At a community event held in Knowle West in 2016, housing was identified as the biggest issue facing residents. Melissa Mean of Knowle West Media Centre and architect Craig White brought residents together with designers, academics and policymakers to develop a new citizen-led approach to creating affordable homes.
Through interviews, workshops and events, the We Can Make initiative built a picture of local housing needs and the local skills and resources available to satisfy them.
By unlocking micro-sites such as gap spaces and gardens for development, We Can Make aims to enable residents to build homes at the point of need - where they live. Melissa describes this approach as ‘urban acupuncture’ - allowing families to grow, ageing residents to downsize and those with changing mobility needs to adapt, without having to leave their community. It also creates an alternative approach to conventional “demolish and densify” top-down regeneration.
The first home was built in late 2017, using locally manufactured components, sustainable materials and locally-employed labour. Residents can stay for free in the home to try it out, and it generates income for the community as an Airbnb. Over 150 people have stayed in the home so far.
In the next five years, the initiative hopes to develop over 300 affordable homes in Knowle West - including setting up a neighbourhood housing factory to train local people to make the homes - with the potential for this approach to be replicated in similar neighbourhoods in Bristol and across the UK.