3 Small Solutions for Homing People


People who watch “CountryFile” on TV may have seen a recent episode following the story of a newly qualified farm vet called Oliver, who couldn’t afford to buy a local house on the open market. For people working with animals and on the land, living close by is essential. You can’t buy a cheap house in a town many miles out of the area and then ‘commute’ to an emergency calving at 2.30 in the morning. A farm vet will be on 24-hour call regularly and in an emergency, has to be within easy reach of local farms.

So the much talked about affordable-housing-shortage is a growing problem for people who are young, possibly paying back university fees and working in rural communities. In this case, Oliver found an affordable house in the area through the Addington Fund – a small social trust that provides a small number of houses for people working in and for agriculture. It was originally set up by church groups in the wake of the Foot and Mouth epidemic.


In Herefordshire, Canon Frome Court is both housing association and farming coop. The farm itself seems much as a well-organised mixed farm would have been back in the 50s and 60s, with a mixture of dairy, sheep, chickens, orchards, goats, ducks, arable crops and walled garden. The tractors are quite small and old fashioned, but on the other hand a large array of solar panels and a substantial woodchip boiler/green heating system brings the community bang up to date.

In all there are 19 self-contained living units ranging from 4-bed family homes to small, single apartments. These homes are not too expensive, but again they’re not available on the open market. You have to apply and attend workdays before being invited to buy a home here. And Canon Frome is more for the diggers than the dreamers … most people of working age have a full time job and/or a young family to look after, but even so everyone helps regularly on the farm and also attends meetings and a weekly shared meal. It’s a system that works beautifully for the right people.


Home Presteigne is a cooperative organisation for housing. It provides a framework for people to plan, build and refurbish homes at a local level with a focus on making homes more energy efficient and affordable to live in for people on low/local incomes. It was registered as a Community Benefit Society (coop) in 2013

To build affordable houses you either need funding, or a resourceful Plan B. In the absence of funding, Home Presteigne have come up with Plan B. It began with a proposal from a member of Home Presteigne – who originally joined the coop as a representative of the town council. In 2014, Nicola Humphreys offered Home Presteigne a piece of land in exchange for refurbishment work on her house.

Ivy House was an ‘unimproved’ property with no insulation or draught proofing anywhere. Home Presteigne’s work on the property included clearing and then lining the loft with 300mm depth of Eco Loft insulation, provision of an insulate cover for the top of the loft stairs, improving the kitchen and installing a more efficient heating system including new radiators that are especially popular with the cat.

 “Fat-Cat” enjoying  the refurbishment
“Fat-Cat” enjoying the refurbishment

Much of the work was carried out by volunteer labour with paid assistance from Presteigne based tradesmen. More technical work was carried out by a local plumber, and two electricians who all live and work in the town.

In exchange for the improvements made to Ivy House, the far end of the garden will be donated to Home Presteigne to provide a building plot for two houses. The next stage will be to prepare a planning application. If successful, Home Presteigne will make two 2-bed houses to be sold or let at affordable rates to local people. Again, local tradesmen and building materials will be used wherever possible and the homes will be built with maximum insulation for very cheap heating bills and minimal energy waste. A covenant will allow Home Presteigne coop to keep these houses ‘in perpetuity’ as affordable homes for use by local people.




Lilac Co-Housing ~ low impact living

A little over 6 years ago LILAC Co-Housing was just an idea being discussed by a group of ordinary people from Leeds. Now those who needed affordable and sustainable homes ~  and worked so hard to make the idea a reality ~ have moved in.


Good Idea

The project idea was first discussed back in 2006. The group wanted to be able to live well on local wages, in comfortable homes that didn’t waste resources or damage the environment.

We had a vision to build our own homes,” recalls Paul Chatterton, a founder member of LILAC. They officially formed as a co-op with a grant of £4,000 in 2009. Paul adds “We talked to anyone and everyone about how we might pull this off.


The defining moment was when the project found the right piece of land. They bought 1.7 acres that had previously been an old school site from Leeds County Council. Twenty households were planned, complete with allotments.


Low Impact

Building Low Impact Housing is increasingly important to people. It is also entirely possible. The houses were built from a modern pre fabricated system with very high levels of insulation and they included local materials, notably straw bales. Windows were triple glazed with a ventilation system that circulates fresh air without heat loss.

This is not a low-tech approach. For example, the architects have included monitoring sensors to provide a warning in case moisture should accidentally get into the straw. There is also solar hot water and PV. Water collection and usage is combined with a sustainable drainage system (known as SUDS).


Shared space

The dwellings include family houses, flats, allotments and a common house. The common house includes accommodation for visitors, a meeting room, a laundry room and shared tool shed/workshop. There is also a bike shed and a car share club, which has allowed the planning guideline for 2 car parking spaces just outside each flat/house to be waived and replaced by reduced car parking on the periphery and “a brilliant car free hub in the middle.”



The financing system is quite clever. It’s designed around a co-operative with mutual tenure. The mortgage is paid back collectively, based on a percentage of income, with a clause to allow, for example, for an individual contributor losing his/her job. The land itself has been transferred into permanent ownership of the members. To give you an idea, a one bed flat costs £88,000 with minimal day-to-day living costs due to the overall design of the buildings. The defining factors that make the LILAC development healthy and affordable to live in include super insulation, solar water heating, allotments and shared facilities.


Rachel Francis


This article came about as a result of some research work on behalf of a project called Home Presteigne. Find out more about this local sustainable affordable housing project at www.home-presteigne.co.uk



Raising Barns


Once, long ago, home to our ancestors might have been a long valley, with a deep forest and high hills and it would have reached as far as the horizon, shrinking at night to a central fire and the familiar faces gathered around. In those days, food was what people caught or grew and shelter was what they built for themselves. To survive, the tribe had to work together.

These traditions have not disappeared. The origin of Bayanihan, for example, can be traced to a tradition in Philippine towns where community members help a family move to a new place by actually carrying the house there. They use a strong frame of bamboo poles to lift it up, with a man positioned at the end of each pole. In modern society, Bayanihan has also been adopted as a term that refers to a local civil effort to resolve national issues.

Bayanihan in Philippines

The Amish barn raising is another tradition still kept today. The community pulls together to build a barn for a family or farm. A leader with experience and skills is chosen to manage the whole thing, whilst other elders lead work teams that include younger people taking part for the first time. Local farmers and foresters produce much of the timber for the barn and building skills are passed from generation to generation. It’s nothing like a bunch of builders from Brum turning up with a pile of breezeblocks and their diggers.

A Talkoot is the Finnish expression for a gathering of friends and neighbours who set out to repair a community building or put homes or gardens in order for the summer and in Norway, the Dugnad is associated with outdoor spring cleaning and gardening and building in housing co-operatives. “Dugnadsånd” is translated as “the spirit of will to work together for a better community” which is regarded as a typical Norwegian thing to have.

Mink’a is a type of traditional communal work in the Andes carried out for the benefit of the whole community and still practiced in indigenous communities in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile. Naffīr (نفير) is an Arabic word for the same idea, in which a group is recruited through family networks, in-laws and village neighbours for some particular purpose such as building a house or providing help during the harvest season.

And so it goes on from country to country and culture to culture. People have always done stuff together. Important stuff.

“Home Presteigne” is a cooperative organisation for housing. It was registered in 2013 as a Community Benefit Society, so that local people could plan and develop sustainable homes that are affordable to buy or rent and live in, based on local incomes.

Home Presteigne has been working hard to create a serious framework in which people of the town might take an active role in the whole process of affordable housing provision, whether they need homes or whether they simply wish to support  www.home-presteigne.co.uk

Written for Broad Sheep Magazine July 2014

Passivhaus: Affordable to live in

I need to clear up a myth. A Passivhaus is not just for rich people. And actually a small, simple Passivhaus could be a perfect solution for people on really low incomes.

A building that demands as little as possible” Adam Dadeby

Passivhaus certified houses are affordable to live in. They can cut space heating energy use by 80% or 90% without sacrificing comfort or fresh air. Usually these will be new homes, but there are a few examples of people who have refurbished older housing to Passivhaus standard. This is the story of Adam Dadeby and his wife Erica, who turned an ordinary 40 year old house into a fully certified Passivhaus.


After studying at The Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, Adam and Erica decided to refurbish their existing house instead of building a new passivhaus. It was an ambitious decision, made on the grounds that it seemed more sustainable to do this than start again from scratch and that it was important to pioneer this approach. They made a start in 2009:

“Week two has been quite eventful. The old windows are out and much progress made in digging trenches for the external insulation and preparing the foundation for the new build element to the side of the house.

All (I hope) of the shortcomings of the existing building have now been exposed and this week I have found myself questioning why we are bothering to refurb and not demolishing what is left and starting again. If we had chosen to demolish it, we would have been able to do away with many hours of difficult design work. The problems of thermal bridging between the ground floor concrete slab and the structural walls would have gone away in an instant.”


For any Passivhaus build, the design choices focus on minimising energy / house fuel requirements, but this is balanced by the budget and other external constraints. In a refurb, the external constraints are greater, because the existing building isn’t designed for purpose.

For example, the original floor in Adam and Kate’s house consisted of pine boarding, felt underlay, 70mm of screed, 150mm of reinforced concrete slab and a hard-core base. To raise the floor design to Passiv standard, they considered removing the entire concrete slab to create the space needed for decent insulation. However, the added cost and risks of structural damage led to a compromise in which the concrete stayed, whilst the screed was replaced with 80mm of highest performance insulation, 20mm of wood fibre insulation and a wooden flooring with a total thickness of 17mm. This compromise worked, but it increased the finished floor height by about 20mm and a new build could have done better at less cost.

This house was only the third in the UK to be refurbished to Passivhaus standard and has made quite an impact, winning awards and attracting plenty of interest. Adam points out that, rather surprisingly, the financial odds are not yet stacked in favour of refurbishment: you can claim back the VAT on a new build but not on a refurbishment. That’s another constraint we need to bear in mind until the law can be changed.


A simpler, cheaper, but still very worthwhile option for people who are currently building or refurbishing to a higher energy performance,  might be to opt for EnerPHit or AECB Silver. This is still above and beyond minimum regulations for energy performance … a sort of Passivhaus on a budget.

Basics for energy saving

  •     Concentrate on the building itself: windows, walls, floor, roof and the junctions where they meet – “fabric first”
  •     Get the insulation right and that means nice and thick and with no gaps, because gaps let the whole insulation thing down
  •     Reduce (and test for) air leakage, make sure doors and windows are well fitted and that the manufacturers made them up to spec
  •     Eliminate cold-bridging i.e. places where poor thermal insulators such as concrete slabs or metal joists come through the insulation layers
  •     Ventilation for fresh air without the heat loss in winter

The team-P1000586

Adam Dadeby kindly helped in the preparation of this article. The build team are pictured above and their experiences during the project lead Adam and the architect on the scheme to co-write The Passivhaus Handbook. As clients, Adam and Erica wanted to try Passivhaus before committing to it. At the time there was nowhere to do this, so they offer Passivhaus bed and breakfast accommodation in their home.