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Architecture World

Andy Winter and I were recently approached by Gail Taylor, a freelance writer for World Architecture News who is writing a piece on the subject of shipping container accommodation for the homeless.

Here is what Andy (AW) and I (RG) had to say in response to Gail’s questions


Do you have any general updates on Richardson’s Yard and how things are going?

RG “The general update is very positive. The scheme has been well received within the local community. Satisfaction amongst residents is high. There is a survey available on our website. A follow up has been carried out but results have not been proceed yet.”

Have any community activities among residents, such as gardening, taken off as yet?

RG” Yes, the food growing initiative is well under way and thanks to support from the Brighton & Hove Estates Agents Association and excellent work from both Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) and Harvest will continue into 2016. This has been a nice success story so far. It has maintained a good external appearance of the site and has engaged a core group of residents in growing their own food and critically eating and enjoying it.

In September we held the first pick and eat event which was attended by 11 residents who clearly enjoyed the chance to gather in a different social situation. The menu included Spanish Omelette using potatoes and herbs grown on site, blueberry pancakes (imported blueberries but there are young blueberry bushes on site) and a selection of pestos from herbs grown on site and nuts brought in. Several expressed their hope that this would become a regular event – work has started on another pick and eat for next year and other alternatives such as a lunch club.”

Last winter it seems that heating (and cost of heating) was an issue for some residents. With winter almost upon us again, what measures have you put in place to avoid similar potential problems this year?

RG “Electrical heating is more expensive than other fuel forms there is no avoiding this. During the year the price of electricity to residents has been reviewed by BHT and reduced. Additional functionality available on the meter in each flat such as summer/winter and day/night rates is being looked at.

It was also to some extent a shock to many residents the cost of heating and servicing a property, as many residents have come from shared or HMO accommodation where they were not responsible for paying their own bills. Tenants being responsible for their own bills was something BHT was keen to ensure from the start, preparing tenants to move on into their own home is part of this initiative.

In terms of measures in place BHT has an excellent support network for residential tenancies, which clients have access to as well as their own property manager.

From our point of view as the developer post occupancy monitoring has been put in place and the data is being collected for full review early next year. Data on energy consumption, internal and external temperature and humidity as well as internal CO2 levels to determine ventilation levels will help inform the debate on this type of housing.”

Are residents generally coping well with keeping up with their rent? Do people find it fair/manageable?

AW “We are experiencing some rent arrears, but lower than in other developments. The arrears are due largely to welfare reform – the odd residents having had their benefits sanctioned and housing benefit payments being temporarily suspended – and the transition into work for some of our residents. The level of arrears are within the scenarios we scoped prior to opening”

Who was the architect on the Richardson’s Yard scheme (or did QED design in-house)?

RG “A large amount of the initial design and concept work was carried out in house at QED. We used RIBA practice WCEC Architecture [] to help us develop our initial concept and plans into something that could be submitted for planning. “

What inspired the idea for using containers in this way at Richardson’s Yard?

RG “We had been exploring off site / modular construction methods to provide demountable accommodation for a while. We have close links to BHT and were very aware of their acute need for studio style accommodation.

Shipping containers came out as the only product we could sensibly work with given the timescales we were talking about – 3-7 years of deployment on site. The key benefits being abundant supply of low cost building blocks, portability, their ability to be stacked and the flexibility particularly in terms of transport, they offer in terms of re-use once a project has run its course.

The inspiration came from visiting Amsterdam where there are a whole host of temporary buildings built from shipping containers, building containers and other forms of modular construction.”

Have other successful container accommodation schemes for the homeless around the globe inspired you? If so, which ones, and in what way?

“A lot of the projects and work carried out in Amsterdam is really inspiring all be it they are often only indirectly related to homelessness [in a sense that they provide homes generally not specifically]. It is great to see so many creative projects and ideas (not necessarily just containers) being put forward to solve what has become a huge issue – some will be very successful and go on others won’t – we are surely only to solve the very serious issues of homelessness by trying new approaches, building things, tinkering with them and learning from them. I find the creativity behind ideas such as vertical campsites in Marseille and creating homes behind advertising hoardings in the US very inspiring. “

Is Brighton Housing Trust planning any similar schemes in or around Brighton for the future?

RG “Yes, QED is just finishing off a second scheme (again using containers as the building block) on the vacant land adjacent to our development at Richardsons Yard, this will provide a community breakout / management facility for BHT as well as around 100 square meters of small business space for Brighton’s artists, creative businesses and start ups.

One project that is really exciting at the moment is the proposals, which we (BHT & QED) made for funding bid to find 9 residents to build their own home (and in the process developing skills and trades plumbing / carpentry / site management etc to help them back into employment) using containers as the building blocks.

We have recently found out that we did not receive the funding (not helping enough people apparently) but we (QED & BHT), but are continuing to work up the project and are confident proving land is found that we can deliver much more than just the much needed affordable accommodation units within Brighton & Hove.”

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