Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Lancaster Co-Housing wins national self build award

Lancaster Co-housing at Halton
A 41 home highly sustainable cohousing project near Lancaster has won the self  build sector's top award for 2013. The Lancaster Cohousing scheme provides private homes with communal space and sits on the bank of the River Lune at Halton. It has taken seven years to deliver - with the initial group first coming together in 2004.

The Award (called the Murray Armor  Award after the acclaimed self  build author who died in 1998) is not so much about the look of the project as it is about the commitment and tenacity of the people who planned and constructed it. This is the first time the award has gone to a collective self or custom build project.

In 2009 the group managed to acquire a site that was then occupied by derelict industrial buildings. With help from its architects (Eco Arc) and its main contractors (Whittle Construction) it developed an overall design and construction began in 2011. The bulk of the work was completed earlier this year, and the majority of the residents have now moved in.

Funding was a particular challenge; between them the group managed to raise enough to purchase the site,
but then it had to borrow money to fund the construction work. Triodos  Bank  provided  a  £3.45m  facility  to  fund  the  building  work,  and,  as  each  member  of  the  group  has moved  in,  they  have  secured  a  mortgage  to  help  pay  off  the  loan.  

The  Rural  Carbon  Challenge  Fund  also provided £71,000 towards a district heating scheme, which is fuelled by local woodchip and solar thermal.

One  of  the  main  themes  of  the  project  is  its  certification  to  the  Passivhaus  energy  and  comfort  standard  -which means the homes are all super energy efficient.  To achieve this,  the walls, roofs and floors are super insulated, and the windows and doors are triple glazed.  Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery is used, and the homes are more than 10 times as air tight as required by the current Building Regulations.
There are also large photovoltaic installations on the south facing roofs, and there is a plan to link up to a new hydroelectric installation that will extract energy from the River. The result is that the homes are very cheap to run - annual energy bills are around £300 for a typical house.

“We wanted to create something that is very high specification, but that is al so possible to replicate so it will
inspire others to aim high and live more sustainably,” said Jon Sear, Lancaster Cohousing project manager.
“It was tough to do, and at moments it felt almost impossible, but we knew what we wanted to achieve and it is really satisfying to have got there.”

The project is run as a  cohousing community. Everyone has their own house or apartment, alongside shared
facilities which help reduce the  use of resources, as well as encouraging neighbourly living. A multi-functional common house is provided for a wide range of social activities  including communal meals, celebrations and a place to relax and chat to neighbours.

There is also a communal laundry (so the residents don’t need their own washing machine), and a communal
toolstore (so there are two shared lawn mowers, rather than 41). Two shared guest bedrooms mean the homes don't need to have a rarely used 'spare' bedroom.

The  award  was  judged  by  TV self builder  Tommy Walsh, with Charlie Luxton, presenter  of  BBC's  'Building  the  Dream'  TV programme, Ted Stevens - chair of the National Self Build Association and serial self builder and author David Snell.

NaSBA’s Ted Stevens said: “The  Lancaster  project  shows  just  what  can  be  achieved  by  a  group  of  dedicated  and  committed  people.  It proves that ‘the whole’ really is greater than ‘the sum of the parts’  –  not only have they created some very attractive homes for themselves, they’ve also built an incredibly vibrant and supportive community.

“In other parts of Europe a large number of projects like this are being built; we believe the Lancaster scheme is a beacon of best practice, and we hope to see many more similar projects come forward in the UK in the next few years.”

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