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LILAC cohousing, Leeds

LILAC  (Low Impact Living Affordable Community) is a recent cohousing development in Bramley, west Leeds. See their web site.

It is a remarkable development for two reasons: the high quality of ecological design and the unique financial model adopted.

Green standards

The scheme of twenty households, built on the site of a former school includes family houses, flats and a common house along with shared outdoor space, good cycle storage and generous allotments. The two and three storey buildings are to CSH level 5 standard and incorporate straw bale walls (by Modcell), triple glazing and MVHR. There is considerable use of solar hot water and PV. Water collection and usage is combined with a creative SUDS water feature.

Central area from above

The SUDS pond is used to good effect as part of the outdoor seating area next to the communal house where meals are shared. (the pond can vary in depth depending on rainfall. SUDS is now a common requirement for new urban developments). The site has a considerable fall across its length and this is the reason for the gabion retaining wall – which is a low energy way of changing level compared with using concrete retaining walls.

Central view

The construction of the two and three storey buildings is based on the Modcell system which incorporates straw bales in a timber frame. This provides high insulation values along with very low embodied energy. The architects have included monitoring sensors to provide a warning in case moisture should accidentally get into the straw.

The building work went ahead on a Design and Build contract with Lindum Group as main contractor and White Design Associates as architects.

One of the items on LILAC’s original wish list was to have generous allotments for growing food and this fortunately came true due to the fact that a large municipal sewer runs down the edge of the building site and the land above it could not be built on (due to easements) but was suitable for gardens.


The common house is welcoming with its stove for winter and its large sliding doors for opening out onto the water feature in summer. Upstairs are a meeting room and toilets. There are visitor’s rooms dotted around the various buildings.

communal room

the communal room

Behind it is a kitchen and food store to cater for the shared meal times

kitchen area


The financial model is that of Mutual Home Ownership (MHO) whereby the residents are members of a co-op.  There is quite a complex arrangement whereby members can buy equity for their individual houses by a combination of initial deposit (minimum 10% of dwelling value – but more  reduces equity payments) and then purchase of equity shares. See Mutual Home Ownership Societies

The purchasing of shares is linked to the resident’s income so that higher earners purchase more of the equity shares (normally 35% of a family’s income goes towards buying equity). The money obtained from this share purchase then goes towards paying off the collective corporate mortgage which financed the building of the houses (and also into maintenance and contingency funds).

There are several aspects to this arrangement:

  • The group is responsible for the management of the development (rather than an external landlord or a housing association)
  • common facilities, such as the common house are included in the financial model
  • the members have a stake in their homes (as they can sell their equity shares if and when they leave)
  • there is a fall-back position (if for instance someone looses their job and cannot pay into the equity fund) whereby they can sell their equity to other members and eventually possibly simply rent.

To see more about how this works for LILAC, go to their page on Affordability. One of the Co-founders of the project, Paul Chatterton has published a book, Low Impact Living – A Field Guide to Ecological, Affordable Community Building.

LILAC is using Maldaba Dwell software which they have helped develop, so that members can track their payments and financial situation in the co=op.

To see more about the Mutual Home Ownership concept in general go to the CDS page on MHOs

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