The UK faces a number of housing challenges, including those related to climate change, resource use, affordability, and a variety of social issues. To address these challenges, the concept of creating small “intentional neighbourhoods” known as Eco-Hamlets has been devised, where residents have their own private home, but also benefit from co-operation with their neighbours, and sharing of some facilities. This is intended to reduce the cost of owning or renting a home, cut running costs, and increase the welfare, well-being and happiness of residents. Eco-Hamlets are intended to be integrated into the wider community, not isolated from it. Rather than being a niche idea for a few alternative minded people, the aim is to show everyone that there are ways to live a better, sustainable, more affordable and happier life, and inspire and help anyone who wishes to adopt some or all of these ideas. A long term goal is that everyone in the UK who chooses to, is able to live this way.
The most important element of an Eco-Hamlet is people, but the most obvious will be the homes they live in, and to a lesser degree how they live in them. We need to change the way we design, build and use our homes, to benefit people rather than to maximise profits, and adapt them to a changing world. One size fits all housing is not suitable for this purpose, and we need to build and adapt homes to suit their location, the resources available, and the needs of the people who live in them. The vast majority of the homes we have to work with already exist, so this needs to be a solution that works mainly with “conventional” housing, but there are alternative types of housing that offer appropriate solutions for some people, and bring new and inspiring ideas that can be incorporated into mainstream buildings. The aim is to also work with low-impact development, tiny homes, temporary and mobile homes, and any other form of housing that can provide adequate and comfortable shelter.
Eco-Hamlets UK was formed as a volunteer run community group in 2009, to bring people together and help them to create Eco-Hamlets across the UK. It excited a lot of interest, but was unable to make much progress due to lack of resources. It was felt that a community group was the most desirable way to find and inspire people, but there was always an awareness that actually creating Eco-Hamlets would be very expensive.
A Social Enterprise is now being set up to take on the work started by Eco-Hamlets UK, to expand on it, and to employ people to run it successfully, by generating income from working in any area of creating and maintaining sustainable homes that we have the capacity for. It is intended to be a UK wide operation that works with locally based businesses, and helps to form new ones where needed. As an innovative business, we initially need to operate wherever we find opportunities, so working nationally is appropriate, at least at the start. The business will start on a small scale, but is intended to be able to operate at any size. It may remain small, and have a useful but limited impact, or if the right people get involved and opportunities arise, it could grow to make a real difference to many people’s lives.
The Social Enterprise is intended to exist to do good, and not for the purpose of making money. However being financially viable, resilient and sustainable is a necessity, so making profits to invest in doing good, and strong financial management, is vital. Non financial yields, that make life better for ordinary people are, however the reason for its existence. It is hoped that being properly financed, with the potential to work on a much larger scale, will allow the organisation to bring real social benefits to a wide cross-section of people, rather than the limited scope of the original voluntary group.