Typically, a Group Build is where you work with others to acquire a site to split up into plots, then organise the design and construction of your own home.
The major benefit of this approach is that it is one of the lowest cost routes to self build – typically saving 40% on plot costs and an extra 10% on building costs. In most cases you have flexibility over the design of your home and how you build it. You might also include communal play areas for your children, allotments or other features as part of the overall scheme. There’s no getting away from the fact that you will get to know your neighbours as you do it.
A major challenge is that it can take time to get a group together, and to get a clear consensus on how to use a larger site; sometimes there can be disagreements that are tricky to resolve. It can also be difficult to raise the finance to buy a larger site. Some people may let you down – for example they may not finish their home as fast as everyone else, or ‘pull their weight’ on communal tasks.
There are variations on the approach described above:
- Privately-funded groups – collectives looking for multiple sites or high density projects, but with the clear intention that they will be privately funded (incorporating personal mortgages and/or borrowing facilities)
- Part-subsidised groups – often be formed to deliver new housing on subsidised or free land. However, the expectation is that the construction costs will then be privately funded
- Hands-on groups – where the land purchase is likely to be subsidised. In addition, much of the labour will be delivered on-site by the group
Specific approaches are:
1.Supported community self build group
This method involves a group of people coming together to pool their skills so they
can build a number of self build houses collectively. Usually the group will include
people with some construction skills, though often there is training undertaken to
boost the participants’ building knowledge. Each member of the group will work on
everyone’s house, until all are ready for occupation. By working around 25-30 hours
a week in the evenings and weekends they can usually build all the homes in about
Some groups form themselves; others are co-ordinated by housing
associations or an agency that helps people run projects like this. Almost 100
community self build projects have been set up over the last 20 years. The norm is
for between 10 and 20 people to come together to build 10 to 20 new homes. This
approach is a very effective way of reducing the cost of a house and means
someone on a low or modest wage can afford to build their own property.
2.Independent community collaboration
Under this approach a group of self builders is formed to acquire a larger site to split
up into individual plots. They then organise the design and construction of their own
homes. By ‘bulk buying’ the land they can usually get their individual building plots
significantly cheaper. And by working together and sharing some common costs (for
example the cost of key tools or bulk buying materials) they can deliver these homes
more cost effectively too. At present very few homes are built this way in the UK –
perhaps 10-20 a year. But this approach is more common in Continental Europe and
it is expected to grow in popularity in the UK.
3.Developer/contractor led group project
A developer/contractor organises a group and builds the homes; often, to save costs,
the self builders finish them off.
TO GET A GROUP PROJECT GOING
- Recruit some reliable like-minded people (10-20 usually); easier to recruit when land has already been identified.
- Gauge interest by holding a public meeting to gauge the level of interest. You can do this by dropping simple flyers Promote meeting using flyers, online, local paper
- Create a formal body to represent the group members
- Work with an architect to agree a plan for the overall layout and design of the homes, and the layout of any roads or communal facilities.
- Ensure funding is available – decide among your group how you are going to structure the finances and if you want to build homes to own, part-own or rent
- Find a suitable site that a local authority or a social landlord can donate or acquire on your behalf. Sometimes land can be made available via a Community Land Trust.
You will need to achieve agreement on
• the site and the layout of any roads or communal facilities.
• a plan for allocating and pricing the plots
• Design and construction, including house heights, preferred materials, sustainability
• Group rules, such as deadlines for completing homes, how many hours you will put in each week, any eco-targets you want to achieve, any deadlines for completing homes, the budgets you will work to, living on site while building work is underway, etc.
The Community Self Build Agency (CSBA)
The CSBA may have details of a community self build project in your area that is currently seeking people to join it. We would recommend that you go through this website carefully so that you are clear about the various ways projects can be established. You might also want to make contact directly with someone from the CSBA – it provides advice for free and they are very helpful. There are many options and variations possible, and it will take you some time to fully understand them all and work out what may be best for you.
UK Cohousing Network
Setting up or joining a housing co-operative allows people to share ownership and responsibility for a property or group of properties, and is another possible route into self build for those with limited financial resources. The Catalyst Collective has further information on how to set up a housing co-operative. These websites explain how co-housing groups can be formed, and they include several good case studies and lists of co-housing groups seeking members. The Network also runs regular training courses for people thinking about getting involved in a project.
offers a useful search tool for finding social landlords/housing associations in your area.
The National CLT Network
Consider setting up a Community Land Trust (CLT) in order to provide the site for a project. This can be a good option in rural areas where building land is expensive; CLTs are permitted to build affordable homes on agricultural land, which can be much cheaper to buy. The Government’s Community Right to Bid may help you acquire public land that’s not being productively used.