I was homeless on the streets but now I’m living in a new home built in somebody’s back garden

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A Bristol based charity building ilow-carbon ‘micro homes’ in council house back gardens as a way to beat Britain’s housing crisis

A man who was homeless and living on the streets is now living in a brand new home built in the back garden of a Bristol house.

Former bricklayer John Bennet, 58, experienced homelessness after splitting from his wife, but he has moved into a brand new one-bedroom house under a pioneering scheme where carbon-neutral homes are built in people’s back gardens.

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Council tenant, Bill Kelly, 57, was struggling to maintain his large garden due to ill health so he opted in to transfer part of his garden to We Can Make, a Bristol based charity building low-carbon ‘micro homes’ in council house back gardens as a way to beat Britain’s housing crisis.

Built using wood chip boxes, John’s new home is one of two houses built by We Can Make in Knowle West.

John said: “We’re literally building our community from the bottom up. It’s giving people different choices, better choices, about how things can be. We are the pioneers.

“No one’s ever tried to do this before. Hopefully what we’ve done is make it easier for everyone else who comes after. This could be the future for a lot more people like me.”

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The other pioneering home belongs to Toni Gray, a young mum who had been living in overcrowded conditions with her daughter at her parents’ council house.

They desperately needed more space, but found it “impossible” to find anything affordable, so Toni’s parents opted-in to using part of their back garden to help.

Toni now lives in a new two-bedroom home in her parents’ garden, built by We Can Make.

Melissa Mean, director of We Can Make, said: “The UK seems permanently stuck in a housing crisis. Instead of relying on big commercial developers to fix a problem they helped create, WeCanMake shows another way is possible – about what can happen when the power and resources to make good homes are put in community hands.

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The build crew who built a new house for a homeless man under a pioneering scheme where carbon-neutral homes are built in people’s back gardensThe build crew who built a new house for a homeless man under a pioneering scheme where carbon-neutral homes are built in people’s back gardens
The build crew who built a new house for a homeless man under a pioneering scheme where carbon-neutral homes are built in people’s back gardens | Ibolya Feher / We Can Make / SW

“Our two homes in Knowle West are just the start. Our toolkit for unlocking micro-sites through community-led opt-in densification is designed so other neighbourhoods can use it. Imagine 33,000 new affordable homes across the country – all inserted exactly where people need them most – helping elders to downsize, and ease pressure on overcrowded families.

“It opens up a new way to scale with real impact, one where communities are in control.”

The community-led housing land trust has recently had their plans for Knowle West council estate in Bristol, officially approved by Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), Michael Gove.

The new home has slotted into the back garden of the council house in Knowle WestThe new home has slotted into the back garden of the council house in Knowle West
The new home has slotted into the back garden of the council house in Knowle West | Ibolya Feher / We Can Make / SW

This means 150 additional homes can be built across the site alongside the two already built - representing a three percent uplift in properties on the 5,000 home-estate.

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Cllr Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Housing Bristol City Council: “As a council, Bristol recognises that we need to go beyond ‘business as usual’ in order to tackle the housing crisis.

“We Can Make offers an innovative and additional way to unlock land and deliver high quality, affordable homes where people need them most. We think it is an approach that can scale-up, both in Bristol and in helping set a new model for estate regeneration across the UK.”

The charity estimates that its scalable model for building homes in existing council sites could result in a further 33,000 affordable homes being built across England - creating a real solution to Britain’s housing crisis.

A bird’s eye view of John’s new home in a back garden in Knowle WestA bird’s eye view of John’s new home in a back garden in Knowle West
A bird’s eye view of John’s new home in a back garden in Knowle West | We Can Make / SWNS

The low-carbon homes are made from woodchip building blocks, which can be slotted together on site.

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Jonathan Lewis, programme manager at the Nationwide Foundation said: “To combat the housing crisis, we need innovation and flexibility. We’re proud to fund and support WeCanMake.

“Often, projects that test completely new solutions are seen as a risk the first time they’re tried. We’re confident that the homes in Knowle West, and the people living in them, are tangible proof that this model works.

“The next step is to shout about what has been achieved and take the learning to other areas so that more affordable, decent homes can be created for and by local communities.”

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