An unselfish 'self-finish'
325 Fishponds, a community-focused residential scheme, is a pilot project for Bristol Community Land Trust. Their aim was to create a truly affordable communal housing scheme for their members, while giving them an active role in the design and construction process.
Following several workshops with members of the Trust, our solution was to provide a range of accommodation in the form of 3-bed houses and 1-bed studios. The latter was converted from a former chapel-turned-school, which still occupied the site.
With the site set on a busy main road and next to a public park, the property boundary needed to give the residents privacy and safety, but also be attractive and welcoming.
With space too tight for everyone to have their own garden, what emerged was a shared communal space; perfect for the Trust’s philosophy.
We interviewed one of the tenants, Martin Horne, about his experience of working on a self-finish project.
So, how do you like living here?
I love it, funnily enough, as an architect, it’s not the spaces; it’s the communal aspect of it.
It’s quite open and we’ve all worked together to self-finish them. As a group we’ve done all the decorating. We’ve laid floors, we’ve fitted kitchens, we’ve tiled bathrooms. We’ve done all the landscaping too, even the gate post which I’m just doing now!
We’ve done a lot of work. We have meetings every couple of weeks to run through things. So, the social aspect, with everyone getting involved, has been the highlight.
Did you realise the level of commitment it would take?
As part of the self-finishing element there was a contract to say we should do between 8 to 12 hours a week for 12 months. For me that was fine, it meant taking a day off a week and I’ve done it. But I don’t think some of the others had realised what that commitment would mean, so there has been a few surprises.
Like you said a lot of people didn’t have the basic skills to do this…
Yes I think there’s been some expectation that the contractors would be more on-board with the ethos of it all. When they were finishing the plumbing and electrics, we were decorating and fitting kitchens.
By the end, understandably, they just wanted a clear run so they can finish as it was a design and build contract. We were complicating things by asking “can you all do this or do that?” So from that perspective, it wasn’t so well managed from the Community Land Trust.
Perhaps we were naïve about what the builders would do, expecting them to say “Yeah, come over and we’ll teach you how to fit skirting boards and chop saw.” But, obviously, they were just busy getting their stuff finished.
In the end, I was teaching people how do a lot of the things we needed to do.
So, with you helping everyone out so much, has there been anything in exchange?
We all earn what’s called ‘sweat equity’ and that’s the hours you do. You earn equity in the building, or if you’re renting, you earn that money off your rent. It’s a flat rate for everyone, no matter their level of skill. As you can imagine, that is quite political, because some people do far more hours than others, and are more skilled, and are juggling this with other full time, stressful jobs.
It’s about finding that difficult balance between community spirit and getting a fair return for your efforts.