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Community Led Housing – What is it, how does it work, and why is it important?

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

CLT Design Drawings

Sustainable Design Collective Project

The UK housing sector is currently not fit for purpose. The country is delivering numbers well under what is required. The sector continues to be highly inefficient and is responsible for a third of the UK’s CO2 emissions. How do we solve these issues?

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

  1. Shortage

  2. `House building is not meeting demand and needs

  3. Environment

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

  5. Affordability

  6. 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.

Find out what community led housing is, why it’s important, and how SDC can go about helping you to set one up below.

What is Community Led Housing and How Does it Work?

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:

  1. 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.

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

  3. 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.

CLT graphic showing the process of setting one up

CLT Process

Why are they so important?

Utilised in combination with sustainable, natural buildings materials and modern construction practices, this model can address the aforementioned housing ‘trilemma’ currently facing the UK:

  1. Address SHORTAGE with community led ‘design and build’

  2. A model for housing; designed with, and built for, the needs of the occupants that strengthens community ties, fosters learning and spilll overs

  3. Address the ENVIRONMENT with low carbon kit-homes

  4. Offsite manufactured kit homes, that adopt Passivhaus principles and integral renewable energy and ecosystem services; eliminating energy bills and enhancing biodiversity – take a look at our previous blog post on the environmental savings made from low-carbon kit homes.

  5. Address COST with low bills and innovative finance offerings

  6. Innovaitve finance and mortgage offerings utlising sweat equity and birding loans, enabling individuals to pool resources with the community to fund and build, and attian favourable finance based on near zero running costs

How can the Sustainable Design Collective help?

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.”


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. With 35+ years’ experience in urban planning and housing design, we tailor solutions to the project needs and produce stunning contemporary designs, or an authentic traditional vernacular.

Get in touch with SDC on 0117 244 3559 or enquiry.sdc@gmail.com to discover how we can help you on your community led housing journey.

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