Yesterday was an unexpectedly good day. I had intended to mooch around the house and do not very much at all, but that all changed when I received an email from Sue. The email told me about the Waltham Forest Green Open Homes Weekend. After chatting with Sue, I decided to spend my Saturday visiting a couple of the homes taking part in the project, and that decision led to me having not just a great day, but an inspirational one. Open Green Homes is organised by the Hornbeam Centre on Hoe Street. Sixteen homes open their doors to visitors, who can then find out how the residents made their homes more efficient, and cheaper to run.
The first home I visited is just off Blackhorse Road and belongs to Sam and Phil. It can sometimes feel awkward visiting open homes, but Sam and Phil furnished me with a cuppa on arrival and made me feel very welcome. This couple, like many in Walthamstow, have been renovating their house, and battling the challenges that old buildings can throw up. They made the decision to be as sustainable as possible, whilst still keeping the project affordable. They told me how they had insulated under the old floor boards to stop drafts and installed under floor heating in the kitchen. Any bricks that had come from the house during the renovation have been re-used to make seating in the garden, and they have built a fantastic bike shed with a beautiful living green roof. I came away from Sam and Phils place with an understanding that small affordable changes can be made, and those changes can make a real difference.
Next on my list was Headway Gardens, a community self build project near Lloyd Park. I didn’t expect this project to have the impact on me that it did. I thought I would find it interesting, but I didn’t really expect to find myself close to tears listening to story behind this truly amazing scheme. We met with John Struthers, the force behind Headway Gardens and he explained what he and his neighbours have achieved. Seven years ago John decided he needed to do something to secure a home for his family, social housing waiting lists were long so he had an extraordinary idea to self build. He convinced circle 33 to develop a plot of land, he leafleted and advertised to find other potential residents of the ten house plot. Together they trained at Waltham Forest College, they learnt building skills, and carpentry, and over the course of a year each resident put in a minimum of 20 hours per week to build their own homes. The properties are owned by circle 33 and the residents rent them back at affordable prices.
John told us of the battles they faced to get planning permission in the face of objections from local residents. He explained how he insisted that all training should happen at Waltham Forest College, his local college. He was bristling with pride as he explained the different stages of the build, from meetings with architects to hanging kitchen doors. The level of commitment needed from John and the other residents to make this scheme happen was just incredible. I had lots of questions to ask but I pretty much forgot all of them, instead I just stood and listened to this amazing man speak. John is an ordinary bloke, who together with his neighbours, has achieved something extraordinary. The residents of Headway Gardens have been in their new homes for around 10 weeks now, and they have created an amazing little community. John doesn’t want to stop there, he wants to see projects like this roll out further and I’m sure he will make it happen, he seems to have more energy than a duracell bunny.
Both my visits gave an amazing insight in to how other Walthamstow residents are making their own lives, and their own corner of E17 better. Whilst the two projects may be different in scale, they both have something in common, Phil & Sam, and John and the Headway residents have taken the bull by the horns and made change happen. Did you visit one of the green open homes over the weekend? if so let me know what you thought.