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First We Can Make homes set to be ready by January 2022

Main image: Residents and KWMC staff involved in We Can Make. The project involved teaching local people the skills needed to help build their homes. Picture Ibolya Feher.

The first two We Can Make homes are set to be ready for their tenants to move into at the end of January 2022.

The community-led housing scheme has been hailed as a new way to make affordable homes for Knowle West residents – by using “micro-sites” in big back gardens and spaces between buildings. 

It means where some older residents might want to downsize, or a family may be experiencing over-crowding – they can still live within their neighbourhood.

Local people have been involved from the start in the design and build of the homes – working with Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) and using modular construction systems.

Residents have been heavily involved in the design and build of their homes.

The eco homes have low running costs and are under community ownership with a Living Rent policy. There are another 12 homes in the pipeline – and 80 local families have registered interest in the scheme.

Resident Toni Gray with the builders constructing her new home (see below).. Picture Ibolya Feher.

Three people involved tell their stories:

Resident Toni Gray (24) will be living in her parents’ garden
Toni and her daughter Amancia in front of her nearly completed home.

I currently live at home with my mum and dad and my two-year-old daughter Amancia Rose but we need more space.

I have been a member of KWMC since I was 10 years old. Firstly I attended the after-school groups, then I started volunteering and helping out.

I first got involved in We Can Make after my mum went to a meeting about getting a house. I said I wanted one with my daughter.

Every month there were meetings at Filwood organised by Melissa and Claire at KWMC and we discussed various things. There were a few suggestions we came up with – but the one that stood out was building houses in the community.

KWMC went through the legal part of paperwork, then planning took roughly two years to complete. 

The planning was accepted and then we started to look at building materials etc. I  was trained up by Chris at KWMC: The Factory where we made three walls with insulation together. I then made the rest of the walls with Hannah at KWMC for my home. 

Once my house is built in my parents’ garden me and my daughter will have more space and I will have a lot more  independence.

I am looking forward to spending more alone time with my daughter, I am looking forward to decorating with some of the staff at KWMC – and I am looking forward to making it my home. 

See the video of Toni’s story:

John Bennett (57) will have a permanent home
John Bennet (left) and resident Bill Kelly who gave up part of his unmanagable garden for John’s house to be built.

About three and a half years ago I split from my wife. Around the same time, I bumped into Melissa from KWMC, who I had known for several years through various projects and collaborations. She introduced me to the We Can Make (WCM) project and we discussed how it could help me in my current housing situation, 

I was living in a caravan in a yard down in St Werburghs, no running water, no bathroom facilities. It was all I could afford and it was rough! 

Once I’d signed up to WCM things started to gain pace. I was invited to host a podcast series around housing needs and community. 

I was introduced to Bill and Liam, a father and son who live in Knowle. Bill was prepared to give up space in his garden for a single person dwelling, which suited me well! 

I was involved in the creating of a community code of practice for homes in Knowle West, I’ve met planners and architects, builders, and designers. 

Skills workshop at KWMC where residents helped construct The Pavilion in the garden.

When things really started to gain momentum, around the start of 2020, I could see my home becoming a reality, then the whole world went into lockdown with the onset of COVID 19. WCM had got to the stage where the up skilling and training of local people was about to start, this now became remote and online.

WCM adapted brilliantly to the challenging circumstances at the time, connecting us through workshops and online tasks, meetings and discussions, really making us feel a connection, breaking down the social isolation we were all enduring! 

We explored various types of modern house building techniques, we also looked at digital inclusion in construction and worked on solutions and designs. This gave me an in-depth knowledge of how my home was to be constructed. 

The public were able to visit the homes during KWMC’s Come Together weekend. This is the interior of John’s new home.

We’re now very close to completing the first two homes for WCM. It’s been a tough year for me, but seeing my home finally being built is very exciting, I feel lucky to be so heavily involved in the build. 

I’ve starting salvaging materials for the interior and I’m looking forward to the next couple of months where I’ll really get to put my stamp on the place. 

Resident Bill Kelly (55) gave up part of his overgrown garden

I’ve lived in Belstone Walk with my fifteen-year-old son Liam since 2009 – and we were approached by members of We Can Make.

They talked about using my garden to help a local member of the community who was homeless. I met John first, then he was introduced to my son and everyone hit it off. It was like We Can Make First Dates!

My garden is large and unmanageable for me. This way it can be used to help the larger community and be more accessible for me and my son.

We have also worked on a bike and bin store that can house a mobility scooter and be used in the wider community. The aspect of having the house in the garden is also good for safety  – if anything happens to me, my son can go there for help.

The project has been great and we feel that if more people learned from history, we could keep families tighter and bring the community together.

See the video of Bill’s story: