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At Sustainable Design Collective we believe the UK is facing a ‘trilemma’ of issues:

  • Shortage

    • House building is not meeting demand and needs

  • Environment

    • Unsustainable, inefficient development is having a damaging effect on our environment

  • Affordability

    • Young people and families are unable to buy their own home

Community led housing offers a way to solve such issues. In this model houses are designed and built in collaboration with the community who will end up living in the homes.

SDC are on hand to enable ideas to come to fruition; providing the essential planning, consultancy, design and build services that enable a community led housing project to prosper.



Community led housing takes on a number of models and forms, including community land trusts, cohousing, development trusts and housing cooperatives.

The National Community Land Trust Network states that each share 3 common principles:

  • The community is integrally involved throughout the process in key decisions like what is provided, where, and for who. They don’t necessarily have to initiate the conversation or build homes themselves.

  • There is a presumption that the community group will take a long-term formal role in the ownership, stewardship or management of the homes.

  • The benefits of the scheme to the local area and/or specified community group are clearly defined and legally protected in perpetuity.

In the case of a Community Land Trust, it can be defined as such:

‘Community Land Trusts are local organisations set up and run by ordinary people to develop and manage homes as well as other assets important to that community, like community enterprises, food growing or workspaces. The CLT’s main task is to make sure these homes are genuinely affordable, based on what people actually earn in their area, not just for now but for every future occupier.’

This enables a design that is inclusive and fits the need of real people and families. In contrast to the pervasive housebuilding model routinely adopted in the UK, where large developers build speculatively with profit maxmisatrion at the fore, community self build and CLT is a grass roots innovation that has the community at its heart.

Often on these projects, some of the more unskilled work is taken on by the community members – in what is termed ‘sweat equity’. Taking such a hands on approach in a cooperative fashion strengthens community ties. It enables much greater engagement and awareness of the strucutral systems that go into building a home.


We enable community led housing to come to fruition by acting as project lead, planning consultant and architect. Once planning permission is achieved we also provide our innovative kit home build system that can then be finished off by the self-build group.


Our experienced architect Bill Brown RIBA has over 40 years' experience in housing, community design and commercial architecture. A housing specialist, he has also worked as a Director of Housing and Construction in local Government.


We take a client's ideas from inception, and develop them into working designs, equally we can develop the concept and aesthetic from the outset. We tailor solutions to the project needs and produce stunning contemporary designs, or an authentic traditional vernacular. ​

We also foster learning from previous community projects and transfer lessons to the group, from business model, finance and design advice, along with green energy and sustainable solutions.

Green building


At SDC, we have worked with variety of community led projects, taking client ideas from inception into working designs.

One example is Haberton and Harbertonford Community Land Trust in Devon. The project tells of a typical situation: a group of local people locked out of the housing ladder by high housing prices and difficulty accessing the necessary finance.

For this scheme we constructed 12 homes. The team came up with a design for the homes, which featured integrated solar panelled roofs that provided energy and hot water, rainwater harvesting systems, and were completely carbon neutral.


The project won awards for its energy efficiency and was the start of what would become a new focus for the business: social housing for the future.

SDC Director Donal Brown:

“Normally a 3-bed house in that area would cost £350-£400k, but these will each be about £100k. The residents are held in the Land Trust ‘in perpetuity’, so they can’t sell the house and make money from it, but they can get their £100k back, so it de-marketises the development. The idea is to create a community, not an investment opportunity. It’s as much about social innovation as environmental innovation.”

Read our community led housing innovation proposal here



Sustainable Design Collective
Sussex Innovation Centre
Science Park Square


T – 0117 244 3559


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