In fact, a very common approach for community housing in both the UK and Europe is for the group to commission a contractor to undertake the major building works.
For projects which involve high-density urban housing – whether in terraces or apartment blocks – this is especially important as it helps ensure speed, uniformity and quality of construction and is of particular significance in projects that are grant-funded with very strict deadlines for completion. With other self-build group projects, there may be flexibility in the amount of work that each household chooses to do on their own home. Some residents may choose to do the work themselves in order to save money, while others will prefer to project manage contractors, or a bit of both.
What really defines ‘self-build’ is self-determination: the ability to choose who does the work and how it is done.
“Before I got involved with the Ashley Vale project, I had never even put up a shelf before,” says Bristol self-builder Anna Hope.
Fortunately, as part of a group of 20 individuals, couples and families building their homes alongside each other, there were plenty of opportunities to learn the necessary skills. The group clubbed together to bring in experts to train them in building design principles and basic construction techniques and from there, each household chose how much or how little they wanted to be involved in the actual building work.
Some self-build projects actively involve a comprehensive training programme, where self-builders are supported all the way by a dedicated team of professionals. This has the added benefit of developing professional skills that might lead to future employment for the self-builders.
For other projects, the group may prefer to contract out some or all of the building work, meaning that the project can move forward quickly and smoothly and perhaps leaving the residents to do only the finishing touches themselves. Practical construction work isn’t the only useful skill to bring to a project. When working as part of a group there are many other skills that will be invaluable right from the start – such as group facilitation, project management, book-keeping, minute taking, legal expertise, financial expertise, environmental management, architectural design, child minding…