325 Fishponds Road

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.

Unlike conventional housing, the twist was to create a ‘self-finish’ scheme. Residents earn ‘sweat equity’ (labour hours earn equity in the building, or money off rent) which kept it low-cost and sparked the first sense of communal living. With a contractor appointed for the foundations and superstructure, the residents worked together to complete the fit-outs themselves.

With space too tight for everyone to have their own garden, what emerged was a shared communal space; perfect for the Trust’s philosophy.

Instrumental in the project was Jackson Moulding, a key member of the Ashley Vale self-build development in another area of Bristol, and Anna Maloney who acted as project manager for Bristol Community Land Trust.

We interviewed one of the tenants, Martin Horne, about his experience of working on a self-finish project.

Martin, an architect (not a Stride Treglown’er) from Stroud, has lived in the building since July 2016 with his wife and 2 children.

Here’s his experience so far…

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.

Does everyone here have a trade background?

No. I’ve got one, I used to be a decorator and I’ve done some low skill building work. Personally, it means I’m able to build the things that I draw which is great. It’s enriched how I design, how I draw, and how I think.

But not everyone. There were some people who had no skills at all and that’s wasn’t always easy because they were learning on the job. Even some of the fairly basic stuff, like using an impact driver, chop, saw, how to put stuff in level and all those kind of things. So that’s been challenging for us as a group, but we’ve all learnt a lot. The challenges have probably brought us closer together.

I love it, funnily enough, as an architect, it’s not the spaces; it’s the communal aspect of it.

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.

How about your kids, do you feel like they’re safe in this communal space?

Yes, it’s great. It’s a shared landscape and there’s a natural surveillance with that which works really well. The location of the park is amazing because they can run around and play basketball or tennis.

It also means they know our neighbours, and my sister lives over there so there’s an open door policy; they’ve got keys to our house and they come and go. It’s a really nice feeling of knowing people.