Self-building: the production and consumption of new homes from the perspective of households

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Sociology


The proposed research examines self-building as a way of meeting housing need in Britain today from the perspective of self-building households. This is an understudied form of housing provision, that in the current housing crisis - where housing supply cannot meet demand and where housebuilding is at its lowest peacetime rate since the 1920s (Department for Communities and Local Government 2011a) - is being promoted as a way to develop accessible and affordable housing. With the cost of building your own home reported to be £150,000 (excluding land purchase) (NaSBA 2011; Department for Communities and Local Governments 2001b), promoters stress that self-building is more affordable than mainstream housing which, under the right conditions, can be accessible to wide proportions of the population. There is however, limited understanding of who today's self-builders are; popular representations such as Grand Designs often focus on high-end self-building projects, with the result that the diversity in this population (as claimed by the National Self-Build Association 2011), is overlooked.

Self-build is a broad category that involves households who invest time and energy in the building of their own homes in various ways. This includes people who choose to employ a project manager to oversee and manage the construction process; households who undertake the project management themselves but employ others to do the physical work of construction, through to those undertaking the manual labour required themselves. The category also captures different modes of building - from the construction of pre-fabricated buildings to architecturally-design. In Britain today, self-build is usually undertaken by individual households as a way of meeting their housing needs, but there are also examples of community or collective self-build.

Against this background, the proposed research conducts a systematic investigation of self-building in Britain today, questioning who becomes a self-builder and how? It will reflect the diversity of the self-build population in terms of their investment (financial and otherwise) in their homes, their class background, their geographical location and their progress in the process of self-building. It investigates what predisposes households to self-build and what are the particular challenges and opportunities that shape their experiences of this process. In addition, via a focus on the relationship between class, households and the process of self-building, the project will explore how household characteristics and dynamics intersect with the material form of the home. Furthermore, the research examines whether the process of self-building is inherently class-related. This empirical data will provide critical insights into the future of self-building in Britain.

The research will include semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders, documentary analysis, an Internet survey with 200 self-building households, and in-depth ethnographic case studies (including innovative participatory research methods) with 20 self-building households. This range of methods will produce both quantitative and qualitative data, allowing for some statistical analysis of the self-build population as well as providing more contextual understandings of self-build as a phenomenon.

An advisory group made up of users will be consulted throughout the research project and subsequent dissemination activities. This is to ensure that the data collected is of use beyond the academy, and to ensure that the research has impact. Research outputs will include dissemination to practitioners (through a one-day workshop and a 15-page research report), dissemination to research participants and the general public (through a research report, dissemination activities at self-build exhibitions, articles in popular press), and academic dissemination (through conference presentations, journal articles and a research monograph).

Planned Impact

This research project draws on expertise from an advisory group throughout the process from research design to dissemination, demonstrating a commitment to the production of research data that is of interest and use to non-academics. Overall the findings of this research will be of significant interest to people interested in the future of self-build housing and housing provision in Britain. Interested parties will include, but will not be limited to:
(1) The Department for Communities and Local Government
(2) Local planning authorities
(3) Thinktanks working on housing policies and futures
(4) Self-build organisations such as the National Self-Build Association (NaSBA) and other local self-build associations such as the Bath and District Self-build Association
(5) The National Self-Build and Renovation Centre (Swindon)
(6) Independent Community Interest Companies interested in self-build
(7) Media outlets including Homebuilding and Renovation Magazine, Self-build and Design, Grand Designs, Build it and Home Improvement Magazine
(8) Practitioners including architectural firms, self-build consultancies, financial service providers and contractors
The research has clear relevance for these parties because of their existing investments in self-build. In the case of the government, this interest is made apparent in their support self-build as an alternative housing strategy and the provision for this, through the Custom Homes Programme in the 2011 Housing Strategy. In respect to beneficiaries 1-6, the research will aid in the ongoing assessment of self-build housing in Britain, address its future and inform policy and other interventions in the field of housing. The research will also be of benefit to self-builders themselves, providing thorough information about the process of self-building and using findings to provide some practical advice on this process and could help to change the public opinion of self-build through the dissemination of findings stressing the diverse routes into this form of housing provision and the various motivations of those involved.

As detailed in the Pathway to Impact attachment, findings will be disseminated to these non-academic respondents through various channels including a one-day workshop, and 15-page research report. It is anticipated that this will form the basis of a consultation document for the NaSBA and Department for Communities and Local Government to provide an evidence-base for discussions over the future of self-build, an issue pertinent to the Government's housing strategy. In this respect, it is anticipated that the results of this research will have an impact beyond the academy.

The research findings will be further disseminated to the general public and participants through a project website, the exhibition of research findings (plus visual data and artefacts) at the Homebuilding and Renovation show, seminars at the Homebuilding and Renovation Show, a consultation document for potential self-builders, and articles in magazines and other media outlets. In this manner, the research findings will be used to extend understandings of the self-build population, investments in the process, and the overall experience of the project of building your own home. Academic dissemination will also be communicated to the general public through the use of press releases as and when appropriate, and listed on the project website.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/K001078/1 30/09/2012 30/08/2013 £140,345
ES/K001078/2 Transfer ES/K001078/1 31/08/2013 29/09/2015 £101,046
Description In the first year of this grant I conducted research through (1) interviews with industry and government stakeholders working with issues relating to self build housing in England and (2) a survey with people who had or were currently building their own homes and potential self builders. The findings of these stages of the research demonstrated that there is currently considerable energy from the housing and urban development industry as well as the government into promoting and supporting ways for people to have access to self building in England. However, this access remains constrained by wider issues related to how the housing and land markets function, the culture of housing in England, and the financial and legal structures of housing. The survey demonstrated that at present only particular portions of the population can easily access forms of self build, with the result that this is more common among people who have considerable housing assets already, and who are often retired.
Exploitation Route I believe that there are findings and recommendations within the report on these findings that could be taken forward and used by others. They could, for example, be used as a basis for discussing what changes could be brought into force to make housing more accessible. I am also in regular contact with NaCSBA (National Custom and Self Build Association), and am currently part of a working group relating to this body, where I am able to provide advice on the basis of my research. This association has a dual function, both in terms of lobbying the government and as a trade association. I have been in communication with them about how these findings might be used by them, and will be continuing the conversation over the remainder of the project. My ambition is that within future discussions of housing policy, particularly as these relate to supporting self building in England (for example there is a current bill going through parliament on precisely this topic), that my research can feed into and inform these.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction

Description To date, the research findings about the diverse practices and processes involved in self build - generated through the first stages of the research - have been picked up by colleagues at the LSE as part of their discussion of the role of alternative housing as a solution to London's housing crisis.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description British Sociological Association Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Over 100 PGR students attended my presentation at the British Sociological Association PG Research Forum in April 2016. The aim of my presentation was to disrupt understandings of how to present research and how to incorporate different media--in this case video--into conference presentations in a different way. This sparked a lot of interest in methods of presentation and questions and discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Protohome pamphlet 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was invited to write the short piece 'What is a sociologist doing studying selfbuild? Shifting perspectives from Grand Designs to housing inequality' by Julia Heslop for the PROTOHOME publication. This pamphlet was printed and handed out to visitors to the project and exhibition (May - July 2016) and has now been published online at the PROTOHOME website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Streetsigns Blogpost 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I wrote the blogpost 'What's sociological about selfbuild?' for Streetsigns, the blog of the Centre for Urban and Community Research. This has a reach of over 100 readers. It lead to an invitation to write a piece for a specialist publication to support the launch of Protohome.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016