaches to developing citizen-led housing. Read the report here.
– Worked with the local community to co-design a set of tools to unlock micro-sites for affordable housing, including a Community Design Code where the community helps to set the rules for what any homes on micro-sites look like, what materials are used and how many there are.
– Built a prototype home on a micro-site in Knowle West to show the kind of designs that are possible. The “TAM” was designed by White Design and built by ModCell, employing local tradespeople in the construction. The house is made from timber and compressed straw, making it environmentally friendly. Knowle West residents can stay in the house to try it out, and it’s also available to rent on AirBnB, with the income shared with Filwood Community Centre. So far over 600 people have stayed in the TAM.
– Created a Chat Show podcast series with local residents and artist Lily Green of No Bindings to share how Knowle Westers are sorting out their housing.
We Can Make is about much more than just delivering housing “units”. It is important that the process of building new homes contributes to the wider economic regeneration of the neighbourhood, including creating new jobs and skills for local people.
We Can Make uses Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and we’re currently developing the capabilities of community fabrication space, KWMC: The Factory, as a neighbourhood housing factory. MMC is a wide term, embracing a range of manufacturing techniques that provide alternatives to traditional house building: from constructing whole homes from factory-built modules to using innovative techniques for constructing on-site.
Training for local residents and tradespeople is already underway. For example, 15 local people have been taking part in the Making Together programme of workshops to learn new digital construction skills.
We Can Make is supported by the Nationwide Foundation and Homes England to deliver up to 16 homes in Knowle West over the next eighteen months.
Architects and residents are currently working together to create the designs for the first two We Can Make homes.
After this pilot phase, the aim is to scale up the project to help more people in Knowle West and explore how the We Can Make approach could be used to help those in housing need in other neigbourhoods in Bristol and beyond.
Over 80 local families have registered their interest in a We Can Make home. We propose that the homes form part of a community land trust so that they can remain affordable indefinitely.
Get in touch if:
– You live in Knowle West, think you’ve got space, and you or your family are interested in getting a We Can Make home
– You are a local tradesperson and interested in helping to build the We Can Make homes
– You want to find out more.
We Can Make is a community-led housing project by Knowle West Media Centre and Knowle West residents.
We Can Make is supported by Nationwide Foundation and Homes England.
Featured image: architectural drawing by Studio Bark
*Housing affordability in England and Wale 2018, Office for National Statistics.
**All planning applications made in Knowle West and Clifton between 2010 and 2014 were compared. Data accessed via Bristol City Council Open Data Portal. Accessed 16/03/2017
The We Can Make housing initiative has moved a step closer to building affordable and sustainable homes in Knowle West: at the end of June 2020 the We Can Make team submitted plans to Bristol City Council to build the first two homes! We Can Make is a collaboration between KWMC and local residents. We've been working together since 2016 to develop new ways to meet housing need in...
Every two years Nesta and The Observer New Review showcase 50 individuals and organisations that are changing the UK for the better - and in 2018 a Knowle West initiative is one of them! Our We Can Make housing programme has been selected as one of 50 'New Radicals' - a list of individuals, organisations and initiatives from...
Working people can expect to pay around 7.6 times their annual earnings on purchasing a home in England and Wales: we urgently need new ways to meet housing need. Our We Can Make initiative proposes that one answer to the housing crisis could lie in people’s own hands and ‘micro-plots’ of spare land scattered across back-gardens and between buildings. We're...
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