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

Lead Research Organisation: Goldsmiths College
Department Name: Sociology

Abstract

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 sef-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 01/10/2012 31/08/2013 £140,345
ES/K001078/2 Transfer ES/K001078/1 01/09/2013 30/09/2015 £101,046
 
Description The outcomes of this research make visible the importance of the self build as a source of innovation for the wider economy of housing, and the desire of individual households to manage more closely the production of their houses, despite prevailing financial and structural constraints. The findings address broad questions about (a) how the selfbuild sector in the United Kingdom is constituted and its relationship to the housebuilding sector and housing economy, (b) shedding new light on the relationships between class, generation, property assets and residential practices, while also (c) highlighting how selfbuilding practices are both structured by and structuring of identity (class, gender, age) and belonging. Finally, the specialist training in video methods and production, has (d) enhanced my research capability and encouraged the consideration of new questions about how to conduct and communicate research findings.

(a) Selfbuild in the wider housing economy
As a form of new housing provision, self build in the United Kingdom is located within the wider housebuilding sector, land and housing economies. Although currently presented as a solution to the crisis in the quantity, quality and affordability of new housing provision, in order to address the roots of the housing crisis and for self build to be appealing and accessible to wider portions of the population, there is an urgent need for transformation of structures of the housing and land market.

(b) Class, generation, property assets and residential practices
For the large part, the location of selfbuild in the wider housing economy limits access to selfbuilding to the middle classes and to property purchase. Property assets remain a central feature of middle-class reproduction, the selfbuilt home a positional commodity with symbolic significance to classed identities. Further, the generational characteristics of this population-with many self builders aged 50+-highlights the fracturing the middle classes along by age.

(c) Selfbuild, identity and belonging
The practice of selfbuild is both structured by and structuring of identity and belonging. The social characteristics of selfbuilders facilitate their engagement in the process; they often have a wide range of skills that they can put to work in the management, organisation and daily running of a project. In particular, selfbuild contours gendered and ageing identities (in particular masculinities). Belonging, as a form of place attachment, is equally impacted by the experience of selfbuilding.

(d) Enhanced research capability
The training undertaken in video methods resulted in (i) the development of participatory research within ethnographic fieldwork-participants producing small home tours with handheld video cameras-and (ii) innovations in the delivery of findings. Originally intended as a form of data, this video data proved so rich that it should be considered as an artifact to be incorporated into the communication of findings. To date, it has been presented within the end of project exhibition and within the creation of multimedia presentations, using videos from the material supplied by participants to accompany conference papers, intended to recreate the atmosphere of being in people's homes to add more context to written word.
Exploitation Route Housing practitioners
A central feature of the project design, I will continue to promote the findings of research through the widespread distribution of the end of project report, seeking opportunities to promote the findings through the mainstream and specialist media.

Intended impact: encourage a better understanding of how selfbuild is located within the wider housing economy; to render visible the challenges and obstacles faced by selfbuilders

Academic
The work of the project will be communicated through my continued engagement in research networks on class and housing; direction of an edited volume on alternative housing (in preparation); in a series of journal articles, in leading sociology, housing and urban studies journals; and a research monograph.

Intended impact: open up the discussion of the interrelationships between class, property assets and housing

Research participants
They have received a copy of the end of project report, attended the end-of-project exhibition. I am also preparing a booklet featuring the stories of research participants and continue to update the project blog with findings from the research and related information. Once publications are accepted, research participants will be sent pre-publication copies.

Intended impact: recognize and mark the generous contribution of participants; communicate findings to an interested audience
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction

URL https://selfbuildproject.wordpress.com
 
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. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/alternative-housing-could-be-the-answer-to-londons-housing-crisis/ been presented at the event 'Alternative Housing in London: Practices and Possibilities' (http://lselondonhousing.org/2016/07/alternative-housing-development-in-london-practices-and-possibilities/), an event that uniquely brought together practitioners (from the public and private sector)--and featured in the project PROTOHOME (http://www.protohome.org.uk/about/) as part of a publicly distributed pamphlet. It has also been of interest to other academics, and has also been featured on the BBC Radio 4 flagship social science programme Thinking Allowed (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0742mqb)
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Other
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Membership of NaCSBA Collective Custom Build Working Group 
Organisation National Custom and Selfbuild Association (NaCSBA)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution My contribution to this collaboration is an advisory role within current activities of the group. I bring my expertise of housing procurement, housing and land markets, as well as my understanding of self build in Britain to these discussion.
Collaborator Contribution At present we are plotting the extent of collective custom build projects in the United Kingdom but are also working on expert feedback to the Richard Bacon's bill on custom and self build that is currently going through parliament. In particular, we will be providing systematic and considered feedback on how to improve affordability in this mode of housing procurement.
Impact There are no outputs yet.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Alternative Housing Development in London: Practices and Possibilities 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a focussed one-day seminar that brought together academics, professional housing practitioners in both the public and private sectors, and local politicians in conversation over the possibilities and potentials for alternative housing development. This sparked considerable questions and discussion afterwards, particularly pertinent to the development of alternative housing in Lewisham.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://lselondonhousing.org/2016/07/alternative-housing-development-in-london-practices-and-possibil...
 
Description Appearance on BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Thinking Allowed featured the report 'The Social in Selfbuild' produced at the end of the project, as part of an episode focussed on housing. The show included a discussion between me and the presenter Laurie Taylor about the sociological study of selfbuild and what a focus on this can reveal about housing in Britain more generally. Thinking Allowed is BBC Radio 4's flagship social science programme with an international audience subscribed through the podcast and listening live to the show.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0742mqb
 
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 Conference paper (European Network of Housing Research) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation paper presentation
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact This paper on the relationship of self build to UK land markets was part of a specialist panel on land markets at the 2014 ENHR conference. The panel was attended by about 30 people, all specialists in housing research, with a range of disciplinary interests, from a range of different countries. The paper sparked questions and discussion afterwards that have fed into the development of the paper for publication.

None to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Conference presentation (AAG) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation paper presentation
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact This paper focused on belonging and how this was impacted through the experience of self building. It included a multimedia presentation, with an video produced by participants and edited by me running in the background as I read the paper I had prepared. Attended by 70 people, this sparked discussion about the relationship between emotion and belonging but also about modes of presentation within scientific conferences.

It changed the way that I think about presenting work at conferences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Conference presentation (RGS) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation paper presentation
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact I presented a paper on community self build projects at the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference, to a specialist panel on alternative housing. This was attended by 30 people, academic specialists from a range of disciplinary backgrounds/countries, working on alternative housing provision. The talk was well-received and formed the basis of discussion on the day. it also facilitated the further development of relationships with other scholars working in this field.

Following this talk I was invited to take part in the LSE London, 'Housing in London: addressing the supply crisis' project as an advisor on alternative housing. This led to my attendance at the specialist roundtable. I was also invited to participate in their Post-Election Event: Looking ahead - how should the new government address London's housing supply crisis?
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description End of project report launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Following the presentation of the main research findings, there was discussion and questions from the audience (60 participants - housing practitioners, local and national government representatives, journalists).

After my talk there were an increased number of requests for further information about the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Exhibition (end of project) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was an exhibition hosted at Goldsmiths, that I curated drawing on the visual materials collected over the course of the project, and displaying a selection of self build narratives drawn from the data. Over 200 people visited the exhibition over the 5 days it was open. People who visited the exhibition asked interesting questions about self build, providing feedback by drawing their 'dream homes' and comments on the exhibition and the display of self build stories. It featured in a blog post by a leading self build journalist (http://markbrinkley.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/selfbuild-under-academic-scrutiny.html) and led to this interview for Houseplanning Help (http://www.houseplanninghelp.com/podcast-2/).

Interested a wider number of people in the local area in self build as a form of housing provision.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://selfbuildproject.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/beyond-grand-designs-exhibition-open/
 
Description Film Screening (The House that Mum and Dad Built) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The screening was attended by 60+ people, and included presentations by practitioners, architects, original self builders in the London-based Segal Schemes, as well as potential self builders. Talk sparked questions and discussion afterwards about how community self build could provide solutions to current housing problems in London. The blogpost I wrote on the basis of this event was picked up by Open Democracy (https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/michaela-benson%E2%80%8B/are-selfbuilds-solution-to-london's-housing-crisis).

I was invited to discuss housing with the Labour candidate for parliament Lewisham (Vicky Foxcroft, now MP); it also attracted several London self builders, who later agreed to take part in the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://selfbuildproject.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/revisiting-segal-testimonies-from-original-self-bu...
 
Description Media interest (Houseplanning Help) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Houseplanning help is an online resource and information hub for self builders that was established in 2012. It features talks from over 100 experts, and has a wide audience and reach, all of which are made available as podcasts and transcripts. My podcast was released in October 2015, and is now a permanent resource for self builders.

No notable impacts to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.houseplanninghelp.com/podcast-2/
 
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
URL http://bit.ly/2nmeM5e
 
Description Report launch (Joseph Rowntree Foundation) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a roundtable, organised by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which featured my research as a way of thinking about self build for the development of affordable housing (rental and homeownership) in York and surrounding areas. Using the end of project report, I introduced the specialist audience - make up of local and regional housing practitioners - to self build in Britain through a selection of narratives taken from the research.

Stimulated questions and discussions focussed on what could be feasible in relation to developing self build in this part of the country; what would need to be put in place to facilitate this as a form of affordable housing (rental and home ownership), and by which stakeholders. They particularly enjoyed the use of real life examples as a way of illustrating the challenges that people face in relation to self build in the United Kingdom, and what this can reveal about the problems inherent to the housing sector.

After my talk, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation set up an e-working group on the issue in order to continue the conversation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Report on initial findings - for industry professionals and self builders 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact 20 participants (lay members of the advisory panel, industry professionals and other academics working in the field) attended a presentation of the initial findings from the project, derived from interviews with stakeholders (industry professionals and policy makers) and survey data. This was followed by questions and discussions.

The report was revised following discussion and made freely available on the project website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
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
URL https://cucrblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/03/whats-sociological-about-selfbuild-by-michaela-benson/
 
Description The Conversation (Selfbuild Research) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact This was an article authored by me, based on the findings of the research. It was published in November 2015 and has been read by over 1300 people.

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://theconversation.com/tackling-the-housing-crisis-by-building-your-own-home-47435