This page is a rather long description of what an Eco-Hamlet could be. Every Eco-Hamlet will be unique, and designed to suit its location and the people who live there, so it’s not easy to write a short and simple definition. On the Buildings and Features page, some possible types of site are described, but it’s certainly not an exhaustive list.
This is a definition of an Eco-Hamlet in its most advanced form. It is influenced by the physical and ownership structures of eco-villages and co-housing, but on a smaller scale. Sites suitable for large projects are extremely difficult to obtain in the UK, which is why there are few of them, so the concept is intended to fit into small sites that are more readily available, and easier to purchase. The small scale is also intended to be less visible and potentially controversial, making it easier to obtain planning permission, and acceptance by neighbours. It is also the intention that where a full Eco-Hamlet is not possible or desirable, the Social Enterprise will assist with creating elements of one with groups of homes, or even single dwellings. The creation of an Eco-Hamlet is not seen as an end in itself, but a means to create and adapt homes to meet the challenges we face in the future. The concept is intended to work on multiple levels, with co-operation within an Eco-Hamlet, between neighbouring Eco-Hamlets, and with the individual homes of neighbours who wish to be to partially or fully involved. An Eco-Hamlet may be a hub for compatible activities in the surrounding area.
A small sustainable neighbourhood of three or more households
Creating a settlement of more than a few homes in the UK is very expensive, and can easily cost £1m or more. Finding suitable sites and obtaining planning permission can be difficult. This makes it hard to raise the money, and makes success less likely. An Eco-Hamlet consisting of 3 or 4 homes could be afforded by one or two people who can afford to own a house, and created in small niches that may be easier to obtain. Once a small site is created, the benefits could radiate out into the local community, and in time neighbours may chose to join in, either fully or partially, creating a larger Eco-Hamlet.
Two homes would just be neighbours co-operating, so three seems a reasonable minimum to meet the criteria. Most “eco-villages” are smaller that many conventional hamlets, so there is no practical upper limit on the size of an Eco-Hamlet. The size is only limited by the amount of money that can be raised. Creating a lot of very small Eco-Hamlets could benefit, directly and indirectly, far more people than just creating a very small number of large ones.
An Eco-Hamlet could consist of houses, flats, bedsits, rooms in a house in multiple occupancy, mobile homes, temporary structures, or any combination. It was originally envisioned as doing interesting things with conventional housing, as these are the buildings that the vast majority of people in the UK live in. If we are to make any significant difference to the effects of climate change, resource depletion and financial difficulties, we need to create homes that could inspire large numbers of people to adapt their lifestyles. However, low-impact housing, temporary structures, tiny homes and other “niche” concepts are also valuable, as they can help to develop new ideas that can be absorbed into the mainstream, as well as providing affordable housing options, and being a lifestyle choice for some people.
Inspired by Permaculture, Transition and Co-housing
Following the permaculture design process, and the ethics and principles, provides a framework for creating sustainable neighbourhoods that considers the wider environment, and focuses on the needs of residents.
An Eco-Hamlet is far too small to be self-sufficient, even if that were desirable, so it’s important that strong connections are made with the wider local community. This is to help provide the day to day needs of the Eco-Hamlet, and create long term resilience, and also to benefit the surrounding community.
Co-housing provides residents with independence and privacy when they want it, and all the financial, community and ecological benefits of sharing and minimising resource use.
Each household lives in a self contained space, where they can survive independently of their neighbours
This is one of the ideas behind co-housing, where residents have the benefits of their own front door and self-contained home, where they can shut themselves off from their neighbours when required. By having access to shared facilities however, they can have less, and simpler, facilities in their home, thus saving space and cost. For example, they may have a smaller, less well equipped, kitchen that is suitable for everyday use, as for occasions when they need more facilities they can book time in a large very well equipped shared kitchen. Each resident is likely to have a private garden too.
For people renting a room in a shared house, their room could be designed in such a way that it is more self-contained than in a conventional HMO, using techniques developed by tiny house dwellers, and they could be allocated a private garden area. This could create a real home, rather than just feeling like an intruder in someone else’s house, and make it easier to have pets.
As many facilities as practical are shared between residents
Another major feature of co-housing is having shared facilities. The number and type of facilities shared will depend on the size and nature of each Eco-Hamlet, as well as the preferences of residents. Most Eco-Hamlets are likely to be too small to fit the strict definition of co-housing, but it is still a valid concept.
Possible shared facilities include: Businesses, Composting, Farm Animals, Food Growing, Guest Bedrooms, Laundry Facilities, Offices, Renewable Energy, Social Space, Land, Tools, Vehicles, Woodland and Workshops. What could be shared is limited only by imagination, the willingness of residents to let go of “stuff” and the physical limitations of the site, although going too far could turn it into a commune, rather than an Eco-Hamlet!
The site is owned in such a way that parts of it cannot be disposed of separately, and the residents have control of, or a major stake in, the ownership
As an Eco-Hamlet only works where some space and facilities are shared, it is necessary for ownership to be set up in a way that prevents it being broken up. In order to appeal to the greatest number of people, it makes sense to use legal structures that are familiar to people in most cases, although some groups may choose more alternative models.
A simple example would be that the site is owned by a limited company, that all the residents are shareholders in, and each resident owns the leasehold of their house. So the residents collectively control the freehold, avoiding the problems that can occur with conventional leasehold houses. There are legal structures for ownership of blocks of flats that may be suitable.
Other options include housing co-ops and community land trusts. Partial ownership by an outside body, perhaps associated with Eco-Hamlets UK, may also be worth considering.
Each home is leased, rented, or tied to the site in some other way, that gives residents a feeling of ownership, while maintaining the integrity of the site
With the site owned collectively to keep it together, it is not possible for the freehold of a home to be owned directly (although residents own it indirectly). For owner occupiers, this means they would buy the leasehold. Some homes may be owned individually or jointly, and available to rent. By having control of the whole Eco-Hamlet, there is no reason why residents shouldn’t have novel ways of managing ownership, as long as they are legal. A long term tenant may be able to turn their rent into part ownership after an agreed number of years, gardens may be adjusted in size as residents needs and abilities change, and people may even swap houses at different stages of their life. All these things could benefit people, but wouldn’t be possible with conventional housing.
Residents themselves may not necessarily be “green” minded, but the site is created and maintained using permaculture ethics and principles for efficiency and sustainability
The Eco-Hamlet concept evolved from various forms of housing designed for environmental reasons, but is equally valid for people who are not “green” minded. As a small organisation it is not possible to change the housing market, but we could do things that could make it a little less expensive, and provide options that make life better for some people than any of the conventional options available. With the current financial situation making life difficult for people on low incomes, many may be attracted by a concept designed for people rather than profit, although to be sustainable it must be financially viable.
As well as designing for ecological benefits, permaculture can be used to make systems efficient and usable in the long term. So applying permaculture design to an Eco-Hamlet to be lived in by people who are not “green”, could both benefit the residents, and make a contribution to a more sustainable future.