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Ashley Vale, Bristol

a view round the central village green

from left to right – individual houses, the communal village green area, bungalows, the terrace of houses and, (bright red), the flats above the workshops and community centre. This is one of the most interesting recent examples of group selfbuild in the UK, not only because of its commitment to green values but also because of the way it started, the variety of types of buildings, the extensive community involvement and the effort made to incorporate affordable housing.

It also includes several collective initiatives such as a ‘village green’, a community centre, a shared landscaping commitment and a (hard to define) inclusion of the skills and supportive efforts of many people who are closely associated with the place but don’t actually live there.

For instance one of the directors of the group, Mike Harvey, a close neighbour though not one of the self builders, has taken on an interesting role as a visioner, coordinator, designer and builder for the group. Various other people have been very supportive to the group such as the father of one of the self builders who is a retired sewage engineer with a broad experience in mechanical services. He has advised and helped with the infrastructure servicing of the site which had all to take place above the enormous existing concrete slab covering the site. (see more on this below)

the building site before work began

the building site before work began

In the late 1990s a site, which had previously been a yard owned by a scaffold supply company was about to be bought by one of the volume house builder. A group of 7 or 8 locals wanted something a bit more ‘home grown’ to happen, something better in terms of housing and mixed use in the community. They got together and lobbied the council and succeeded in preventing the impending development. They then held a ‘planning for real’ day which attracted good local participation.

Group purchase of land

Following this the group which formed, raised the money, by means of individual mortgages, to buy the site with the financial help of the Redland Housing Association, with the intention of the housing association incorporating some affordable housing for the elderly. They made an offer with a view to buying the site and then succeeded in obtaining planning permission, to a large extent because of the strong support by people in the area and around the town.

They formed a not-for-profit limited company and the self builders formed their own group which consisted of members wanting to build four houses in a terrace, four semis, about fourteen individual houses (and eventually convert an existing building on the site to workshops, flats and a community centre). The intention was that Redland Housing association would come in to build half a dozen old people’s bungalows in the centre of the area.

As the time approached when the land transaction had to be completed there was a certain amount of drama as some people dropped out and others came in but on the actual day of completion of the sale all the purchasers with their respective solicitors met in a room with the vendor and their solicitor and the deal was done.

Unfortunately a major glitch soon occured when Redland Housing Association was placed under supervision by the Housing Corporation because of management problems and it backed out of the commitment to build the bungalows and eventually the Ashley Vale group bought the land back from them, but not before the land had (apparently by law) to be offered to every housing association in Bristol – a process taking two years! Finally the bungalows were offered for sale on the open market to recoup the land value.

Finally, through the help of a local benefactor and a bank loan, the bungalows were built to a ‘complete shell’  stage so that purchasers could then finish them internally to their own requirements. Meanwhile the self build side was progressing well with a variety of interesting designs built to a very high, but not outstanding, ecological standard (except probably the house by Jackson Moulding and Anna, and Jimmy’s house which do show a deep commitment to green design values).

There is an excellent account of the processes the group went through to achieve their aims.

the finished bungalows

the finished bungalows

The office block which came with the site when they bought it is  being converted into four flats plus two rooftop studio flats, three small workshops and a community centre which will be used not only for the benefit of the group but also to promote a wider range of cultural activities in the area. Heating by a wood pellet boiler.

the block after upgrading, including external insulation

the block after upgrading, including external insulation

The site itself was a challenge because the enormous existing concrete slab covers ground which is contaminated by previous industrial uses and it was a condition that it should not be disturbed. It was left in place and everything, including services was placed on top of it. Because of its limited strength this meant that traditional masonry construction could not be used. Hence the number of timber frame houses. See part A of the Approved Documents in the Building Regulations which deals with contaminated land.

Some more of the houses –


the terrace of houses

The group as a whole has a policy of being generally friendly and communicative to visitors who are interested in the development. There have been a couple of recent developments which have come out of this project

Ecomotive has been set up to support sustainable communities, especially in terms of accessing land and building sites

Bright Green Futures which has been set up to create eco self build communities

Links –

The Ashley Vale group’s web site

11 comments to Ashley Vale, Bristol

  • Michael White

    Do you know of any community self build schemes trying to set up in the kent area requiring participentsm

  • Sharon pollitt

    A bunch of us looking to set up something like this for musicians and creatives in the Nottingham area, can we come visit and chat to someone about the “how to” of starting up etc
    Much respect
    ShazFM x

  • Jane

    I’m looking for any type of information that will help me reach my goal.
    I’m a single mum of 3 and believe there are many many families like me wanting to be part of communal living.
    I’m looking to join an existing community or start my own.
    Can I speak to someone who may be able to point me in the write direction please

  • Tony Edwrads

    Pensioners self-build


    My wife and I have been thinking of selling our – mortgage free – house and downsizing as they call it: We are both getting a little out of puff climbing the stairs in our 3 bedroom house and mounting age (bringing with it the probability of more serious mobility issues) and the whole house becoming altogether too much of a hand-full to decorate and manage generally are major considerations in our decision. Ideally we would like a bungalow, but have not seen one we like and feel that a group, self-build, programme might be the way to get exactly what we want at the right price.

    We thought if we could join a group of like-minded pensioners who like us have savings, good pensions and a mortgage-free property to sell and who are happy to move location – we might buy land, have it surveyed and plans drawn, buy the materials and pay a builder to turn the proposal into a reality, building our beautiful retirement bungalows exactly as we want them in a pleasant part of the country. That is the idea in a nutshell however; we have no experience of self-build and would welcome your thoughts.

    I look forward in anticipation of receiving your positive and speedy responses.

  • Minhui Liu


    I am an architecture student in Cardiff University, I am currently writing a dissertation about Community self-build housing. Whilst I was doing research, I came across the Ashley vale self build community and I am fascinated by it. However, the information I could find online is limited. I would really like to meet and chat with the self-builders and hear the stories about the self-build process. I wonder if anyone knows how I can get in touch with the self-builders involved in this project please? An interview would only take about 20 mins. If an email questionnaire is preferred, that would be great too!

    Your help would be much appreciated.

    Many thanks.

  • mike

    what a wonderful imaginative future pattern of housing

    can the idea not be expanded to stop the urban cancer that new homes are today

    is there any chance one is for sale

    we would love to live out our declining years in such a community

    cant contribute a lot except love compassion garden a desire to improve the world and a good successful busim ness history and a fair bit in my will mike

  • Polly Waddilove

    I am looking to buy in Bristol with a cash budget of around £230K. Is there any possibility of a 2/3 bedroomed property of any kind being available now or in the nearish future on this or any other Bristol development?

  • Anna

    I am interested in building/buying into an eco home within a community. Is it possible with your community or could you direct me the right way?
    Thank you
    Best wishes

  • Robyn


    I am a soon to be university graduate who is seeking alternative accommodation. My goal is to live off grid in an environmentally friendly ‘home’. As a student I do not have the savings of experience to do this immediately and so I am seeking a room to rent. I dont like the idea of pumping my money into a house which does not operate in accordance with my beliefs so it would be ideal if I could rent off somebody within this commune who has a spare room. I have lived as an au pair for the past three years, which allowed me to have bedsit accommodation in exchange for childcare and housework and would be willing to contribute more than just money to any household that could help me along on y journey.


  • bobthebuilder

    Hi Anna,

    I would get in touch with Ecomotive first because they are based around the project and are encouraging similar stuff. Note that Ashley Vale is not Co-housing: it is a self build project and although the two may have similarities or overlap they don’t necessarily do so. Co-housing usually does not include self build and group self build projects are not usually on the co-housing principle.

  • anna Colvin

    I am really interested in the co=housing – grfeen build parts of your project Is it possible to visit, and is there a number I can contact Anna

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