Building inclusive communities

A later project, undertaken under the auspices of a housing co-operative in London, was to be part of an experiment in urban community living. In this case, a purpose-built, 14-bedroom house in which lived a rich mix of people – adults and children – some with obvious special needs (learning disability, history of mental illness) some with less obvious needs (emotional fragility, rootless-ness) and some with few discernible needs (beyond the need to live beyond the limitations of a nuclear family).

This project baffled those who funded it since it was not a housing scheme with a single discernible purpose and since there were no paid residential staff. But fund it they did, in those days there was enough money allocated to social housing for slightly mad ideas to be given a chance to be taken seriously.

It also baffled the architects because we insisted on spending huge sums on soundproofing and resisted to the end the idea of having a dishwasher. Our arguments were that on the one hand in a household where residents had very different sleeping patterns, it was vital that everyone could get a quiet night’s sleep and on the other hand, washing dishes was something that all residents could join in with and would rapidly become an important social activity binding the residents together.

Nearly 30 years later, this house is still going strong. Some residents have been there the whole time – giving the place stability and a continued sense of purpose – others have moved through, their lives indelibly changed and, in many cases, with a lasting sense of gratitude for a place that suited their needs so well at a particular time.