Thursday, 8 April 2010

Would you build your own house?

I met the good Viv Goodings recently. If you remember Ben Law's woodman's cottage that was on grand designs, Viv was the guy who led the building and told the volunteers what to do.

In the end, the house cost Ben £20,000; because it was built by volunteers learning how to build a house, there were no labour costs, and because Ben got the land in exchange for work, he only had to pay for materials.

Most parts of building a house are very simple, Viv told me. All you need to know is what order to do them in. So really you only need one expert and lots of willing participants to build a house.

It made me think of Alastair McIntosh's description of community house-building in the Hebredes when he was a child.

"On this particular day the school bus had been delayed... Isobel and I wandered into the new house to keep warm. Nobody ever knocked on doors in those days, and many houses had no locks fitted. You went in and out of other people’s houses as if they were extensions of your own. If you were hungry, you would be fed; if you were cold, you would be warmed by the peat fire; if you were naughty, you would be ticked off, because the village was like an extended family. 

"As Isobel and I stepped inside the half-completed bungalow that frosty morning, we encountered a hive of activity. It was buzzing with men. All manner of building skill was being applied. Every mod con was being installed. And over the open fire a string of salted ling and cod from Loch Leurbost was being cured for consumption later. ...

‘How is it,’ I asked one of the workmen in the bungalow, ‘that Neilie’s not rich but he can afford to have all of you working on his house?’ 

‘Ah, well,’ came the response. ‘You see, Neilie’s helped all of us to build our new houses each time he’s been back on leave. Now it’s our turn to help him.’ 

"I think that may have been the last communally built home in our village. Now, to comply with government regulations for housing grants and planning requirements, contractors put up most houses by competitive tender."

Once the house was completed, Alastair writes, at the end you had not only a house but a bonded community, and a householder who was not bound to a lifetime's work to pay of the debt and the interest on the mortgage.

Walter's Way in south London is a cul-de-sac of self-build homes using Walter Segal's wooden frame method.

Would you build your own house, given a little help from your friends?

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