Green Building Blog

low cost eco-building

Mutual gain? Housing associations working with community-led housing groups July 18, 2016

Filed under: Britain,Building and environmental campaigns,Cost of housing — naturalbuild @ 10:49 am

Ruth Hayward and Jenny Pickerill

Community-led housing groups can be brilliant partners for housing associations in developing new homes. They bring with them a ready group of tenants, a variety of skills and a keenness to develop new forms of housing, but they tend to lack the expertise of finding sites and the investment capital that housing associations often have. The number of community-led house building projects in Britain is slowly increasing with the most recent completion of LILAC (in Leeds) and Lancaster Co-Housing (in Lancaster).

DSC_3902

Our research, conducted over the last two years with community-led housing groups some of whom were working with Housing Associations and many who were keen to do so in the future, has identified a number of opportunities for such collaborations. As a result we wanted to pose ten friendly questions to Housing Associations about how they understand and approach working with community-led housing groups.

  1. Why work with co-housing groups and housing co-ops?

Co-housing groups and housing co-ops bring a great deal to housing projects – an established group of tenants, new models of housing, huge volunteer capacity, access to grants, mixed ownership models and boundless enthusiasm. Housing associations offer these groups’ site finding, investment capital, experience in navigating planning and, often, contracted builders. For these community-led groups, working with a housing association can enable their housing project to include affordable housing through, for example, accessing Homes and Communities Agency funding to build a mixed tenancy community. For housing associations such an alliance enables involvement in new housing types, such as senior co-housing, which are potentially far more appropriate and sought after than current sheltered housing models.

  1. What do you think co-housing groups and housing co-ops are like?

While some of these housing groups might at first glance appear to be stereotypical environmental activists, they are rarely so easy to pigeonhole. Community-led housing groups often include numerous professionals or retired professionals with broad skill sets and community activists with relevant experience in making change happen. Although at first they will not know housing policy language it won’t take them long to learn it. In the best practice examples housing associations had used this activist ability to lobby for planning permission, generate PR and gain neighbourhood support.

  1. What criteria do you have for which groups and tenants you work with?

The criteria of who can live in the final housing development needs to be explicitly stated for all concerned. There appeared at times to be a miscommunication between housing associations and community-led groups about what these criteria really meant for, for example, family members of elderly relatives who wanted to live together.

  1. At what stage do you start working with community-led groups?

Housing associations are exceptionally skilled at finding suitable building sites. Many groups we spoke with talked of wasting significant time searching for sites and being impressed and grateful at the speed and ease at which a housing association located and purchased a site. Once community groups have established membership, determined their vision and decided on their site criteria they are in a good position to work with housing associations. At this stage their expectations are still being developed, so they are able to modify and evolve their plans with the housing association

  1. What structures of liaison and communicating are used to work with co-housing groups and housing co-ops?

Communication worked well with community-led housing groups when the housing association staff member tasked with liaison worked with the project through the whole process, was relatively senior, and was able to identify what decisions the community groups could influence and which it could not. Poor communication appeared to happen when housing associations allocated increasingly junior staff to be the point of contact as the project progressed.

Community

  1. How does the project management approach take account of timeframes and workloads?

Community-led housing groups are willing to invest significant time and energy into their housing project, but this time and energy is not limitless. Goodwill was undermined in some collaborations we researched by assumptions that community groups would do much of the work but then not be consulted about timeframes. The pace of the development needs to be mutually agreed and housing associations need to be very clear about their expectations.

  1. How are key principles agreed?

All housing projects have some key principles whether that be affordability, reducing ecological impact, or ensuring local participation. These fundamental principles are best agreed very early on between housing associations and community groups, along with early discussion about how these principles will be achieved. It is especially important to mutually agree the detail of these principles because often concepts such as ecological housing can have multiple meanings.

  1. Are you prepared to let groups take responsibility for the majority of decisions?

In the most successful collaborations community-led groups retained some autonomy to create their housing project in a way that fulfilled their values and aspirations. Those who worked with housing associations often felt that they lost control of the project, as they were not consulted about numerous decisions.

  1. How do you keep to budget?

For community-led housing groups one of the biggest risks in working with housing associations is the lack of control over budgets. Community groups experienced costs going up without prior agreement or explanation and it was unclear who had overall financial responsibility. There is a need to clarify early on who is responsible for what costs such as site purchase, planning fee, site security, legal fees etc. and to stay within agreed budgets. Staying within agreed budgets is important as it is often the community groups’ money that is being spent, as once they have moved in they will pay off the money paid up front by the housing association, and unexpected significant costs can cause problems for the group.

  1. How does co-housing and co-operative housing fit the values of your organisation?

There are significant overlaps in the aims of many housing associations and community-led housing groups in seeking to build affordable ecological housing for local residents, particularly through a process of inclusion and participation. Housing associations can significantly benefit from working with already formed community groups who bring enthusiasm, skills, and finance to a project. With honest dialogue about shared values, aims and responsibilities, such a collaboration can reduce the workload of housing associations, produce innovative appropriate housing and secure neighbourhood support.

Ruth Hayward is a housing activist based in Newcastle Upon Tyne and Jenny Pickerill is a Professor of Environmental Geography at the University of Sheffield.

 

Review of book ‘Eco-Homes: People, Place and Politics’ April 25, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — naturalbuild @ 5:39 pm

By: 

First posted on: Natural Building Blog

Jenny Pickerill is a professor of environmental geography at the University of Sheffield, and I met her when she was conducting research for this book, gallivanting around the world on a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travel Fellowship. She interviewed me and we toured a variety of novel eco-homes near Crestone, Colorado, where I was living at the time. In addition to Crestone, she visited ecological enclaves in Britain, Spain, Thailand, Argentina and other locations in the United States.

ecohomes

Her purpose in assembling this academic study into ecological living was to focus more on the social, geographical and political issues around eco-housing, which are often ignored, in the hopes that a broader acceptance of sustainable architecture will evolve. I found her analysis enlightening and well worth the read, if a bit academic in its outlook. Each chapter of the book is devoted to a different filter, which in total provides a good understanding of the issues involved.

The first chapter focuses on the eco aspects of eco-homes, and why this is important.  She observes that “eco-houses are being built to deal with the issues of waste through structural innovations by altering size, harnessing renewable technologies, retrofitting existing housing stock and changing occupants’ behavior and practices. Each approach has benefits, limitations and financial costs.” She goes on to chastise government and industry for emphasizing the technical fixes while ignoring simpler solutions.

Next, Jenny delves into the home aspect explaining how hard it is to define what home really is. Home can generally refer to country, state, city, bioregion, neighborhood, as well as a specific house. We have an emotional attachment to our homes that must be recognized in order to make eco-houses appealing to a wider audience. The emotional component is affected by aesthetics, location, style, privacy, comfort, and worth.

The history of eco-homes is often complex, and generally follows four different trajectories: vernacular, community, deep green and modernist. Continuity and tradition must be considered for any eco-home design to be successfully adopted. There has been some conflict between the movement toward Low Impact Development, which comes from radical social change, and the more technical emphasis of “smart” houses with their appeal for little active involvement of the occupants.

For many eco-builders place is primarily considered according to climatic and ecological factors, but Jenny points out how important it is to also view place as “containing meaning, memories, perceptions and identities, and as dynamic, unfinished and constantly evolving.” Case studies demonstrate how not taking this into consideration can result in misunderstandings and antagonism among other local residents.

The affordability of eco-homes is of major concern. The most common criticism of such housing is that it costs too much, which is not necessarily true. Jenny observes that “the complex pressures involved in contemporary housing from capitalist processes (housing built for profit generation and investment, market-determined prices), and state/government processes (planning restrictions increasing land prices, the financial cost of complying with planning and building regulations), to social processes (opposition to new developments, demand for more spacious and luxurious homes) all require careful consideration in developing affordable ecological alternatives.”

The question of comfort is central to many people’s perception of eco-homes, in that it is often believed that deep ecological living requires forgoing many expected comforts of home. And in fact Jenny did encounter some form of deprivation as she visited various eco-communities, but often the people who lived there didn’t perceive it that way; it was part of their attitude about appropriate life. This points out how subjective comfort can be. One person’s experience of being too hot or too cold is another person’s “thermal delight.” Jenny used the different embodiments of bathrooms she encountered to evaluate the wide variety that exists culturally about comfort.

Jenny spends one chapter examining the role that gender plays in fashioning people’s eco-building activities. It is a fact that most cultures devalue women as active participants in most aspects of building science, especially those requiring physical work. This bias toward men in this field is unfortunate, not only because it is demeaning to capable women, but it limits women’s input at a crucial time when we all need to focus our energy on developing sustainable strategies.

The term mobilization is used to connote the spreading of concepts and technology related to building eco-homes beyond where they are located. Since most such homes have been owner built, there is not a ready channel of dissemination of the knowledge, yet this is crucial for more people to adopt ecological housing. We need access to a global network of knowledge so more people can participate. I suggest that my website, www.greenhomebuilding.com, does just this.

Jenny examines how communities, especially eco-communities, can reduce waste and increase efficiency, as well as be socially rewarding and allow residents to be self-governing and live beyond capitalism. All of this comes with a price, however, of possible loss of privacy, increased time involved in making decisions and lack of professional or responsible building practices. Communities can share space and equipment, which allows for more compact living and less wasted energy and materials.

The final chapter looks to the future, realizing that we need to vastly expand the use of ecological housing. Each situation is unique, however, so there is no universal eco-design that will satisfy all needs. We should celebrate this diversity and make sure that we don’t impose building restrictions that stifle innovation. We need to realize that people, place and politics all are important factors to consider when making eco-homes.

 

Mutual gain? Housing associations working with community-led housing groups March 25, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — naturalbuild @ 5:25 pm

Ruth Hayward and Jenny Pickerill

Community-led housing groups can be brilliant partners for housing associations in developing new homes. They bring with them a ready group of tenants, a variety of skills and a keenness to develop new forms of housing, but they tend to lack the expertise of finding sites and the investment capital that housing associations often have. The number of community-led house building projects in Britain is slowly increasing with the most recent completion of LILAC (in Leeds) and Lancaster Co-Housing (in Lancaster).

Our research, conducted over the last two years with community-led housing groups some of whom were working with Housing Associations and many who were keen to do so in the future, has identified a number of opportunities for such collaborations. As a result we wanted to pose ten friendly questions to Housing Associations about how they understand and approach working with community-led housing groups.

  1. Why work with co-housing groups and housing co-ops?

Co-housing groups and housing co-ops bring a great deal to housing projects – an established group of tenants, new models of housing, huge volunteer capacity, access to grants, mixed ownership models and boundless enthusiasm. Housing associations offer these groups’ site finding, investment capital, experience in navigating planning and, often, contracted builders. For these community-led groups, working with a housing association can enable their housing project to include affordable housing through, for example, accessing Homes and Communities Agency funding to build a mixed tenancy community. For housing associations such an alliance enables involvement in new housing types, such as senior co-housing, which are potentially far more appropriate and sought after than current sheltered housing models.

  1. What do you think co-housing groups and housing co-ops are like?

While some of these housing groups might at first glance appear to be stereotypical environmental activists, they are rarely so easy to pigeonhole. Community-led housing groups often include numerous professionals or retired professionals with broad skill sets and community activists with relevant experience in making change happen. Although at first they will not know housing policy language it won’t take them long to learn it. In the best practice examples housing associations had used this activist ability to lobby for planning permission, generate PR and gain neighbourhood support.

  1. What criteria do you have for which groups and tenants you work with?

The criteria of who can live in the final housing development needs to be explicitly stated for all concerned. There appeared at times to be a miscommunication between housing associations and community-led groups about what these criteria really meant for, for example, family members of elderly relatives who wanted to live together.

  1. At what stage do you start working with community-led groups?

Housing associations are exceptionally skilled at finding suitable building sites. Many groups we spoke with talked of wasting significant time searching for sites and being impressed and grateful at the speed and ease at which a housing association located and purchased a site. Once community groups have established membership, determined their vision and decided on their site criteria they are in a good position to work with housing associations. At this stage their expectations are still being developed, so they are able to modify and evolve their plans with the housing association

  1. What structures of liaison and communicating are used to work with co-housing groups and housing co-ops?

Communication worked well with community-led housing groups when the housing association staff member tasked with liaison worked with the project through the whole process, was relatively senior, and was able to identify what decisions the community groups could influence and which it could not. Poor communication appeared to happen when housing associations allocated increasingly junior staff to be the point of contact as the project progressed.

  1. How does the project management approach take account of timeframes and workloads?

Community-led housing groups are willing to invest significant time and energy into their housing project, but this time and energy is not limitless. Goodwill was undermined in some collaborations we researched by assumptions that community groups would do much of the work but then not be consulted about timeframes. The pace of the development needs to be mutually agreed and housing associations need to be very clear about their expectations.

  1. How are key principles agreed?

All housing projects have some key principles whether that be affordability, reducing ecological impact, or ensuring local participation. These fundamental principles are best agreed very early on between housing associations and community groups, along with early discussion about how these principles will be achieved. It is especially important to mutually agree the detail of these principles because often concepts such as ecological housing can have multiple meanings.

  1. Are you prepared to let groups take responsibility for the majority of decisions?

In the most successful collaborations community-led groups retained some autonomy to create their housing project in a way that fulfilled their values and aspirations. Those who worked with housing associations often felt that they lost control of the project, as they were not consulted about numerous decisions.

  1. How do you keep to budget?

For community-led housing groups one of the biggest risks in working with housing associations is the lack of control over budgets. Community groups experienced costs going up without prior agreement or explanation and it was unclear who had overall financial responsibility. There is a need to clarify early on who is responsible for what costs such as site purchase, planning fee, site security, legal fees etc. and to stay within agreed budgets. Staying within agreed budgets is important as it is often the community groups’ money that is being spent, as once they have moved in they will pay off the money paid up front by the housing association, and unexpected significant costs can cause problems for the group.

  1. How does co-housing and co-operative housing fit the values of your organisation?

There are significant overlaps in the aims of many housing associations and community-led housing groups in seeking to build affordable ecological housing for local residents, particularly through a process of inclusion and participation. Housing associations can significantly benefit from working with already formed community groups who bring enthusiasm, skills, and finance to a project. With honest dialogue about shared values, aims and responsibilities, such a collaboration can reduce the workload of housing associations, produce innovative appropriate housing and secure neighbourhood support.

Ruth Hayward is a housing activist based in Newcastle Upon Tyne and Jenny Pickerill is a Professor of Environmental Geography at the University of Sheffield.

 

NEW BOOK: Eco-Homes: People, place and politics November 30, 2015

My book about eco-homes worldwide will be published on 16th January 2016. It is being published by Zed Books (London) and Chicago University Press (USA) as a paperback, so hopefully reasonably affordable.

IMG_4877

Book blurb:

It is widely understood that good, affordable eco-housing needs to be at the heart of any attempt to mitigate or adapt to climate change. This is the first book to comprehensively explore eco-housing from a geographical, social and political perspective. It starts from the premise that we already know how to build good eco-houses and we already have the technology to retrofit existing housing. Despite this, relatively few eco-houses are being built.

Featuring over thirty case studies, from Britain, Spain, Thailand, Argentina and the USA, Eco-Homes examines the ways in which radical change to our houses – such as making them more temporary, using natural materials, or relying on manual heating and ventilation systems – requires changes in how we live. As such, it argues, it is not lack of technology or political will that is holding us back from responding to climate change, but deep-rooted cultural and social understandings of our way of life and what we expect our houses to do for us.

What others say about the book:

‘Without sustainable homes, there will not be a sustainable future. We need a detailed and cutting-edge book that teases out the complexities of the people, politics and places that will deliver the eco-homes of the future. Pickerill’s inspirational book does just this.’ Paul Chatterton, University of Leeds

‘Pickerill illuminates the contested nature of eco-homes and housing, bringing a refreshingly broad and much-needed feminist perspective to a subject that has been traditionally dominated by a technology-first approach.’ Fionn Stevenson, University of Sheffield

‘This fascinating book explores the many facets of eco-homes that are environmentally benign, emotionally rewarding, endearing, enduring, protecting and comforting …’ Susan Roaf, Heriot-Watt University

‘A timely reminder of different ways of living and housing people.’ Sofie Pelsmakers, author of The Environmental Design Pocketbook

 

 

Cambridge University survey on eco-roofing

Filed under: Building materials — naturalbuild @ 5:23 pm

Please consider completing this short survey about eco-roofing: https://jbs.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_b3FJq7Fw3sLvI21

This survey is conducted by University of Cambridge students. The findings will help in the launching of a new, environmentally friendly roofing solution.

The survey will take you approximately three minutes to complete and your responses will help us better understand environmentally friendly housing options.

 

RICS launches nationwide infrastructure photography competition September 20, 2014

Filed under: Britain,Photographs — naturalbuild @ 10:05 am

 

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has launched a nationwide photography competition for members of the public to capture images of major infrastructure projects. Entrants are invited to photograph any human-made physical structure which benefits society, including roads, bridges, water supply systems, telecommunications and energy generating facilities, such as power stations or renewable sources of energy generation.

The competition has been launched to help champion the importance of major infrastructure projects to British society, both now and in the future. The competition is open for entries until the end of the year, and the winner and shortlisted entries will be celebrated in an exhibition which will open in February 2015.

Battersea rail tracks

 
Roma Agrawal will be Chair of the judging panel for the competition. She is an Associate Structural Engineer at WSP in London, and also spent six years working on The Shard, designing the foundations and the ‘Spire’.

Roma comments: “Through this competition we hope to bring the importance of the country’s major infrastructure projects to life. After all, it’s key that the British public understand these and that they are aware of the benefits these will bring to the country in the long term, be that to the job market or in terms of the general facilities available to the public.

“With a number of bold and innovative infrastructure projects being proposed and world renowned sites across the country, we hope to encourage more imaginative thinking about society’s relationship to infrastructure and the vital role it plays in our lives.”

The competition is one of a number of initiatives that RICS has in place to support its members involved in the delivery of infrastructure projects. The organisation’s ongoing work in infrastructure is driving the development of professional standards. Furthermore, the online resources available for members are providing chartered surveyors with tools to add significant value to projects around the UK and helping to boost investor confidence.

Entrants will be in with a chance of winning a £3,000 prize for camera equipment, and can enter their photographs by logging onto www.rics.org/uk/footer/rics-infrastructure-photographer-of-the-year/ . The deadline for entries midnight, Friday 19 December. Winners and shortlisted entries will be announced in January 2015.  The entries will be judged by Louise Brooke-Smith, President RICS and Helene Binet, a renowned architectural photographer. The competition will be chaired by Roma Agrawal of the WSP.  For more information please email mail@ricsinfrastructure.co.uk.

 

Accessibility in sustainable communities: inclusive eco-living for disabled people? March 3, 2014

Filed under: Academic articles on green building,Britain,Politics of building — naturalbuild @ 3:42 pm

Guest blog by Amita Bhakta

As we face the challenges of climate change, the importance of having housing which is low-impact and ecological is gradually increasing. Yet at the same time, it also needs to be recognised that in Britain, there is a continually ageing population; over 23% of the population will be over the age of 65 by 2035, and the ‘baby boomer’ generation who were born in the 1960s will be in their early 70s (1). Despite this however, besides the fact that British housing contributes to 27% of total national carbon emissions (2) the majority of our housing stock is inaccessible to disabled people. 95% of housing in England alone has been reported to be inaccessible to wheelchair users (3), indicating that our housing is not only ill-equipped to face the many challenges we face through climate change, but also that it is not suited to meet the needs of people with different abilities, as we age and as our needs change. In light of this, I have researched the accessibility of sustainable communities and eco-living for disabled people in England. This research was conducted as part of a Masters in Research (MRes) in Geography at the University of Leicester between October 2012 and September 2013.

However, sustainable communities have failed to learn from the mistakes made in British housing in the past, providing inaccessible environments in which to live, and there are different factors which contribute to this.

Disability requires re-definition in order to provide access in sustainable communities

If sustainable communities are to provide better accessibility and inclusion, there is a need to re-visit and re-define what is meant by ‘disability’.  Over the years, the meaning of disability has been widely debated. A lack of agreement has meant that the traditional, medical model of disability, which argues that disability is an ‘individual’ problem caused due to bodily abnormalities (4), has been challenged by the social model of disability, which argues that it is society that causes disability rather than medical problems. The social model focuses on how disability is caused by the way in which society is structured, and in particular, how social activities can exclude those who are less able (5).

When we look at sustainable communities in greater depth, what is clear is that these debates and confusion surrounding the meaning of disability has fed into the ways in which sustainable communities are designed, built, and socially organised. In particular, there is a need to expand the meaning of disability much further, to not only incorporate commonly held perceptions surrounding differences in mobility, but to also appreciate the more subtle aspects of disability which are experienced through poor dexterity.

As a researcher with Cerebral Palsy, although I can walk independently, I have “floppy” muscles and so I have less strength in my body in comparison to able-bodied people and tire more easily. I have a very unsteady gait when I am walking and poor balance, and so I am more likely to fall at any given time, and sometimes I need assistance in walking over ground which is particularly uneven. I find it hard to keep up with able-bodied people when I am walking. My “floppy” muscles and poor coordination lead to me drooling quite frequently, and this has significant impacts upon my speech. During the research, I used my experiences of disability to explore accessibility at the Hockerton Housing Project, a five-house earth sheltered terrace community in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. This highlighted that when we look at access in sustainable communities, we need to also understand how people may have varying mobility disabilities.

If we look at accessibility at Hockerton through mobility in terms of speed and range of movement, it is clear that sustainable communities are not only inaccessible, but also this inaccessibility has diverse implications for how we understand and cater for different forms of disability. Figure 1.1 and 1.2 provide maps of my speed and range of movement in different parts of Hockerton.

Figure 1.1 Speed of movement through Hockerton Housing Project

Speed

Figure 1.2 Range of movement through Hockerton Housing Project

Movement

As these maps show, the speed and the range of movement in terms of the extent of how much help I need to get around Hockerton decline as I moved further away from the houses and into the broader community. Another interesting aspect to note is that as distance from the houses increase, the various areas of the community at Hockerton are used for increasingly ‘ablest’ activities which are suited to able-bodied people, from rearing sheep, to growing vegetables, to coppicing. Although it may theoretically be feasible for a mobility-impaired person to reach the outer areas of the site, the challenging nature of the community environment may pose difficulties in returning to the homes easily due to fatigue. This raises significant questions over the participation of disabled people in activities around the community environment, and the extent of independence they may have in living in a sustainable community.  By re-developing the concept of ‘disability’ to include mobility, we can understand that sustainable communities at present compromise the inclusion of disabled people.

Eco-living requires a significant level of dexterity, both within the house and in the community environment. For example, for eco-houses to work effectively, they require a significant level of manual operation, such as opening and closing triple glazed windows for temperature control. Yet, disabled people with poor dexterity and strength have been ignored in eco-housing design, and eco-housing has failed to cater for their needs. Heavier, triple-glazed windows and ill-designed internal door handles at Hockerton were factors which highlight that subtle aspects of disability need greater attention in eco-housing design. If we spread into the community, attending to animals such as chickens and sheep is a part of everyday life at Hockerton. However, difficult latches and heavier gates to operate on animal pens can prevent disabled people from fully participating in ecological living activities.  Unless sustainable communities can incorporate these subtle aspects of disability into design of housing and eco-living infrastructure, there is a significant risk that disabled people are likely to be excluded from a multitude of aspects of ecological living. Commonly held benefits of living in a sustainable community such as having a connection to nature and feeling part of the community risk being reserved for the able-bodied, unless we re-define and incorporate a new meaning of disability in community design.

Sustainability overrides accessibility for disabled people

Ensuring that houses and community environments have  a low ecological impact is prioritised at the expense of providing accessibility for disabled people in sustainable communities. In many cases, accessibility regulations such as Part M and the Lifetime Homes Standards are not strictly followed, and are overridden by a strong focus upon minimising environmental impact and having ecological features, rather than ensuring that homes and communities are accessible. This is often because the self-commissioned nature of some sustainable communities gives residents and community developers greater control over how the community is designed, and accessibility is less of a priority. Prioritising ecological impact over access antagonises inclusivity for disabled people in eco-housing and in community environments.

For example, higher step-over thresholds feature at the entrances to eco-housing. One of the key aspects of providing accessible housing according to national policy guidelines is the provision of low and flush thresholds at the entrance to the home for ease of access. Yet, eco-housing design fails to be able to cater for those with different abilities at the entrance to the home. Higher thresholds are built into eco-housing for the purposes of heat retention and air tightness, in order to reduce the high environmental impacts made through heating. However, this limits accessibility into the home, particularly for wheelchair users who would find it more difficult to pass over higher thresholds. Access for people with mobility difficulties is also greatly compromised, as features such as this are designed with the premise that users would have a great level of strength to carry themselves over a threshold, which does not necessarily apply to disabled people.

If we look beyond the house and towards the outdoor environment, the practice of permaculture itself is inherently exclusive of disabled people. Permaculture involves  the practice of permanent, sustainable agriculture by encouraging residents to be self reliant through agricultural practices, and promotes the ability for nature to grow freely and sustain itself. However, allowing nature to overtake footpaths and areas intended for use by residents compromises accessibility for disabled people in the sustainable community environment. Nature itself can make the environment more difficult to pass through, for both wheelchair users and those with mobility disabilities. This restricts participation in a wider range of eco-living activities and can mean that sustaining the natural environment can exclude disabled people from involvement in community activities. More progress is needed to collectively consider the accessibility of the environment, the inclusivity of social community structures for disabled people and environmental sustainability.

Further, trying to incorporate materials into the community environment which are low impact can also restrict accessibility. At Hockerton Housing Project, a waste-finish road was incorporated to avoid the need for concrete, which has a high environmental impact. Yet, design such as this has caused difficulties in provision of effective access for wheelchair users. Interestingly, these features can also create subtle forms of exclusion; my own experiences at Hockerton meant that as I was walking along the road, I was constantly wary of and trying to avoid potholes in case I fell. Focussing upon being ecological therefore has diverse negative implications for accessibility and inclusivity for disabled people.

Beyond policy

Although policy can inform accessibility in sustainable communities, top-down policy itself alone is not the answer to providing inclusive ecological living. As highlighted above, sustainable communities often face challenges in terms of meeting policy regulations for accessibility as well as ensuring that they are sustainable; all too often, this is a precarious balance to find. Whilst it cannot be denied that better planning is needed, accessibility in sustainable communities can only be achieved if we go beyond policy. Different groups such as disabled and able-bodied residents, architects, builders and planners involved in eco-building need to work together from a grassroots approach.

For instance, Lilac in Leeds is a newly-built community, which at the time of my research was still under construction. But, as one of the newest communities in the UK, they have actively sought to not only follow guidelines from regulations such as Part M and notably the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), but also to ensure that they work with residents together to ensure that their different needs are met. By doing so, they are trying to create a community which is both diverse yet equal, and as inclusive as possible. After seeing the work at Lilac, I am hopeful and optimistic that newer communities are heading towards greater access and inclusivity. But, there remains work to be done. Existing sustainable communities still need to work with residents both disabled and able bodied to provide inclusive ecological living for all, be it through changing and adapting homes and community environments, or creating activities which enhance the experiences of eco-living for a wide range of abilities yet provide a sense of community connection. Ultimately, the ideas for these communities came from the grassroots, and whilst the solutions to their accessibility issues can be informed by policy, they must also come from changes in attitude and practice at the grassroots too.

Thank you

I would like to thank all who have participated in the study in interviews and surveys. Thank you to the residents at the  Hockerton Housing Project for helping me  with my research, I really enjoyed working with you. A warm thank you to Jenny for your brilliant guidance throughout my MRes, and a very special thanks to Adam and James for your support in the field.

References

(1)   Office for National Statistics (2012) Population Ageing in the United Kingdom, its Constituent Countries and the European Union Accessed online at: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_258607.pdf

(2)   Department for Communities and Local Government (2007) Building a greener future: policy statement London: The Stationary Office

(3)   Imrie R (2006) Accessible Housing: Quality, Disability and Design London: Routledge

(4)   Barnes C and Mercer G (2010) Exploring Disability: A Sociological Introduction (2nd edition) Cambridge: Polity Press

(5)   UPIAS (1976) Fundamental principles of disability London: Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation

Amita is a postgraduate researcher at the Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC), School of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University. You can contact Amita for any further questions at A.N.Bhakta@lboro.ac.uk

[Leicestershire, 24th February 2014]