Protohome, a Newcastle-based project showcasing a model for untrained self-builders closes at the end of the month. A collaboration between Crisis, Xsite Architecture and Tilt Artistic Services, the project had full support from Newcastle City Council and is part of a research project by artist Julia Heslop.
The concept behind the project was to bring together a group of unskilled individuals with experience of homelessness, supported by an architect and joiner. Together the group created a timber-frame building for self build using the Segal method, designed with untrained individuals in mind building their skills base as they progressed.
Protohome was built on site in Newcastle Upon Tyne, where it’s become the centre for a programme of events and exhibitions that focus on the crisis in housing, with a particular focus on the decline in social housing and its relationship to homelessness.
“The north east has specific problems, both in terms of economic/industrial policy, such as unemployment, and housing. Protohome is about linking these two areas up,” said Heslop.
“We wanted to address unemployment and rising homelessness through participation in the design and build process of housing. The project offers a model that helps people gain qualifications and get into jobs, while at the same time creating more sustainable communities. This is based on the premise that if you have a hand in designing and building your neighbourhood, then you’re more ‘invested’ in the place and are therefore more willing to look after it.”
Protohome has collaborated with Newcastle City Council and Gateshead Council, which has run self build workshops in the space attended by planners, property professionals and architects – using the feedback to expand its knowledge while examining the issues and opportunities locally.
“Being able to evidence the social impact of a self-help housing project is extremely important in terms of getting funding and making projects replicable,” says Heslop. “We need to get better at articulating how social impact can lead to economic impact for a region. Effectively, helping people with qualifications, getting them into jobs or training and getting them off the streets inevitably leads to economic benefits.
“But how we evidence and trace this is the key question in order to properly make a case for these types of projects, particularly in a time of squeezed budgets. So in a sense it’s also about local authorities taking risks as well.”
It never ceases to amaze me how involvement in self and custom build has benefits for communities, and never more so than grass roots projects such as group self build and cohousing. Protohome has disseminated a message locally about community enfranchisement and social equity that goes beyond affordable housing per se. Projects like this have a holistic ethos that allows for personal development and employment opportunities. Why aren’t we seeing more such showcases across the country?