The Brighton Co-op
A timber-frame house on stilts that represents the houses built in a co-operative build.
Accessible Build Philosophy | Balcony | Cheap Construction | Communal Land | Easy Construction | Eco-Friendly | Outdoor Living Space | Views


Build Start


Total Floor Area

The cooperative build in Brighton showed an impressive display of collaboration, as friends and families joined forces to construct their dream homes and escaping social housing.  With unconventional build methods and a focus on sustainability, it served as a remarkable example of communal self-building, inspiring in its shared vision and determination.

Site Value


Total Spend

Developed Value

Cost Per m2

Construction Type


Construction Type

Walter Segal self-builds (the “Segal Method”) are a type of construction that uses timber frames and modular components to create low-cost and eco-friendly houses.  The main advantage of this method is that it does not require complex foundations, heavy machinery (other than a day’s hire of a crane for lifting the frames into place) or skilled labour.  Anyone with basic carpentry skills and tools can assemble the frames and panels on site, following the instructions and drawings provided by the designer.  I really liked how it allows for greater flexibility, creativity, and participation in the building process, as well as reducing the environmental impact and the cost of construction.  At the beginning of the episode, I was thinking that this build would be irrelevant to me as it is so different to the type of build, I imagine doing myself, however by the middle of the episode I was in awe of the build and found it inspiring.  I had never seen this construction type before; its simplicity and availability are very appealing.  Practically anyone could build this type of property with enough determination.


The choice of materials used are based on ecological principles and aims to limit energy use and pollution.  This is not only through the manufacture but through the lifecycle of the material as well as its technical performance.

The structural frames are made of softwood, which is a renewable low energy resource, and toxic timber treatments are only used for columns in contact with the ground to prevent decay.  Wall, roof, and floor constructions have high levels of insulation. Finishes are safe and non-toxic, including organic paints and stains and natural linoleum.

This approach of using sustainable materials is really growing on me.  While the environmental issues of construction have been a topic for decades, it seems to be extremely slow moving to adopting change.  It is quickly becoming clear that the self-builders and architects are the ones responsible for enacting change by harnessing the materials low in impact and it is a build principle I want to adopt.

Source of funds and site acquisition

The community project was built on land that is owned by the council in partnership with South London Family Housing Association who agreed to the build with the self-builders supplying the rest through sweat equity of a mandatory 30-hour week on-site per family.

There are parcels of un-developed land all over the country that are locked out of being built on and the people that hold the keys to the lock are the local planning departments.  By working closely with the local council on projects such as this it seems that accountability is partly transferred to the council giving them a vested interest in creating a design and signing off the planning.

Knowledge Acquisition

The design of the buildings was made from design principles of the Segal Method Construction Type.  The design was created by Robin Hillier and then the build managed by a site manager, Geoff Stow, provided by the housing association.  The working week was managed by the self-builders themselves and all the skills they obtained were procured on the job and were predominantly self-taught.

There was enough funding for a single carpenter who guided the self-builders on some of the more technical aspects of the build.

What went right?

  • Community Spirit – this build was an example of an opposite to Nimbyism.  The acronym NIMBY is an American term and stands for Not in My Back Yard.  It stands for the people who want something only as long as it doesn’t impact them.  For example, people are pro affordable housing developments just as long as they aren’t built on their neighbourhood as it may affect their house prices.
  • It feels to me that because each community member is helping to build their neighbours house, they in turn have a vested interest into providing quality with their own work.
  • The self-builders were willing to sacrifice in the short term for longer term gain.
  • The frames of all the buildings were erected within a single day.

What went wrong?

  • Weather conditions during the winter, such as less light and plummeting temperatures made it difficult to stay productive.
  • The self-builders who had children struggled to manage with the existing family commitments at the same time as carrying out the build
  • Very difficult to find the time to do the 30-hour week for single parent families who also have a paid job.  One self-builder quit his job to focus on the build.
  • The time frame of the build was around two and half years.  This equated to a few months per property, but it was a significantly long slog for them all.  It seems clear that during the longer builds the novelty of the build wears off.
  • The funding was stage released which meant that there were times during the build where they needed additional support from external contractors but would not be able to afford them, which lengthened the time of the build.
  • Limited building knowledge led to a perfectionist mentality as nobody knew what was “good enough”.  This meant that jobs took longer because each task was overworked.
  • The limited knowledge in the initial planning stages also meant that they didn’t necessarily understand what they wanted until they saw the building in its erected state.  At which point some people wanted to change their minds on layouts of buildings and structural changes to some walls to include balconies where there weren’t any originally.

The Builders

The ten families were organised into a legally incorporated body called the Diggers Co-operative.  They were relatively green with the majority having zero experience in building trades.

What they all shared though was a primal motivation to provide for themselves even though their resources were low. The opportunity to live in affordable housing in perpetuity was something that drove the self-builders to take on an additional 30-hours a week on top of any existing commitments.

Shelter is one of the points that forms the very foundation of the basic needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  These builders show that humans are willing to spend a lot of energy to ensure we have this basic need met.

I love that this opportunity was created.  Having grown up in a Council House and now being a Homeowner, I know firsthand that if the opportunities are provided to the right people, then they can find their own way up the pyramid and reduce the burden on the Social Care System in the UK.

It isn’t for everyone, and only the tenacious should apply.  But in this instance, those who did have turned the course of direction on their and their families lives.

The virtuous circle of creating a home moves you up the pyramid to provide greater self-esteem and self-worth that then encourages the giving back to the larger community, in turn helping others achieve their basic needs.


Availability bias looked to be apparent in the planning stages again on this build too. This seems to be a regular self-build issue.  It isn’t until the build is underway that the decision process of what they want can be rounded off.  The lack of all the information during the planning stage means that they decide off what is available at the time and not necessarily the best information.  It feels like this bias is amplified in people who are less experienced.

The families went into the project to build a home for themselves and their children, but having the added responsibility also added significant workload to the builders.  This would have been apparent before the project started; however, it seems that inattentional blindness meant that the scale of the work coupled with the childcare burden was overlooked. They got around the issue during the build by creating an on-site creche.

I feel that the opposite of self-assessment bias took place.  It was more as though they felt that they didn’t have any skills, but they had the correct attitude to be able to try anything.  Then eventually they became very good and some even went on to become skilled tradespeople, like electricians and carpenters.

Lessons Learned

– In community builds it is a good idea to set up a creche onsite to relieve the pressure of childcare. #LL/Project_Management
– Maintaining a vision of the finished building can help motivate and inspire you to continue building.  Completely finish one building or room so that this encourages completion of the others. #LL/Inspiration
– Try to get the external building tasks scheduled for the warmer months and the internal building works scheduled for the colder months. #LL/Scheduling
– Try to get financing that is released at the correct stages of the build so that it doesn’t slow down or overburden the project. #LL/Funding
– Understand when a task is completed and don’t over perfect. #LL/Project_Management
– Longer projects require a lot more sweat equity. #LL/Planning
– Get as comfortable with the design as possible, i.e., get a 3D rendering walkthrough and detailed plans, sleep on the decisions made, tinker in the digital world etc.  When building the property, stick with the design as much as possible and don’t change it unless necessary. #LL/Design
– Community led building projects build a relationship with the neighbours before they become neighbours.  It can strengthen bonds and improve the community spirit. #LL/Inspiration
– Community Builds give skills and experience that you can’t get anywhere else. #LL/Inspiration
– Lower rents (financial burdens) allow the occupants to work in more social type vocations after the build which further enhances the larger community. #LL/Inspiration
– Sweat equity is often thought of as a trade of human energy for financial equity.  But in reality, the human energy is stored in the community build and is returned for decades to come. #LL/Inspiration


This is a non-commercial review carried out for the purposes of study in developing an understanding of the requirements of self-build in the UK.

The views and opinions expressed are my own and is not affiliated in any way with Grand Designs.  All information on this page has been gathered from publicly available sources.

The plot/site information was located using Land Registry Data which contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

The lessons learned are derived from my interpretations and observations of a publicly disseminated television episode and are in no way meant to be a substitute to the original.