Ryecroft, Essex

Local residents building 12 affordable rented apartments on a disused site…


  • An underused garage block and a dilapidated council house in Ryecroft was cleared to create a site large enough to build a group of 12 affordable rented apartments. The original site was a real eyesore and was attracting misbehaviour from local kids.
  • The project was co-ordinated by the Warden Housing Association (now called Home) and the Community Self Build Agency.
  • The residents that took part in the project gained in two main ways – they learnt new skills to help improve their chances of securing jobs; and they were offered a 25% rent reduction over seven years (to reflect their contribution towards the total building costs). They ranged from people in their teens to people in their 50’s – and included a broad cross section of men and women, included one wheelchair user, several single parents, homeless youngsters and people with drug issues. None had any background in the construction industry. Most of them completed the project, though one – who didn’t pull their weight – was asked to leave, and another dropped out for personal reasons.
  • This project is unusual in that most schemes built this way result in the self builders owning (or part owning) their homes. This was the first project built where the self builders didn’t get a share of the equity in the homes they built.


  • The first challenge was to recruit families or individuals who were on the housing waiting list and were willing to work together to help build the homes. The scheme was targeted at people who had been on the housing list for some time, but who were not top priority cases. Most were on low incomes or benefits. The Housing Association ran a number of awareness-raising events including various team building exercises to help ensure everyone involved would be able to work well together. It took about two years to advertise, recruit, interview, train and confirm the members of the group.
  • The families attended various courses at the local college to improve their construction skills. The training also helped with IT, project management and interpersonal skills.
  • Plans for the site were drawn up by architects Bailey Garner. They opted for a simple L shaped arrangement, with the two sides of the ‘L’ enclosing a public garden space. The local council supported the scheme and permission was granted very straightforwardly.
  • The 12 homes include 11 identical two bedroom flats and one one-bedroom wheelchair flat. The flats are a little bigger than conventional housing association properties – typically 66m2. The homes are all timber framed, and clad in brick. They are well insulated and sound proofed. Gas heating was fitted, with underfloor heating on the ground level and radiators on the first floor.
  • One of the key benefits was that by the time everyone moved in they had all got to know each other really well; so they had a ready-made community. Indeed the self build part of the overall housing development is now very much the hub of the community – hosting lots of public events on the grassed area in front of the homes. The area is also a very safe spot, with kids playing outside, but with all the homes overlooking the area, so that parents can keep an eye on them.
  • One of the owners has gone on to become a professional plumber; another built up her management and IT skills and is now in work as a life coach/teacher.


  • The total construction cost was £1.41million – this works out at about £117,500 per apartment. The cost per sq ft figure was £165. This is higher than might have been expected, but in reality this was as much a job training/creation programme as a self build scheme, and the costs of all the training, management and co-ordination was quite significant. And the self builders didn’t do a great deal of the costly construction work themselves – the bulk of this was still undertaken by a main contractor.
  • The self builders had to commit to work one day a week on the site, over a 12 month period, and none of them could move in until the whole development was completed. There were also quite a lot of training courses and joint meetings that they had to attend. The housing association employed a support worker from the Community Self Build Agency to help keep everyone on track. And they appointed Durkan as the main contractor to undertake and drive the main building works along.


  • 2003/4 – The families were recruited.
  • June 2005 – Work started on site.
  • June 2006 – Everyone moved in.

Learning Points:

  • The time spent ‘up front’ getting to know each other paid dividends. “It was a good investment of our time; the bonding was really powerful so we all trusted each other by the time we got onto the site”.
  • Nearly all the homes are two bedroom properties; but many of those taking part were single homeless people, and some of them have been unable to afford the rent once completed (the rent is for a two bedroom, four person flat, so they’ve had to sublet rooms to get by). If the team were doing the project again they should have provided smaller one bed homes for single people, and larger ones for families.
  • With hindsight they would have liked to have fitted solar panels to make the project a bit greener.

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