We Built Our Own Houses

Submitted by Reddebrek on October 30, 2017

THERE CAN BE FEW MORE SATISFACTORY SENSATIONS IN LIFE than sitting back in the house you built for yourself, and your satisfaction is not diminished by that fact that forty neighbours helped you build your house, because you also helped them build theirs. The "Self-Build" movement, like Harry Cowley's Vigilante campaign that preceded it, and a lot of other good things, was started by a group of ex-servicemen in Brighton in 1949, though it was closely followed by the Tallington Road scheme at Sheldon. Today there are at least twenty-five self-build housing societies around Brighton. It is hard to say how many there are in the whole country, as societies frequently wind up on completing their scheme, but it is estimated that since 1949 about six thousand houses have been built by three hundred societies.

The first thing to do is to find a group of reliable friends — to build up a number between ten and fifty. The more building tradesmen there are among them, the easier life is going to be. The next thing is to get in touch with the National Federation of Housing Societies for their literature and advice, and the third and hardest thing is to find a bit of land, checking with the local authority, who may help you find it, that it is land on which you are likely to get planning permission to build houses. The Federation will advise you on how to become a Friendly Society — or a limited company if that appeals to you, in order to qualify collectively for a mortgage loan from the local council or from a building society. You will find that you need to build up a lump sum to pay registration fees and so on, and to form a building fund with about £50 per member to pay a deposit on the land, and to maintain an Expenses Fund.

According to the kind of skills you have among your members already, you will have to get instruction in the building trades, you will have to get an architect — you might get one as a member, and you will need someone who is competent to do the paper work and keep the books. You will all have to be determined to work in the evenings and weekends for two years or so to get the scheme built: a minimum of sixteen hours a week per man, and you will have to be willing to go on working on other people's houses after your own is finished.

And you will have to work out a priority list to decide who moves in first.
It's hard, but it's not impossible. Thousands of people have done it. What do you get for all the effort? You get a house, for less than half the cost of one on the open market. The plan can be varied to suit your own requirements. You get good neighbours who are likely to be friends for life. I know because I live in a house that we built together.