Last week we organised an inspirational study tour of eco-housing developments in the West Midlands for 4 community groups passionate about developing their own projects. The groups had different priorities for the day but all also a shared interest in creating energy efficient housing and learning more about how to lead their project. We also invited along Rob Annable of Axis Design, Birmingham, to help answer questions about more technical aspects of the refurbishments and building for a sustainable future.
The big message from the day was the importance of creating places where people love living in order make them more vibrant and sustainable. The groups who came along were also struck by the importance of careful management and maintenance of eco-features, and the need to adopt a long-term approach.
We started the day at Summerfield Eco Village in Birmingham. Here, three streets of Victorian terraces have been given a new lease of life through environmental improvements. Each house in the scheme has had eco features installed (including solar panels, photovoltaic tiles, insulation and waste water recycling) to suit the specific property and the patterns of the people living there.
The project was carried out by Family Housing Association between 2006 and 2008 in collaboration with other local partners.
One of the most interesting parts of the story for us is how the project began – in this instance a group of residents raised their concerns with the housing association. Summerfield residents had noticed an increasingly transient population in their area. The streets were run down and dangerous because short-term tenants lacked a sense of pride and community spirit. The environmental improvements were made to try to tackle these problems and now, fuel bills in Summerfield have been reduced and residents can afford to remain living in the area so the turnover rate is much lower.
Now that residents feel more pride and ownership in the area and have been able to have an influence on the changes made, it’s an attractive place to live. Residents have also gained a much greater appreciation of environmental issues, which shows how crucial it is to empower and collaborate with local people on the design process.
Our second visit was to Cross Street South in Wolverhampton – a new build development created in 2008 by The Bromford Group. Here, we saw the extent to which attention to detail in design can create a highly attractive and low energy development.
The fantastic thing about visiting Summerfield and Cross Street South was seeing the effects of successful environmental initiatives for local communities. The added extras which make this scheme special include on site allotments, a wetland area which is supplied by surface water and a wood chip boiler providing cheap heating and hot water.
The ideas behind these initiatives have now become part of mainstream thinking in the UK, even if there is still some way to go in their application.
We’re on the look out for self-build housing projects next year… any ideas?