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The UK delegation at a self-build scheme in the dunes of The Hague, Schapenatjesduin.

Visit of UK self-build delegation to NL

On the 18th and 19th of April a delegation of self-build professionals from the United Kingdom visited The Netherlands to see, and be inspired by, self-build schemes in Amsterdam and The Hague. Terraced, semi-detached, detached or developed as apartment blocks, all kinds of variations of self-build were shown.

At each site, Steenvlinder invited some experts, and even its new residents, to show the delegation around and share their experience with their self-build journey. That gave a unique insight for the delegation about the development and organisation of self-build on these sites.

Centrumeiland Amsterdam

A windy start in Amsterdam. Just northwest of the city lies the newly dredged island, Centrumeiland, where 1700 new homes are planned by the City council, of which 70% is to be developed as self-builds. In different forms. 

Centrumeiland resident, self-builder, Jouke Sieswerda gave the group an inspirational and fun tour of the island, explaining all the forms of self-build (self- or co-commissioned) and inviting more than 30 strangers into his CLT self-built home. And can you believe that he and his wife were inspired to build with CLT (and going for high level of sustainability) after watching an episode Grand Designs? 🇬🇧 He apologetically showed us his (fantastic!) low cost kitchen as most of their finances went into the shell of CLT. Well, we were in awe by what they accomplished. A true inspiration!

    Old school, new homes

    In Uithoorn, a village along the river Amstel, just south of Amsterdam, Steenvlinder bought a former schoolbuilding and transformed it into 17 shell apartments. The renovation of the main building began in 2021, replotting the building, adding new external joinery, dormers and utilities. A common or shared space with parking was designed by residents together with Steenvlinder. It contains 3 affordable apartments, family homes and single household homes.

    The residents are now finalising their homes. They all had to design their own layout and decide to complete it themselves or with help of professionals. The delegation was allowed to have a look inside some of the new homes, before classrooms or a gym. Incredible how everyone makes their own decisions and make little palaces for themselves to live in. 

    Murtada, projectmanager at Steenvlinder, showed the delegation 2 of the 3 affordable 'rent-and-buy-later' apartments. The participants were selected by INC, a Steenvlinder foundation for affordable social housing. They were given a budget for all the materials they needed to fix up their shell apartment and turn it into a home. They rent first and after 2 years, they are given a 5 year term to buy their completed home. This gives them a perspective to climb on the property ladder and become homeowners within a couple of years.

      Triangle of self-builds

      In The Hague, in the suburb of Ypenburg, the delegation visited a self-build scheme of 100 plots. The original plan looks simple - a triangle with an outer ring of terraced self-build plots and an inner core of plots for detached self-build homes. On the edges of the triangles, co-commissioned self-build apartment buildings were built.

      The new neighbourhood, with all the self-builds now lined up, is nearly complete. The City council (of The Hague) has started to finalise the public spaces, giving them green spaces, hedges and brick lanes with pedestrian and, of course, cycle paths. Carlo Cornelis was the self-build officer at the City of The Hague at the time, now working for Steenvlinder in The Netherlands. He invited Gerard van der Evert, who set up the 'I build affordable' social housing for this development. A street of 20 homes is now happily occupied by its residents, living in similar sized homes, with own exterior and interior design options. 

        Self-build in the dunes

        Just a 5 minute walk from the beach of Kijkduin (The Hague) lies Schapenatjesduin: a self-build site of around 50 plots. An absolutely idyllic place to build your home. A compact scheme with detached housing around a dune pond, with high grass and natural borders. The gardens are not big but still give enough sense of natural space. Higher up the dune are blocks of terraced homes. From 3 to 6 in a row. 

        The delegation was invited into 3 homes. We thank Carlo Cornelis of Steenvlinder and Taco Pino as resident, for their efforts to arrange the tour on the site. Very enthousiastic self-builders told their stories and showed their unique layouts or building systems. From Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), to having a tree grow in the living room. All the designs were fascinating and their enthusiasm was truly inspiring. Self-builders really build to live in their homes forever. And therefore choosing sustainable ways to do it. 

          Former greenhouse farmland

          A bit further into the woods from Schapenatjesduin, another large self-build scheme was developed, Vroondaal. Erik Faber, Director of Vroondaal, welcomed the delegation, together with Thom Koster, the self-build advisor to the customers. On former greenhouse farmland spacious self-build plots were planned, initially 1000. In the end 400 plots were developed as serviced self-build plots, while the other phases were 'regularly' developed, but with exterior and interior options. A common custom build variant in The Netherlands. In addition, for the regular build, the housetypes on the site were carefully designed per area and within local themes.

          This last stop was a great way to end the two-day tour. The delegation walked around and were able to see a self-build scheme that has now grown into a new fascinating neighbourhood. Not one home is the same, everyone living their dream. The neighbourhood excites and ignites creativitiy and a sense of positivity. Inspired, the delegation packed up to go back home. New ways of self-build should definitely be explored, applied and scaled up in the UK. 

            The trip:

            This trip was organised by The Right to Build Task Force (RtBTF) and hosted by Steenvlinder. The RtBTF was set up by the National Custom and Self-build Association (NaCSBA) and supported by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. 

            They engage with councils across England and in the past year have worked with around 60 Local Planning Authorities. Supported by a panel of expert advisors, their focus is on ensuring custom and self-build statutory duties are carried out efficiently and, ultimately, delivering more high quality and affordable custom and self-build homes.

            The delegation:

            The participants on this trip are all active in the sector of Custom and Self-build. From the Department of Levelling Up Housing and Communities, several Councils in the UK, Homes England or UK's Co-Housing network to architects, developers, mortgage advisors or sustainability experts. Everyone joined the trip to see  examples of self-built communities. How it's done and what the results can look like.

            The trip has created a real opportunity to continue the conversation on self and custom build and build on what they have seen.

            Scaling up

            The self-build schemes in The Netherlands show that self-build really is a unique way of creating strong and vibrant communities. Like Steenvlinder claims, "Proud people, pleasant places". 

            Self-build is not scary and it does not create terrible, incoherent streets. It actually radiates a positive vibe and creates exciting neighbourhoods. People feel a sense of achievement, they have really put in a lot of time and passion into their home. They are there to live. Together with others.

            And self-build can be scaled up. More compact schemes can include self-build plots. Hans Sparreboom, CEO of Steenvlinder UK and host to this delegation: "Every self-built house has its own unique character and appearance, reflecting the identity of the people who created it. The street and the neighbourhood are no longer characterless but have a human face."

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