Lewisham targets housing crisis with pop-up village

Source: Public Sector Executive Feb/Mar 2015

Jeff Endean, manager of Lewisham Council’s Housing Matters programme, explains how the local authority is aiming to tackle the borough’s housing crisis through innovation.

Over the last 18 months, Lewisham Council has had a ten-fold increase in the number of families placed in temporary accommodation to nearly 600, costing nearly £3m.

A recent report to the council’s mayor and cabinet highlighted that, like all London boroughs, Lewisham is facing very high levels of demand for emergency housing for homeless households.

The council is responding to demand by exploring a short-term flexible housing development, which could be of national importance.

On the site of the former Ladywell Leisure Centre, which was demolished in 2014 and remains vacant pending development, the council is proposing, in collaboration with internationally-renowned architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), to build an innovative ‘pop-up’ village.

The proposed development, which would be one of the first pop-up villages in the UK, would provide temporary homes for 24 families and space for community and business use.

Jeff Endean, manager of Lewisham Council’s Housing Matters programme, told PSE: “We’d seen the ‘pop-up’ house that RSHP put up at the Royal Academy about 18 months ago, which went up and was taken down in 24 hours.

“This was using a slightly different technology to what we might use, but the idea is the same.”

Using volumetric technology in its construction, the pop-up village can be built faster and cheaper than if traditional methods are used.

Sir Steve Bullock, mayor of Lewisham, said this type of housing can be delivered for two-thirds of the cost, and in two-thirds of the time, compared with a building constructed using traditional methodology.

Moveable object

In addition to being built quickly, the finished structure is fully demountable, meaning it could be used over a number of years and in different locations across the borough.

“Most people won’t have a use for housing that moves, but we do because we’re always likely to have vacant sites – as we’re a large landholder,” said Endean.

“There is also always going to be some sort of regeneration work going on somewhere in the borough and we’re always going to have pressure on housing – well into the foreseeable future. This doesn’t look like it is going to get any better anytime soon.”

Under the current proposals, the temporary scheme would be procured for a maximum budget of £4.3m and be on site for between one to four years, with the first residential units potentially occupied by late summer 2015.

All the units exceed the current space standard requirements by 10%, helping the council to meet an existing shortfall in both high-quality temporary and two-bed accommodation whilst it develops new build and estate regeneration programmes for the Ladywell site and others.

Endean added: “The structure would take 24 families out of B&Bs immediately, and if we assumed that everyone got an average stay of a year, during the four years, before they found something else then that’s nearly 100 families we’ve helped house.

“We think we can get it built for around £4.3m, and the thing is, it isn’t just 24 residential units – there’s eight ground-floor non-residential units. At the moment this location is not ‘high street’ and won’t generate much retail, so we can be innovative with what we want to do with the ground floor.”


The local authority is looking for creative uses of the ground floor for retail, commercial and civic use. PSE was also told that the council is working with partners, and is close to getting funding from the Greater London Authority, to develop an enterprise hub.

“There is one in King’s Cross, which is called an innovation hub, where businesses can start-up from,” said Endean. “If you’re a home worker or self-employed you can hire a desk there. We think that it could support 75-80 jobs, and that is just in one quarter of the ground floor.

“For the remaining three-quarters of it, we’re going to talk to various people about pop-up regenerative uses.”

Lewisham Council has an established programme of regeneration schemes across the borough, involving a process of re-housing tenants and buying properties from homeowners to enable demolition of existing stock and new homes and neighbourhoods to be built.

Asked about the long-term future of the pop-up village, and potentially re-locating it, Endean said that the cost of moving it isn’t as expensive as originally thought.

“We think the whole thing can be moved quite easily and even the foundations, it looks like, could be moved and dropped somewhere else,” he said.

“We don’t yet know, exactly, how we want to move it. It’s so flexible. However, we’ve costed in one move, and we’re assuming that the savings from the B&B expenditure means that it pays for itself within about eight years – from the money we can rent the properties for, what we might get from the commercial units and less what it would cost to move it once in eight years.”

Proof of concept

Endean noted that a lot of the work in relation to the pop-up village is still at the ‘proof of concept’ stage, but the council has an opportunity to “innovate”.

“The right way to do it with this [the pop-up village] is to do some research and development for the market,” he said. “The market wouldn’t do this itself, but because of our circumstances we would. So we might as well try to find a way to maximise the benefit of our research. So, hopefully, what we do can lead on to other people taking the idea and proving it further.

PSE was told that Lewisham is undertaking a wide-range of projects to tackle the housing crisis in the borough, and the Ladywell development fits neatly into this.

“We have Housing Matters, which has evolved into a lot of different things,” said Endean. “We have a new homes programme, where we will be building 500 permanent homes over the next four years. We’re also building new specialist older people’s housing. We have three new extra-care schemes that will be live and open within two-and-a-half years from now. There’s a lot of investment going into permanent new builds.

“We’re also trying to tackle the homelessness crisis in a range of ways, as we’re purchasing properties to convert them into temporary accommodation. This project fits into delivering good standard emergency accommodation.”

Lewisham’s mayor Sir Steve Bullock added that the scheme may offer a solution to an all-too-common problem that plagues many development sites, which often sit unused while complex regeneration plans are put together. “When we have thousands of people on our housing waiting list and are paying out for expensive B&B stays, that is a terrible waste,” he said. “We are also showing with this partnership with RSHP that we can achieve real quality and value for money.”

As PSE went to press, Lewisham Council was submitting its pop-up village proposals for planning approval at the end of January. And with regards to the long-term future of the Ladywell site, the local authority said there will be consultation with local residents and the wider public before any decisions are made.


The first Homeshell was constructed in the Royal Academy’s Annenberg Courtyard, to coincide with the ‘Richard Rogers RA: Inside Out’ exhibition, but also to provoke debate about how architectural and construction innovation together might help us meet the UK’s housing needs.

This three-and-half-storey building arrives as flat-pack panels on one truck and will take only 24 hours to assemble on site. Homeshell is constructed using a building system called Insulshell, developed by Sheffield Insulations Group (SIG) and Coxbench. This system is so flexible that it can be used for many building types, from homes, apartments and schools to factories and health centres.

Examples of this approach can be seen in RSHP’s housing project at Oxley Woods in Milton Keynes, but the design has now been developed further by RSHP, while SIG has improved the properties of the system to make it even more energy efficient, sustainable and flexible. The Olympic Velodrome at London 2012 was also constructed using this method.

Homeshell can be adapted to suit any location and is particularly good for difficult, highly urban or small sites, including those where weight might be an issue (such as above underground tunnels or bridges). By enabling more urban brownfield sites to be developed, more homes can be created that can utilise existing transport and infrastructure links, instead of encroaching on the green belt.

The speed of construction means that Homeshell causes limited disruption, mess and noise on site, making it a very neighbourly approach for retrofitting and extension projects in urban areas. Fast and efficient extensions to schools can be built, or new homes on small infill sites, which might have many existing neighbours. Six storey (24-apartment) buildings can be erected in under a month. There is an urgent need for more housing in the UK and this system allows us to meet this need far faster than by traditional methods.

…There are currently 32,400 hectares of vacant brownfield land in England, some of which may have plans for future development (say in the next 10 years) but in the meantime could provide homes in urban areas that are already well connected to both transport links and job opportunities.

Source: RSHP

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