The project began in 1996, when a small group of local people without permanent housing became aware of the recently completed Diggers Self Build Project in Brighton, itself an innovative ecological project in Brighton. The four people who initiated the project were all in housing need with little hope of being rehoused by Brighton council, and saw another self build project as a means of enabling them to literally build a future for their children. They used the contacts and structures as put together for the Diggers project to initiate this project with the council - and encountered a positive response. They then spent a good two years building up the group, lobbying councillors and publicising the initiative, and were eventually rewarded with the offer of a beautiful (tho' difficult to develop) site.
The project was sustained by the members of the self build group, who threw their lives into the project for over 2 years despite harsh weather conditions. They set up a shared childcare facility on the site, gaining all necessary council approvals, and undertook to care for each other's children after school and at weekends to give the adults more time on site. They used a timeclock to record their hours and helped each other out when difficult situations made it difficult for individuals to achieve their required hours.
The houses are set slightly into the hillside above Bevendean overlooking the roofs of the houses below towards the sea, and have grass roofs to minimise their impact when viewed form the other side of the valley. They all have balconies which reap the benefits of the South facing view and sunshine. The site is ringed by a 3 metre strip of wild indigenous planting and utilises a recycled plastic grassed access road. All the houses are fully wheelchair accessible.
They are built to an ecological specification and have 450mm recycled cellulose insulation under the grass roofs, which produces space heating bills of under £50 / year. British grown larch and douglas fir was used for cladding, for verandahs and for decking, with as little chemical timber treatment used as possible. They are finished with 'organic' non-petrochemical paints, stains and waxes. Each house layout has been individualised to suit the occupants.
The houses are for rent at a discount from the standard Housing Association rate. Funds were provided from the Housing Corporation through South London Family Housing Association, and were partly matched by the self builders' labour. The self builders will benefit from the low rents, the low energy bills, the individually designed houses and the community that they have created for themselves.
Self help, self built housing is still truly innovative in Britain, where the culture is still one of 'housing provision'. It was made possible by the imaginative use of Housing Corporation funds which were not originally intended to be used in this way, and by the spirit of partnership between the professionals and self builders involved.
Furthermore, these houses are amongst the most energy efficient in the country, and have been designed for maximum adaptability and flexibility, to suit both the current and future needs and desires of the inhabitants. To watch the latest Grand Designs update on Hedgehog Self Build click here. If you don’t have time for the whole 45 minutes then start at 35minutes in.