When a former industrial manufacturing yard in Bristol was put up for sale in 2000, a determined group of locals banded together with a plan to purchase the land and construct quality, self-built houses with neighborhood resources allotted to benefit the community. The result was the creation of the Ashley Vale Action Group (AVAG), which successfully built an estate of unique houses that conform to BREEAM standards. The homes sit alongside play areas and the project even boast a city farm within its boundaries.
The plan for the site was split into three phases; the first construction phase formed a ring of self-built houses around a communal green space. The second phase saw the homes finished with external shells and interior design, and the third phase transformed a disused office block into self-finish flats. The project has taken ten years to complete and a lot of dedication and free labor on the part of those involved, but by 2010, “The Yard” was complete.
During the first phase each self-builder purchased a private plot, and worked within their own time restrictions and budgets. Each house is unique, but constraints were set as to the materials used and the final design so as to ensure that the properties complied with BREEAM regulations. Consequently, all except two of the houses have timber frames constructed from reclaimed wood and lumber from sustainable forests. Many of the homes utilize PV and solar thermal arrays, warmcell insulation, lime render and cedar cladding.
The office block conversion proved particularly successful, winning the REGEN South West Renewable Energy Award for Best Housing Scheme in 2009. On the north side of the building the developers reduced the size of the windows and fitted double glazing to reduce heat loss. The building was completely re-insulated, and two wood pellet boilers were employed as well as solar thermal panels to provide the whole building with hot water and heating. A 2.5 kw photovoltaic array provides all the electricity required. The office block now comprises 6 individual flats, a community centre and office space which are all jointly owned under a commonly held agreement by the community group and the occupants.
Also on site is St Werburghs City Farm, where food is grown all year round for the Yard residents. Residents think the manner in which the estate grew has created stronger bonds between residents. The eco-conscious build has also proven both economical and sustainable, and the green spaces plus the City Farm have kept these city-dwellers connected to the countryside. Here at least, a different ideology has resulted in a different type of home.
Images © Richard Perkins