Q&A with Kevin McCloud on Grand Designs: The Street

Kevin McCloud explains the ideas and inspiration behind the largest self build project in the UK in the brand new series, Grand Designs: The Street.

By Gemma Parkes | 27 March 2019

TV presenter and designer Kevin McCloud reveals the concept and inspiration behind the UK’s biggest self build project. Plus, Kevin talks through his favourite houses from new the brand new series.

Kevin McCloud standing in a field in front of houses featured on Grand Designs: The Street -kevin-mccloud-granddesignsmagazine.com

Image: Fremantle, Boundless, Channel 4

Grand Designs: The Street has been an epic five years in the making. Airing on 4th April 2019 at 9pm on Channel 4, this six-part series, presented by Kevin McCloud, follows the first 10 pioneering households who are building a brand new street from scratch, on what will ultimately be the UK’s largest self-build project.

Kevin explains the ideas and inspirations behind the brand news series, and reveals his favourite houses featured in the project.

How did Grand Designs: The Street come about?

‘I went to The Netherlands on a trip with a bunch of leaders of local councils and politicians in 2010 to look at a large self-build town there, Almere, built on reclaimed land near Amsterdam. The Dutch have always stolen a march on us in terms of housing initiatives. Now, Almere is full of self-built homes, but nine years ago it was already advancing, and I got so excited I had to go and see Channel 4, simply to say ‘it’s amazing what’s happening there, let’s film it’. It was a sort of self-build heaven.

Meanwhile, a small local authority at Bicester, Cherwell District Council, had also been bitten by the Almere bug.  In fact, they wanted to replicate Almere and facilitate Britain’s first self-build and custom-build site on a grand scale. They were negotiating with the MOD to buy an old military site as they wanted to see what it would be like if they invited the general public to build their own homes.  It’s this experiment that we’ve been following for the last 5 years. In the process, we’ve witnessed the first 10 pioneering households build a street of very different homes. But it’s just the start. Ultimately there will be thousands of homes, some social housing, some custom-build as well as self-build. I believe it’s a model that could be copied by local authorities up and down the land.’

Tell us what we can expect from the new series?

‘It’s very people based and it’s very observational. We’re following ten households, all of them from different walks of life, with different budgets and they’re probably at the lower end of what you would expect to see on Grand Designs. These are more accessible projects costing anything from around £200,000 to £400,000, in terms of value, what they’re getting for their money is good architecture and homes that are really tailored to them – all with the lightest of planning!

Our Pioneers are not people with large financial cushions to float on. Building for the first time brings with it a lot of financial, personal and emotional stress – which this series honestly reflects.  Relationships get really tested and some fail.  I suppose we see a lot of that in Grand Designs, but goodness me I’ve never seen it so repeatedly and so intensely, as in this series.  These very different households all took a big risk but ultimately, I think they’ve been rewarded for this, with brilliant very individual homes and a great, wild-looking street – which is a sort-of test bed for self-build construction techniques which I think is just brilliant. No two homes are the same.’

The series highlights how you can achieve your dream home at an affordable budget, but do you think it’s possible to stick to budget and what are your tips to do so?

‘I think two of the households stuck to budget, but self-build is a huge adventure in expression, in architecture, and in terms of discovering what it is that makes us happy and what we like from our environment. People talk about going over budget as if it’s this great cardinal sin, whereas, it usually results as a part of the process because people on the way discover things: on the Street one family wanted a dining room on the first floor, in another household Garrie alters the layout to better suit his wife Sue who’s disabled.

I followed one family, Peter and Anita and their teenagers Sam and Lucy, who already lived close to the site. When I first met them, they were wedged into a modest three-bedroom house, which they had clearly outgrown.  What this project offered them was the opportunity to put that all right. For example, it gave them a larger kitchen, open plan living areas as well as cleverly designed spaces for individuals to retreat to do their own thing. Very important with teenagers –  and unthinkable in their previous home.

They did all this and stuck to budget but towards the end of the project Peter realised, he could put an extra bedroom in the attic, and with their two kids it just seemed an obvious thing to do. Suddenly they were discovering what the process of design is. Sometimes building just takes you somewhere that’s far more exciting than you dreamt it would be.

Building their own family home was also a good opportunity for Peter to work with his 18 year old son Sam. A great bonding experience for them both, although in typical teenage fashion, it will take some decades for Sam to reflect on and appreciate this fully. Financially their story was inspiring, the finished house ended up costing almost half as much as it would cost to buy something similar in the area I think.’