There will be no such thing as a standard Eco-Hamlet. Each will be uniquely designed to suit the location, resources available, and the people who wish to live there. Many will be inspired by environmental aims, while others can be for people who are not interested in such things, but appreciate the opportunity to save money, although as the criteria for an Eco-Hamlet implies high environmental standards, all will be as “green” as possible, and a big improvement on current norms.
While the main focus of Eco-Hamlets UK is to explore imaginative ways of using “conventional” housing, there is considerable scope for alternatives such as low-impact houses, tiny homes, and sometimes temporary housing. Some sites may be best suited to one of these, while others may create opportunities for a mixture of types, and hybrids of them. Although much of the focus is on the physical appearance of homes, it’s important to remember that it’s the people who live in the homes who really matter. We can’t create a perfect world, but we can try to find the solution that gives every Eco-Hamlet resident the best life that is affordable and practical for them, in the world as it is now.
Eco-Hamlets UK was started with the aim of developing different ways of living in “conventional” houses, by creating a lot of very small settlements, rather than a few large projects. An Eco-Hamlet of as little as three homes could be financed by one or two people, who can afford to own conventional houses, and be completed quickly, without the difficulties and time involved in buying suitable sites and getting planning permission experienced by large eco-village and co-housing projects. By creating sites quickly, and on a scale that is easily achievable, more people may be inspired to emulate them. If we are to prepare our homes and lives for the challenges of climate change, uncertain energy supplies, and economic hardship, we need to provide solutions for many of the 26 million households in Britain. If we just create solutions for a small minority who like the idea of “alternative” lifestyles, the opportunity to make a real difference to UK homes will be lost.
Although not part of the original aims, as at the time Eco-Hamlets UK started, Pembrokeshire was the only place in Britain that had a policy allowing it, low-impact housing needs to be explored. There is now a policy that allows low-impact smallholdings throughout Wales (but not the rest of Britain unfortunately). This policy, known as One Planet Development, also hints at the possibility of low-impact houses where the occupants don’t make a living from the land, although a lot of work is needed to try to make it a reality. If this can be achieved, it opens up new possibilities. There are strict criteria that require residents to achieve, and regularly report to the planners, a very low ecological footprint, and this will not be easy. However, it’s interesting to note that Welsh planning policy expects everyone in Wales to achieve the same ecological footprint target figure within a generation, as the target for a One Planet Development, making low-impact development an important part of developing a way to achieve a policy that will apply to everyone.
A low-impact home will cost a fraction of a conventional house, creating a possibility for truly affordable housing. For someone struggling to afford a conventional home, maybe the opportunity to live cheaply, in return for living a simple life and having to prove it, would be attractive. For others it would be a lifestyle they aspire to. This makes low-impact development something that Eco-Hamlets UK should embrace, and try to make happen.
There is a growing movement in the USA, and other parts of the world, for tiny homes, in response to the growing size and cost of “conventional” housing. These are carefully designed to pack the important elements of a normal home into a very small space. Some have most furniture and fixtures fixed in place, while others have ingenious folding walls and fittings that change the function and appearance of a single space. As with low-impact housing, these are considerably cheaper to own and run than a conventional house, and may appeal to some people purely on the grounds of affordability, as an alternative to struggling to afford a larger home. Many people also aspire to this style of living.
In the USA, many tiny homes are built on trailers, as their building codes set a minimum floor area for houses that is greater than that of a tiny home. The design of tiny homes suitable for the UK needs research, and may well be different to other countries. A tiny home on a trailer designed to comply with mobile home regulations is something that may be worth exploring. Tiny homes are not new to Britain, as many people live, or have lived, in bedsits and small flats, but they have tended to be seen as something to aspire to upsize from, whereas a tiny home can be seen as something to aspire to, for environmental reasons, or just to enjoy a simple life.
Some people choose to live in temporary homes, such as caravans, mobile homes, yurts or benders. While only a tiny minority do this from choice, it’s a lifestyle that suits some people, and may be appropriate in some Eco-Hamlets.