Building homes and stacking functions
We like to talk about systems thinking and how we’re co-creating a transition to a new socio-economic system that recognises that all life is interconnected and interdependent. Therefore, we adore projects that “stack functions” and are “synergistic satisfiers” because they elegantly enhance relationships, require less energy, and create resilience.
Most Transition initiatives have theme groups – food, housing, REconomy, energy, etc. These issues are of course interrelated and interconnected. So, naturally, when we apply a little systems thinking, projects that arise from our groups often stack a function or two. But how many functions can you stack? How many needs can your project satisfy?
For the past couple of years, with the launches of the Transition Companion book and the REconomy Project, there has been new energy around building social enterprises and economic planning. But here too, even though we like to talk about the knock-on effects of this or that new enterprise model, there are few projects that literally tick all the boxes.
Transition Homes CLT is set to change that and may well become an important new model for the rest of the country. The project was birthed by Transition Town Totnes and has been in development for four years, but any day now they are ready to exchange on a piece of property on which over twenty affordable homes will be built. The homes will be constructed from locally-sourced, natural materials, such as rammed earth and strawbale, and be super efficient. Renewable energy and food will be produced on site, and the overall site design will enhance community life. And each one will go to a low-income household in need of housing.
We are surrounded by housing controversy here. There is an urgent need for affordable housing in this area, but large developers, like Linden Homes, are being granted exceptions by the planners for their ill-conceived projects along the River Dart. That a community-led initiative can do what the local authority can’t, or won’t, should send an inspiring message to communities everywhere eager to take matters into their own hands and begin building an alternative.
But Transition Homes will still do more. The site will be developed by local builders, with opportunities for new home owners to do “self-finishing”, that is providing the fit and finish to interiors. That’s a nice compromise to a “self-build” scenario, and will provide a break on initial costs, training and support. In fact, there will be training and education built into the project, from training courses on the building site for tradespeople, as well as ongoing links with the local schools, colleges and universities, who will be keen to study the project. And while that will bring visitors into the local economy, it will also enhance the already growing stream of “transition tourists” who come to see the new economy taking shape.
So, Transition Homes will provide warm, healthy and affordable homes to people in need, in a place where they can grow their own food and produce their own energy, in a setting that puts community first. It will support lots of local livelihoods, provide training in valuable skills, and be a model to be studied and replicated. As synergistic satisfiers go, this sets a very high bar and may very well set an example that other Transition initiatives should follow.
Chris Bird, one of the principals in the project, tells me that it’s possible that new home owners could be moving in by the end of the year. There’s still much work to be done, of course. Once the land is acquired, the architects will develop their designs, then the planning process takes over, and then there’s financing. They’ll be working with the local authorities to ensure a fair and transparent process for selecting from a growing list of applicants for affordable housing. And there is a need for volunteers. All those interested should get in contact.
Images: Transition Homes design studies, courtesy Transition Homes