The Hedgehog homes community self-build in Brighton
Brighton's pioneering Hedgehog homes featured in the first ever series of Grand Designs
Back in 1999, Kevin McCloud met a co-operative of 10 families, including former travellers and single parents, who clubbed together to build their own eco-friendly Hedgehog housing in Brighton.
Featured in the first series of Grand Designs in 1999, McCloud described the Brighton Hedgehog Co-op at Hogs Edge, Bevendean, as ‘the ultimate in building democracy’.
The self-build project was funded by Brighton Borough Council and the (then) South London Family Housing Association at a build cost of just £60,000 each. But instead of buying the properties, the deal was that every household would contribute 30 hours of labour per week to the project.
Based on architect Walter Segal’s pioneering model of homes that could be constructed by novices, the Brighton Hedgehog housing scheme took two years to build. The timber-framed homes were designed by Robin Hillier and constructed under the watchful expertise of Geoff Stow, a Segal veteran who provided technical support.
The project is often cited as one of Kevin McCloud’s favourite Grand Designs projects. ‘If Grand Designs represents anything,’ he says, ‘it’s that a house isn’t just a building; it’s an ideal, a dream. These people united to put a roof over their heads, and built a community and future.’
In a column for Grand Designs magazine, McCloud wrote of the scheme: ‘Of all the films we have made, that is the one of which I am most proud. Partly this is because we were able to explore the principles of true affordability and sweat equity, where people on the social-housing waiting list were able to toil to build their own homes in return for an assured tenancy and a reduced rent.
‘Revisiting those homes 12 years later demonstrated something new and less tangible, an outcome of the sweat-equity principle that was less expected. As a result of paying less rent, residents had been able to find more to give. Whether to their own children or to their community through voluntary work – almost every household contributed something.
‘Architecture can empower people, from any walk of life and with whatever means, in remarkable ways a distance learning degree. And all of them have grown, spiritually, through the shared experience of building their own and each others’ homes.
Kevin McCloud returned in 2012 to see whether the houses, and the community that built them, stood the test of time. And they have. Brighton’s Hedgehog houses are still there today – as are the 10 original families.
‘It all confirmed a deep-seated belief that the core architectural process – that of building with your own hands and learning skills as you go – can empower and self-actualise people, from any walk of life and with whatever means, in remarkable ways,’ he said. ‘We have Walter Segal to thank for showing us what architecture can do for us all.’