PROJECT ONE: FINDING A WAY

The Trust was endowed with a quarter-acre of land, formerly a pub car park; and an enlightened local employer, Colin Sanders of Solid State Logic Ltd, gave it £3,000 to cover the legal costs of set-up and the cost of an architectural feasibility survey.

It was initially adopted by a large housing association, which put in an outline application for five houses - which immediately produced seven objections from local home-owners fearing rented housing would lower values. The Trust then adopted a "community architecture" approach, with public meetings at which people's hopes, fears and ideas were taken on board and incorporated into the design process. Boundary neighbours were consulted individually, and designs modified to meet their concerns: as a result, permission was finally obtained in 1987 for four houses, and government funding lined up through the Housing Corporation.

Then they found that the housing association did not have charitable status, which meant the houses would immediately be subject to 'Right to Buy'. Since planning consent for four homes had inflated the value of the land from £3,250 to £150,000, the trustees used that as security to raise a bank loan to finance building, and elected go for a direct-build approach. They bought a limited company off the shelf (Stonesfield Community Projects Ltd.) so they could DO the job themselves with tradesmen employed on piece work. This meant that VAT could be recovered on all building materials, which saved both a builder's 28% profit and several thousand pounds of tax.

Because the site had a high chipping bank on the north side, rising land on the East, and a massive dry-stone wall on the West, it formed a naturally-sheltered south-facing cup. The architect, Chris Wilcher RIBA, therefore elected to design for maximum passive solar gain, with the potential for adding conservatories to gather extra heat when funds allowed.

While the housing association had pushed for conventional standard repetition design, with 100 sq. metre back gardens, by doing it themselves, the trustees gained freedom to design more creatively. Large back gardens on the north side would have become cold repositories for rusting prams and rubbish: so the houses were pushed back near to the chipping bank, which was then landscaped as a play and clothes-drying area. This allowed enough room at the front to create car parking in twos with planting between, rather than a 'Heathrow car park' pattern.

The houses were linked but staggered, with split-level layout exploiting the rising land. Laid out so that occupants naturally met their neighbours when coming out onto the walkways, it was designed to function like a village, not an estate. Today, neighbours tend to chat and have coffee or barbecues on each other's patios, and children play safely together in the close, which has been named Friends' Close because of the Quaker connection.

Walls were of cavity construction with a 150 mm. turbo inner leaf; insulation was laid under floors, and roofs heavily insulated, to produce low running costs as well as rents 30% below market levels. Space was gained by removing the massive dry-stone wall and building onto its four foot thickness, and then stone-cladding the face of the houses on what had been its west side. This still left a front garden so that the houses did not dominate the village street.

When the first two houses were finished, a local family came and said their elderly mother wanted to move closer to them, and would be willing to sell her flat in Bristol and lend the Trust money to continue building, if it could provide her with a home. Her loan was secured by a Debenture share in the limited company, and planning permission obtained for an additional granny flat. The interest on her loan more than covered her rent right up until she died aged 97, and she made a real social contribution to the community, baby-sitting for young families, giving the children biscuits and letting their parents use her phone.

Then the Trust obtained a £40,000 interest-free loan from the Quaker Housing Trust, and a further £82,000 in interest-free loans from two supporters. With this and some work being done at concessionary rates by local tradesmen who supported the project, six dwellings - three two-bed houses and three flats - were successfully completed by 1990.