Anyone considering a self-build scheme as part of a group may want to consider cohousing, and, if so, a new practical guide from UK Cohousing Network offers practical insight to help you achieve your goal. Cohousing is a model in which you have your own private home while sharing common facilities as an intentional community of likeminded individuals.

Cohousing is a distinct approach to designing healthy neighbourhoods, which was developed in Denmark in the 1960s. Following steady growth in the UK over the past 14 years, UK Cohousing Network has responded to demand by publishing the country’s first ever comprehensive ‘how-to’ guide.

Based upon first-hand experience of existing schemes, the guide is essential reading for both housing/planning professionals and community groups, and takes the reader through all the stages of development from conception to living together.

What’s special about cohousing?

Cohousing communities are usually between 20-40 private dwellings with a common house, shared garden and other facilities. Residents in cohousing schemes share a common vision, and are closely involved in the design, development and long-term management/stewardship of their neighbourhoods. As such, community is at the heart of every project.

Shared spaces vary, and can include a hub for meetings and get-togethers, a shared kitchen (in addition to individual homes’ kitchens) for optional communal meals, shared gardens, laundries or even guest suites for smaller units, to remove the need for redundant bedrooms.

Practical Guide to Cohousing

Practical guidance

With over 170 pages, the guide takes groups through the entire project pipeline, drawing on experience from cohousing groups and experienced advisors. The guide explains the process of creating a group – including setting a vision, finding a site, planning, building and living in the finished project. It also explains design elements and issues around finance.


Cohousing has well-recognised benefits, and a major element in that it combats isolation and loneliness, making it a popular choice for older people, as well as a route for families and younger people. This also makes it a popular route for groups of people with shared value sets or experiences, such as the LGBTQ community.

The guide is part of the membership package for UK Cohousing Network and is available to the Community Led Homes hub network. The UK Cohousing Network’s website has lots of free information about the route, and the network is part of the Community Led Homes website, which explains the full range of approaches to community led housing, and the differences.

But groups seriously embarking on a cohousing project will find the guide, and the membership that supports it, a valuable resource.
Membership of the UK Cohousing Network costs between £60 annually for individuals looking for groups, £90 a year for established groups, with prices for NGOs and commercial memberships set at £200/£300 per year.

Don’t forget, you can join your local self build register as an individual and as a group. Find yours at the Right to Build Portal

Image: Marmalade Lane Cohousing; Duncan Hayes

Boris Johnson’s much discussed planning reforms are set to sweep away the system that has shaped our communities since 1947, but the proposals continue to get push back from Tory MPs, as well as other from other parties.

The planning system has been widely, if not always fairly, blamed for the UK’s failure in housing delivery, and the reforms have been in discussion since the Fixing our Broken Housing Market paper in 2017.

Simply put the proposals, as set out in the Planning for the Future White Paper (2020) set out a better future for a more streamlined planning service, to be encapsulated in the Planning Bill.

Three areas of activity

The government’s idea revolutionises how we do planning, adopting a model that is more akin to the zoned systems seen in many other countries, with three distinct areas defined for development. Effectively this creates a traffic light system, with all land in England falling into either:

This simplified version will see land in growth areas given automatic planning permission, with some land in renewal areas being granted permission in principle.

There has been serious criticism of the plans as many feel that it removes the ability of local people and councils to block or influence new development sufficiently. However, government counters this by saying there will be consultation involved in the setting of the zones, giving local communities say.

But a recent Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Select Committee report remained sceptical in regards to whether the proposals will have the desired results, stating in its summary that, “we are unpersuaded that the Government’s zoning-based approach will produce a quicker, cheaper, and democratic planning system”.

Criticism from within the party has continued, with the loss of a recent by-election in Chesham and Amersham being linked to local people’s concerns around planning matters, further adding fuel to the debate.

Other planning proposals

As well as the zonal system of areas, the reforms also put forward a desire to digitise the entire system, which can only be good for everyone involved.

A new National Model Design Code will also pave the way for more local Design Codes, which would set out a vision for what is acceptable locally in terms of beauty and quality. The intention of this is to raise the bar for development, especially for housing, including custom and self build homes.

Planning for the Future also set out a vision for changes in how developer contributions will be gathered – the infrastructure levy, to remove Section 106 contributions. The original idea was a national service, but this has already been revised so that it remains in the power of local authorities to control, and spend. Such contributions help fund wider issues, and, in the eyes of the local authority, ensure that new development contributes to wider issues, such as infrastructure or greening up.

NaCSBA is generally supportive of the proposed planning reforms, as they have the potential to give self and custom builders far more certainty with regards to planning.

However, many proposals to amend the planning system have been put forward over the years that have been watered down. This has traditionally given rise to the accusation of constantly tinkering with, rather than fixing, the system, resulting in the cumbersome system building most engage with. So it remains to be seen how much of the original reforms proposed will make it through the process.

The Government has launched its First Homes scheme with the initial properties in the scheme going on the market in the Bolsover district, East Midlands.

The scheme is designed to help young people and key workers onto the housing ladder, and is the flagship model in the ‘Own Your Home’ website. The new site illustrates the range of support available to help people access a home of their own, and includes the Help to Build scheme – yet to open for bids – and NaCSBA’s Self Build Portal.

As the showpiece of the campaign, the First Homes scheme has been designed for local first-time buyers, enabling them to purchase a property with a discount of at least 30% compared to the market price.

The discount is maintained in perpetuity for first-time buyers, meaning that when the home is sold the discount is able to be passed on to the new purchaser, as long as they fit the criteria. This ensures that the homes will always be sold below market, as long as it is first time buyers that buy it.

The scheme has been designed to specifically support key workers, such as NHS staff and veterans, and in turn offering wider benefits to local communities and enable them to stay in the communities where they live and work.

The initial First Homes properties went on the market in the Bolsover district, East Midlands, with a further 1,500 being market over the coming year. Government expects this to deliver 10,000 homes a year, which could be increase if there is demand.

The Halifax, Nationwide Building Society and a range of local building societies and community lenders have committed to providing high loan-to-value mortgages for First Homes to support the scheme.

Delivery of the scheme is part of the government’s wider pledge to build one million new affordable homes in this Parliament and help put home ownership within reach for people across the country. Help to Build is part of this commitment, which is also expected to boost housing delivery by enabling more people to custom and self build.

Help to Build

The Help to Build Scheme is designed to support self and custom home building, allowing it to become a realistic option for more people wishing to get on to the housing ladder through lower deposit mortgages.

Lowering the required deposit will free up capital, so people can build the home that they want and need – whether it’s a made to order home on a multi-plot site or a stand alone self build. The scheme will provide an equity loan on the completed home, similar to the Help to Buy: Equity Loan scheme.

The government’s ‘Own Your Home’ campaign showcases the full range of home ownership options supported by government, such as the the 95% mortgage guarantee scheme which helps first-time buyers secure a mortgage with just a 5% deposit.

Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said: “Enabling more people to buy their own homes is at the heart of the mission of this government, and First Homes will offer a realistic and affordable route into home ownership.

“Thanks to First Homes, we will offer more homes to local people and families, providing a route for first-time buyers to stay in their local areas rather than being forced out due to rising prices.

“First Homes will also support our fantastic key workers who are looking to get their first foot on the housing ladder – from front-line doctors and nurses to delivery drivers and supermarket staff – by giving many of them the chance to buy a home at a 30% discount.”

Find out more about First Homes and Help to Build on the Own Your Home website.

According to specialist lender Together, a third of Brits would sacrifice part of their garden if it meant they could self build on the land. Based on a new survey, the data indicates that over 34% would take on a major self-build, with a mix of motivations. Of those surveyed, 14% said this would create a home for a family member, 10% would build a house they would sell and 8% would move in themselves.

According to the survey, 26% of respondees were interested in creating a standalone ‘granny annexe’ for visiting friends or family, if they had the space. Many attributed this desire due to the way in which the pandemic forced us to reconsider how we interact with our extended families.

One in ten also said that the boom in popularity for staycations offered an opportunity to rent such a garden build out as a short-term holiday let, while 8% said they were interested in long-term lets.

But it’s not just big builds that people wanted in their garden, with a fifth (20%) of respondents saying they’d be keen to build a summerhouse or workshop to create their perfect space.

Scott Clay, distribution development manager at Together, said: “Our survey highlights homeowners’ ambitions as we begin to return to a different kind of normality.

“People are thinking more creatively about how they could use their outside space, whether that is providing a standalone home office, a home for themselves to live or sell, or a specially-designed home for elderly or disabled relatives.

“It’s important that homeowners have enough space and get any required building consent, including planning permission, before they take on a self-build. They will also need a lot of planning, determination, and the right finance in place before they start their project.

“However, as well as Help to Build, there are other options of funding your own build, depending on the borrower’s ability to repay the loan. This could be through an advance from an existing lender, a self-build mortgage, or a remortgage, bridging loan or other types of property finance from a specialist lender.”

Building in the garden

Duncan Hayes, a spokesperson for the National Custom and Self-Build Association (NaCSBA) said: “When considering options for garden plots it is important to understand the approach of the local planning authority. The right proposals in the right areas can help with the delivery of better and more sustainable homes that we urgently need.

“Care is needed as many will have specific policies to prevent inappropriate development of gardens that may cause harm to the local area. NaCSBA recommends that anyone wanting to build should sign their local self-build register and check out the planning policies on their local council’s website in regard to creating new dwellings in a garden.”

Andrew Baggot, managing partner and chartered accountant at Clarke Nicklin, adds: “As far as tax is concerned there are a few matters to bear in mind with a self-build project. As well as the tax benefits, there shouldn’t be any Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) to pay on the self-build, on the basis that it is being built in the owner’s own garden.

“However, one tax that might need to be considered in more detail is Capital Gains Tax (“CGT”). Your primary home is exempt from CGT. Although, as soon as you’ve acquired a self-build home you then have two properties, only one of which can be exempt from CGT. It’s therefore important to plan ahead if you’re then thinking of selling one of the properties so that you minimise any tax that might become payable”.

Find out more about tax on our advice pages.

A firm fixture in the self build homes calendar, the winners of the Daily Telegraph Homebuilding & Renovating Awards for 2020 have been announced. The awards celebrate outstanding examples of new homes, from a range of self builds, conversions, renovations and more. 

The winners are always worth a look for anyone involved in a project of their own as a source of inspiration, so check out the best of British!

The home that scooped the grand title of the Home of the Year 2020 was The Forge (right), which also won the Best Conversion category, for its modern take on the extension and conversion of a Grade-II listed Blacksmith’s Forge in Shropshire by Studio Bloc. The entire project had an incredible £85,000 build cost! The judges loved the forensic detailing that revealed the history in the building.


The Forge
Image: Jeremy Phillips/Future

As well as the award winners, don’t miss on reading about the inspiring projects that made it to the shortlist, as there is such a variety of inspirational projects to get your imagination going! Or check out last year’s winners for some more impressive homes. 

Check out all the winners on Homebuilding & Renovating’s website or pick up the April issue. 

The 2021 Awards are also open for entries! Get the full list of categories and how to enter on Homebuilding & Renovating

Goldcrest Custom Homes has started work on an exciting new development, bringing the concept of shell apartments to the market in a first for London. 

In this new model the nine apartments are on the market as a ‘shell’, offering a range of advantages as buyers can influence the design of their new home. 

Purchasers have the freedom to choose how they want to live, from the floor plan layout to the finishes, offering a new take on buying an apartment.  They can work with the existing contractors or commission an interior architect to help finalise the design – including the option of saving on costs by spending less on the fit out. 


The shell refers the apartment before wall finishes, partition walls, and flooring is installed. This also means expensive kitchens or bathrooms are not included, giving you more freedom. Services come ready to go, to support your choices. 

If buyers don’t feel confident to go it alone, the apartments come with a pre-designed fit-out pack, that includes a Michel Roux of Le Gavroche kitchen, an open plan living configuration completed by contemporary bathrooms.


Goldcrest's shell scheme plan 2
Apartments can be tailored to buyer's preference

A flexible approach to ownership

Prices for the 40 Atheldene Road shell apartments start from £495,000 (£596/sq ft) for a 830sq ft two-bed shell apartment to £594,000 (£566/sq ft) for a 1,050sq ft three-bedroom shell apartment, see Rightmove

Buyers can control the value creation by choosing how much to spend on the fit-out. Purchased as a shell they don’t have to pay VAT on fit-out costs with the benefit of a lower stamp duty as you are buying a shell as opposed to the finished home. Mortgages are available from BuildLoan, and the scheme is due to complete in Summer 2021. 

Paul Broadbent, Design Director, Goldcrest Custom Homes said, “As an architect, I have long been disappointed by the mundanity and expense of new homes. Goldcrest Custom Homes creates the unique opportunity to design a truly unique new home at an affordable price.”

Custom build choice in London

While Goldcrest’s shell scheme is the first full scheme of apartments, there are other developments that take the same approach. Unboxed Homes’ Blenheim Road scheme has units that can be purchased as whole houses or as apartments, both on a shell basis with a range of routes to the finished home.

NaCSBA member lapd Architects is working with several self builders on projects at Graven Hill, Oxfordshire – the UK’s largest self and custom build site. We’re following one family’s journey to their dream home in this blog.

In the first instalment Stef and Pauline, lapd Architect’s self-build clients, had just finished the concept design and planning stage at Graven Hill. Read Part one.

Technical design

Technical drawings, by providing construction information and proving that the design stands up to building regulations, allow professionals to price for and construct the self-build home. 

Stef and Pauline worked with lapd Architects, who co-ordinated the process, especially by working with the structural engineer. This co-ordination makes sure the design is seen through, as envisioned, and that the calculations have been completed as required.

lapd consultation
Working with trusted professionals

lapd Architects were also liaising with Graven Hill on Stef and Pauline’s behalf to make sure that all the elements of the Golden Brick were moving in the right direction at the right time. Stef and Pauline were deciding upon which contractor should build their dream home at this point too. 

Many different cogs are in motion at this moment in the self-build process, so it is important to be working with professionals you trust. lapd Architects have created a useful Ultimate Graven Hill Self Build Checklist to help lay out what happens when, and what self-builders need to be thinking about at different parts of the process.

Choosing a builder

Stef and Pauline decided that Drewett and Hunt contractors would be the ones that were the builders of their project. lapd Architects had worked with Drewett and Hunt on Build It’s Self Build Education house, so there was already a good working relationship between designer and builder. 

They had a working understanding of the Graven Hill process, and Stef and Pauline felt like they could place their trust in them to take their designs from paper to final structure. 

The 'Golden Brick' process

There are two separate construction phases in the Graven Hill timeline: the above ground works and the below ground works. The works that happens underneath the home come under a Graven Hill specific process called Golden Brick. 

In short, this means that Graven Hill are responsible for providing the house foundations up to DPC (Damp Proof Course) level which includes the foundations plus the first brick layers. Gas and Electric services, among other amenities, are also put in place at this point. Buying your self-build plot through the Golden Brick process that is in place at Graven Hill allowed Stef and Pauline to buy the plot, plus Golden Brick foundations, as a VAT exempt purchase.

Both Opinder, director at lapd Architects, and Nick, director at Drewett and Hunt, worked alongside the Graven Hill team that were constructing the Golden Brick foundations to ensure everything was present and correct. 

Stef and Pauline were incredibly excited at this point, being able to walk along their, as yet unbuilt, ground floor and get a sense of how big their home would be and where it would stand. It was an important checkpoint along the journey to their completed dream self-build home. 

Materials arrive on site

The exchange of the plot was another massive moment for Stef and Pauline. The foundations, up to DPC level, being completed, it was now time for them to take ownership of their plot. 

Looking at this space, full of possibilities, with their designs in front of them, was a moment of real excitement. Things started to move. The scaffolding was going up on site. Cranes were lifting timber frame panels to where they needed to go on their plot.   

lapd lorry delivery loading
The flat pack timber frame arrives on site

Stef and Pauline are now well and truly on their way to building their dream self-build home. In our next blog we will be seeing what the start of a build on site looks like at Graven Hill, watching as the first components of the timber frame are put up on site.









For more information about Graven Hill, why not find out more about the award-winning Build It Self-Build Education House, designed by lapd Architect’s very own Opinder Liddar

A new Help to Build equity loan scheme was announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review, another green light for those wanting to custom or self build, says the National and Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA).

Join our mailing list to be the first to find out more

The new scheme was announced as part of a package of measures to support more people to build more sustainable and more beautiful homes.

Important for anyone considering a custom or self build, the Comprehensive Spending Review made two important announcements:

What do we know about Help to Build?

As yet, there are no firm details about the format or timescale of the Help to Build scheme. However, NaCSBA will be working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to feed into the design of the scheme. NaCSBA has been lobbying for a Help to Build scheme for several years, so welcomes the announcement.

Currently, it is expected that the Help to Build will be an equity loan scheme along the lines of Help to Buy, but with the loan subsidising the mortgage lender, rather than the house builder, as with Help to Buy. However, for now the details remain uncertain. 

The Help to Build will help more people self build who would otherwise struggle to finance a build, great news for the third of people who want to self build, the result of recent research by NaCSBA and the Building Societies Association.

Of these 1 in 3 interested in self building, 59% of respondents said that access to finance remained the most significant barrier preventing them from self building. Help to Build should help remedy this, and make a real difference to the younger age groups where there was the interest in self build was strongest.

NaCSBA will bring you news about Help to Build as soon as it knows more

Serviced plots

NaCSBA also welcomed the news of further funding, especially to support the release of  public sector land for serviced plots. Access to suitable land remains a challenge, as acknowledged by 42% of those surveyed in NaCSBA’s recent research.

Public sector land is land held by councils, government and large institutions, and a commitment to bring some of this land to market for plots could provide a valuable route to land.

Access to plots and ability to secure finance have traditionally been significant challenges for anyone wanting to self build, and these announcements reflect government’s ambition to support more people in their ambition of having an owner-commissioned home.

Andrew Baddeley-Chappell, NaCSBA CEO, said: “The announcements today, together with those on Right to Build Day, make it clear that the Government is fully committed to do more to increase the diversity of choice in our new homes market.

“Greater choice will lead to great innovation and competition that will lead to more and better homes. We hope to see the new Help to Build scheme up and running as soon as possible together with the additional wonderful, affordable sustainable, uplifting new homes that it will help deliver.”

Self Build Wales

Help to Build will only be available in England, but Wales already has Self Build Wales, which includes a loan for anyone wanting to self build.

Find out more in Build It magazines interview, or at the scheme’s hompage: Self Build Wales.

NaCSBA member lapd Architects is working with several self builders on projects at Graven Hill, Oxfordshire – the UK’s largest self and custom build site. We’re following one family’s journey to their dream home in this blog.

The Self Build Dream

Stef and Pauline commissioned lapd Architects to work on their build at Graven Hill. The vision was to create a South African-inspired home in Bicester that could make the most of the summer time in the UK.

Ideas like this are often the starting point for great design. Stef and Pauline had been pondering what kind of a home they would like to live in, where they might build that home, and what their key must-haves were for years by this point. That thinking paid off when it came to those first crucial steps along the journey towards their dream self-build home.

Appointing an Architect

Stef and Pauline got in touch with the team at lapd Architects after a rocky start with another company, where they felt that their self-build was heading in the wrong direction.

The couple booked in a free initial consultation, chatted with Opinder, one of the directors at lapd, and began to get an idea of the reality of the self-build process and how to get started.

With the help of the team at Graven Hill, they had reserved a plot with beautiful views, and things were beginning to move in the right direction.

Initial Brief

With the plot reserved, the process was underway, and Stef and Pauline were out of the starting blocks in terms of turning their dream of self-build home into a reality. A crucial first step for any would be self builders is to ensure that the your architects understand exactly what it is that you want, and why. This buy-in is crucial to ensure that everything is clear from the get go, and that the professionals you choose to work with are on the same wavelength from the outset.

Self builders Stef and Pauline  The collaborative design process with lapd

Concept Design

Following the initial meetings, a concept design was drawn up, with lapd Architects creating 3D Lumion images, for the first time rendering the couple’s vision into a tangible set of drawings. This is the real value in using professionals, as they are can translate dreams into something that can actually be built.

The South African concept of a pyjama lounge (a sort of snug) is the main living space, and takes pride of place on the first floor. It has been designed to command beautiful views of the surrounding area through a striking front gable.

At the back, the kitchen opens onto a patio with an outdoor kitchen, extending the usable space and make the most of long summer nights – perfect for entertaining. Lifestyle and design go hand in hand, and every room in a self-build should be designed around the self-builder’s day to day life as well as their own personal taste in design.

lapd Architects design for a self build at Graven Hill

Stef and Pauline’s 3D images for their Graven Hill self-build

The concept drawings are key to refining the design, and the initial images rarely reflect the final product. This stage marks the beginning of a conversation, across several meetings, where the design is refined to meet the clients’ needs.

Getting the working relationship with the professionals gives self builder the confidence to make the decisions that are most important to them, to help them get the home they truly want.

Plot Passport Compliance

Graven Hill plots come with a document called a Plot Passport, which sets out any restrictions on the plot, such as design limitations or positioning. Once Stef and Pauline were happy the design was submitted for plot passport compliance (a Graven Hill specific process).

This was then accepted by the local authority and the team at Graven Hill. One of the benefits of building at Graven Hill is that this process is much simpler and quicker than your normal planning application.

The next stage for Stef and Pauline is the Golden Brick process, where the foundations are constructed and the plot is handed over – another unique feature of building at Graven Hill.

More images and news to come soon as Stef and Pauline continue their journey.

Start your own Self Build journey

If you would like to talk to lapd about exploring the option of self-building, either at Graven Hill or elsewhere, then get in touch, as lapd Architects offers a free initial consultation via zoom. Or check out lapd’s checklist for building at Graven Hill. 

Alternatively, if you are considering self-build, and want some more information, why not visit the award-winning Build It Self-Build Education House? This first of its kind project allows you to explore a real self-build, and see what it actually looks like, helping you to think through your dream project.

Read Part 2 here.

Celebrating Right to Build Day, the Ipswich Building Society conducted its own research into the custom and self build market. Like NaCSBA and the Building Societies Association’s survey, the Ipswich’s asked 2,000 people about their aspirations and understanding of the custom and self build sector, prompted by the way the pandemic has changed the way we see our homes.

Like NaCSBA’s research, the main finding was that 35% of UK adults (approximately 22 million people) said they would consider a self build project at some point in the future. The NaCSBA/BSA research found a similar figure, that 32% of people were interested in self building – adding empirical weight to the data.

The research found that:

Charlotte Grimshaw, Head of Mortgage Sales at Ipswich Building Society said: “Since the introduction of government legislation on 1 April 2016, self build projects have become a more recognised and viable choice for many people.

“However, finding the perfect plot of land is still something that self builders are concerned about. The introduction of Right to Build was a significant step for this often overlooked sector and with the UK having the lowest known rates of self build homes in the world, coupled with a substantial shortage of homes, local councils would do well to promote these registers more tenaciously, to ensure a continual supply of suitable plots.”

Lack of awareness about self build mortgages

The Ipswich Building Society commented that those planning to embark on a self build project should be aware of the classification of their build with regards to their mortgage application. This research reveals that more than half (52%) of people were unaware they would need a self build mortgage and not a standard residential mortgage for the major renovation of any property or self build project.

Ipswich Building Society advises that if the mortgage applicant has to live in a separate dwelling during the build, or if major renovation work leaves a property without kitchen and/or bathroom facilities for an extended period of time, this would usually fall under most lenders’ criteria for self build.

However, as self build mortgages are more complex than a standard mortgage application, it can be advisable to seek guidance from a mortgage intermediary who has experience in this area.

Ipswich Self Build Research infographic