The Future is LILAC


Talk about housing cooperatives and some people think of hippy communes or the 70’s BBC comedy The Good Life with Tom and Barbara turning their garden into a farm complete with chickens and a goat.

When we set up LILAC (Low Impact Living Affordable Community) it wasn’t about escaping from modern life but living sustainably. Like-minded group of people coming together with vision and passion; demonstrating how ordinary people can build their own affordable, ecological community. Together we created an award winning and first ecological, affordable cohousing co-operative in the UK (and possibly the world) based right here in Leeds.

After six years of planning and hard work, it was completed in March 2013, the £3M project involves 20 homes (6 x1 bed, 6 x2 bed, 6 x3 bed, 2 x4 bed) and a common house. LILAC is a member-led, not-for-profit organisation, and I am one of the cofounders and current residents.

A small group of us got together and developed clear values that motivated and guided us along the way. These included: sustainability, co-operativism, equality, social justice and self-management. We were driven by concerns over the need

SDP2342-0387to respond to climate change and energy scarcity, the limits of the ‘business as usual’ model of pro-growth economics and the need to develop resources so that communities can determine and manage their own land and resources.

In a nutshell, LILAC responds to three key challenges of our age:

  1. Committed to tackling climate change:to do our bit in Leeds, we explored what low impact living could mean in practice, in terms of using high performance building techniques and natural materials to deliver buildings to the highest ecological standards. LILAC chose a prefabricated strawbale and engineered timber system called Modcell for the construction of the houses. Modcell was chosen due to the huge environmental benefits of using natural building materials. As carbon is stored and then locked up in natural materials a typical strawbale house actually sequesters 50 tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime. To meet CSH (Code for Sustainable Homes) 4 and provide the space and water heating needs of the community, small solar PV array and Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) units were used as well as high efficiency gas boilers with solar thermal water heating units. Our take on low Impact living is about much more than just the building fabric though. LILAC aims to reduce the overall ecological footprint of the neighbourhood through positively changing the way the residents live and interact through community agreements which outline the ways in which they use communal resources and open spaces.
  1. A new affordability model: we developed a response to the affordability crisis through pioneering a new model in the form of a Mutual Home Ownership Society (MHOS) – an equity based leaseholder scheme that guarantees affordability in perpetuity for its members. The houses are not bought or rented. But members are assigned equity and acquire it through a monthly charge. The cost of buying the land and building the homes owned by the MHOS and financed by the mortgage is divided into equity shares. Each equity share is owned by a member and financed by the payments members make each month, which is equivalent to 35% of their net household income. Members take back some of the equity they have paid when they leave, after deductions for depreciation, maintenance and loan interest. Members have to sign up to a lease and various community agreements which cover aspects of community life such as pets, car use and working at home. This has been the aspect of LILAC that is really caught people’s imagination, as it is a direct intervention in a housing market that is out of control.
  1. A pioneer of community living:drawing on the cohousing principles of design. Cohousing is an established method of building affordable housing communities and neighbourhoods. There are hundreds in Denmark and North America, and a small and growing number in the UK. The key principles are:

– Participatory member-led process that responds to local needs and skills of the wider community

– Site layout and design that intentionally foster community interaction, wellbeing, safety, natural surveillance and inter-generational support, and purposeful reduction and separation of car use.

 Using this design approach,

?????LILAC’s design is based around a car free home zone, with only 0.5 car parking spaces per home. This has been reached through a mixture of car-pooling, sharing and potential car club.

The LILAC project is now full, and we have a healthy waiting list which is testimony to the broad desire in Leeds for people to live differently. LILAC holds regular tours so check out for planned dates. LILAC has teamed up with other innovative housing providers across the city to launch a new umbrella organisation called Leeds Community Homes which aims to develop up to 1,000 community-led homes across the city over the next 10 years. A public launch of Leeds Community Homes will happen in late 2015.


Paul Chatterton is a writer, researcher and campaigner. He is currently Reader in ‘Cities and Social Change’ in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds where he co-founded the ‘Cities and Social Justice’ Paul ChattertonResearch Cluster and MA in ‘Activism and Social Change’. He is currently Director of the University’s Sustainable Cities Group. He has written extensively on urban change and renewal, civic experimentation and movements for social and ecological justice. He is co-founder of the public charity ‘Antipode’ dedicated to research and scholarship in radical geography and an associate editor of the journal ‘City’. Paul is also co-founder, first secretary and resident of the pioneering and award winning Leeds based low impact housing co-operative LILAC (

All his work can be found at His new book just published on the LILAC project in 2015 with Routledge titled ‘Low Impact Living a Field Guide to Ecological, Affordable Community Building’ is available at (20% off with code DC361). The book launch will take place on Thursday 16 April 7-10pm at the LILAC Grove Common House. Copies of the book with a 30% discount will be available on the night Drinks and food will be provided. Book here via eventbrite.

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