Once again that strange thing happened, that portal to the unknown, television, made it up to York to highlight a pinch of some of the great things which occur here. Grand Designs fronted by the analytically affable Kevin McCloud followed the quirky couple Martin and Kae Walker as they built their agriculturally inspired dream home. The couple are part of the slick Walker & Nicholas architecture firm, which has worked on the only tea room in York with a longer queue than The Willow, Bettys, the equally exclusive Bootham School and The Bonding Warehouse, which remains in the process or regeneration. However, it was their own home that would be the greatest task to date. With two well-heeled, driven and talented individuals with more qualifications and contacts than you can wave a two-by-four at struggling with the ‘self build’ we find ourselves asking; just how manageable is this kind of project?
My Mum is addicted to these shows, and goes on Right Move every day, even Christmas. It’s a real problem. But its benefits include being able to ask her questions about houses in the local area and getting a fairly reliable answer. When I asked her if she knew about any other self build houses in the area she could name a scant few. According to a University of York report we, along with ‘the North-East, North-West and Yorkshire and Humber regions show the lowest level of [self building] activity in England’. But with self building becoming increasingly popular, what is driving the demand?
Kevin McCloud’s face beams from the front of the Self Build Portal, a website designed to help people planning to make their own grand designs a reality. It is actually quite helpful and informative, and slightly exciting, with Forums and Events and everything. It claims self-building is 20-40% cheaper and with average house prices in Yorkshire and Humber at nearly £215 thousand that’s a potential saving of £40-60 thousand. Just about enough to pay for somebody to reattach the hair you’ve lost during the course of the build. Plus you get exactly what you want and you can be confident of knowing the quality.
The vast majority of the building materials used by the Walkers were sourced locally. Indeed, their main contractor and other suppliers were found in the local primary school playground, the parents of their children’s friends. There are many local businesses geared up to help, such as Sustainable Timber Homes, which recently completed the Boundary Close social housing, which passes Passivhaus requirements. Furthermore, with City of York Council’s long term strategy to build 22000 homes in the next 15 years, York’s economy will be increasingly geared up to handle the demands of architects, or even just individuals with dreams as big as houses.
Funnily enough, my family looked at the house featured on grand designs when it was on the market. We bought somewhere else because we thought the house was too close to the A59, and probably too much of a big job. The Self-Build-Portal does touch on these possible problems, most notably, the risk, the hard work and the complexity of the task.
But watching the cathartic journey of a family struggling to build a home, you can’t help but be inspired and envious of the realisation of a vision.