Russ and the radical housing revolution

RUSS and the Radical Housing Revolution

Guest blog by Daniel Stokes, member of the Rural Urban Synthesis Society.  Daniel talks  about the new radical housing revolution in London and beyond discussing how Self-Build and Community Land Trust’s are a model for community-led home ownership in urban areas. He also discusses RUSS’s crowd-funding campaign currently underway for London’s first Self-Build School for Community Led Housing – the Ladywell Self Build Community Space that needs your help to raise the funds to start the project in Lewisham next year. Find out more about the project and how you can support here

The Housing Crisis

We’re all effected by this in some way, whether it’s us personally, any number of friends, work colleagues, and neighbours – our children. The prosaic right-of-passage that we’ve all grown up taking for granted, of affording a house of our own in an area where we choose to live, has now become increasingly out of reach for an increasingly larger portion of the population.

The housing crisis in the UK is something that has made a lot of headlines in recent years and as a problem it’s not going away, not if the rising cost of property is anything to go by. In 1971 the average cost of a house in the UK was £5,562. By 2008 it had increased to £227,000. As the charity Shelter so succinctly encompass this increase, if the cost of a supermarket chicken had inflated by the same amount, it would cost £47. That’s an expensive Sunday lunch. And it gets worse. In London today, the average house is now £580,000.

Of course if we all could afford £600,000 for a house in London then there would be no problem, but with the typical salary in London well under £40k, set against the average annual income of £160,000 required to afford a property in London, you can see that houses prices continue to bear no relation to earnings.

A Radical Retaliation

However, there are other ways of doing things beyond the unattainable mainstream routes to home ownership. Custom and Self-Build (CSB) as construction methodologies, community or co-housing as its more commonly referred to, as formats for living, and Community Land Trusts as ownership and financial vehicles, are all enablers of another way to own a home.


Above; Community Land Trust’s in both there typical organisational and physical form.

And all are on the rise too. In 2013 at total of 15,000 houses had been custom or self-built rather than produced by housing developers. And co-housing, when a group of people come together to create, live and manage a community often with shared living facilities, a typical housing typology of Scandinavian countries since the 1960’s, is now gaining traction in the UK too. Community Land Trust’s (CLT) are a form of community led housing, where local organisations are set up and run by ordinary people to develop and manage homes as well as other assets important to the community like community enterprises, food growing or workspaces. The CLT’s main task is to make sure these homes are genuinely affordable and based on what people actually earn. These are popping up all over the country.


Above; Community Land Trusts in the England & Wales, and LILAC, a working self-build CLT in Leeds.

In London these alternative methods in response to the housing crisis have seen direct intervention by the Mayor of London with Sadiq Kahn saying “Community-led housing offers the chance to build new homes that Londoners want to live in. Londoners should be able to play a leading role their own communities but for too long this has been difficult and they had no support or access to funding”. This is recognised by central Government who developed the 2015 Self Build & Custom House Build Act, arguably the largest shift in land availability since WWII, which “requires Local Authorities to produce a register of land in their ownership which they consider suitable for individual or small-scale housing development using custom build” (RIBA, 2017). Essentially listing land available for self-build development for purchase by the individual.

So the methods exist, awareness is increasing, and so are the number of physical builds – but where are all these radical self-building communities? The answer is…well, all over the country, with one in particular leading the charge in 2017 – The Rural Urban Synthesis Society in Lewisham, South London…

Rural Urban Synthesis Society

The Rural Urban Synthesis Society (RUSS) is a members-led Community Land Trust based in South London, founded in 2009 with the aim of creating sustainable community-led neighbourhoods and truly affordable homes right across London. Our mission is to reduce our communities’ dependence on fossil fuels, increase food security, encourage bio-diversity and provide affordable housing for Londoners.

RUSS aims to establish a model development process for creating groups of charming, low-energy homes in sustainable neighbourhoods managed by residents, which will remain genuinely affordable for future generations and which can be replicated in Lewisham, London and across the UK. To begin to achieve our aim we are seeking to regenerate empty sites in London into sustainable communities with affordable housing and improved environments for people and nature alike.


Above; Concept image for RUSS’s Church Grove housing project and the residents co-design workshop

Although only recently founded, RUSS is steeped in a long history of self-build community projects in Lewisham. Walter’s Way, recently subject to an exhibition at the prestigious Architectural Association School of Architecture, and Segal Close are two highly acclaimed social housing projects constructed during the 1980’s developed using a simple self-build timber frame construction method developed by architect Walter Segal. A number of RUSS members still live in or are involved in these pioneering local self-build examples.


Above; The Walter’s Way exhibition at the Architectural Association 2016, and under construction.

After a long members-led campaign, RUSS signed a development agreement with Lewisham Council in 2016 for our first project, a community led, affordable self-build development in a derelict former school and industrial estate at Church Grove, Ladywell in Lewisham building 33 new sustainable, customisable, high quality homes for Lewisham based residents. Comprising of a range of different size flats and houses, the residents were encouraged to have input in all major design decisions during a series of co-design workshops led by the Architects of the scheme, Architype and Jon Broome Architects.


Above: Concept image of RUSS’s 33 home self-build development Church Grove Ladywell, by Architype.

With the project now awaiting submission for planning permission and project completion not estimated until 2020, RUSS saw the opportunity for its second project – a self-built community space on our Church Grove site called the Ladywell Self-Build Community Space.

Ladywell Self-Build Community Space

Inspired by a site free until completion of the Church Grove project and an opportunity to share its knowledge and experiences of self-building and forming a successful Community Land Trust back to the wider community, RUSS conceived the idea of self-building a community space with the aim of getting local people and passionate volunteers to create a knowledge hub for self-building, community-led housing and sustainable living.

The Ladywell Self Build Community Space will be volunteer-led self-build project using sustainable, low-impact, locally sourced, natural materials such as reclaimed timber, straw bale and rammed earth taught using a series a workshops instructed by experienced industry experts to provide volunteers with the construction skills required to build their own homes in keeping with segal timber frame method so central to RUSS and its history. Once completed, it will be home to RUSS’s newly established School for Community-led Housing offering guidance and help to Londoners on how to start their own self build community housing projects, as well as general community facility for the local area. It will be powered using renewable technologies and also aims to incorporate permaculture workshops utilising the external spaces around the building to provide a complete living, breathing exemplar for sustainable self-build construction in London – the first of its kind.


Above: Concept image of RUSS’s Ladywell Self Build Community Space in Church Grove, Lewisham

The scheme is currently in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds it needs to start the project. The campaign has already received national press coverage and the London Mayor has backed the scheme with an incredible donation of £30,000. However, with less than 6 weeks to go before the end of the crowdfunding campaign, we’re still £12,000 short of our total – the clock is ticking.


Above; The moment RUSS was awarded the Mayor’s £30,000 pledge for the Ladywell Self Build Community Space

We need your help in making this unique project happen. It’s vital to Londoners and the wider community to see that there are other ways of doings things, to provide the knowledge, inspiration and empowerment provides a home and future for ourselves. If you believe local people should have the power to shape their own community then please join the Mayor and support our project by making a pledge to our crowdfunding campaign at

If you want to find out more or help in any way contact us at for the Ladywell Self Build Community Space or visit the RUSS website at



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