Community scheme offers blueprint for a way out of London’s housing crisis

Affordable housing designed by and for local people bucks the trend


A bold new project in south-east London that’s taking lessons from a visionary self-built community of the 1980s could become a model for collaborative, low-carbon, affordable housing.

Lewisham residents have pledged their support for a planned development in the borough, which will offer 33 affordable homes, including secure social rentals and shared ownership dwellings.

The coordinators of Church Grove aspire to meet the strict Passivhaus energy performance standard, and will track all aspects of the development’s carbon footprint, from construction through to the lifestyles of the residents once they move in.

Kareem Dayes, chair of Rural Urban Synthesis Society (RUSS) Community Land Trust, is spearheading the plans to turn a disused lot in Ladywell – a village in Lewisham that perhaps best exemplifies the area’s rapid gentrification – into vibrant housing for local people: “We realised that if we were organised enough we could develop in a way that benefits the community, and provide something that isn’t being offered elsewhere,” he said.

Involving residents directly in the process helps create a committed, localised and engaged community

Lewisham house prices have risen steeply in recent years, with annual rises of about 20 per cent. Along with Waltham Forest, property values in the borough were, pre-Brexit, predicted to grow at the fastest rate in London over the next five years.

More than 100 people, selected by ballot in March, will live in the community, in one-bedroom flats through to four-bedroom houses. To be eligible, residents must live in the area and meet the affordability criteria for each tenure and house type.
To ensure they remain affordable, RUSS holds a stake in the homes, and they cannot be sold on the open market.

Prospective resident Tim van Eyken said that the one-bedroom flat he plans to build with his partner through the scheme’s shared-ownership option will enable him to stay in London, adding: “But the thing that excites me most about Church Grove is that it is community-based and sustainable.”

The residents are in the process of ‘co-designing’ their homes with the project’s architects, following three years of negotiation between RUSS and Lewisham Council to get the project off the ground.

It is hoped the majority of the homes will also be self-built, as part of a focus on growing community knowledge. Local people who won’t live in the homes will also have the chance to participate through apprenticeship programmes, training and volunteering.

“We know that building works better and community and when the people living in them are part of the decisions,” Dayes said. “It was also really important to us that people can learn skills in the process.”

Anne Power, head of communities and housing at the London School of Economics, praised the planned development, and its use of an existing site for affordable housing (the Church Grove land once housed a school).

“It is extremely valuable that some of the homes will be available for rent, as this opens up access to a wider range of lower-income households,” she said.

“Involving residents directly in the process is also one way of making housing more affordable and it does help to create a committed, localised and engaged community.”

Dayes found inspiration in the home he grew up in, within Lewisham’s self-built Walters Way development, which he helped his father retrofit with triple glazing, ground-sourced heating and solar power.

Progressive architect Walter Segal’s housing development had social sustainability at its core, but the homes themselves were leaky and inefficient.

Empowered by his experience of drastically improving the natural comfort of his parent’s home and of creating renewable energy, Dayes wanted to take the idea further and influence lasting change in his home borough. With the help of his late mother, he founded RUSS in 2009 and set about pairing Segal’s social housing ideals with a commitment to sustainability.



Church Grove founder Kareem Dayes (r) with his father