This is the text of an article I wrote for the Guardian, published on 24th October 2013. You can find the article, with pictures, on the Guardian’s website
When it was suggested that we house homeless people in steel shipping containers in a scrap metal yard, I thought one of two things. It was either April Fool’s Day, or we had lost all concept of decency.
But then I was shown photographs of the amazing work being undertaken by TempoHousing in the Netherlands, and realised quite was possible.
Brighton Housing Trust (BHT), working with QED, the developers of the New England Quarter in Brighton, are developing 36 studio flats within two blocks, using adapted shipping containers at a town centre site. The units were designed and constructed in Holland by TempoHousing specifically for a social housing project in Amsterdam that failed to materialise due to funding difficulties. The units were available at a discounted rate which adds to the financial viability of this proposal.
The first of the containers arrived before dawn on Monday, the thirty sixth comes on Friday. Over the next four weeks a green roof, stairwells and external walkways will be constructed, and final touches made to the internal decor before the first residents move in on 25th November.
Before embarking on this exciting venture, we consulted with BHT clients about the concept. They loved it. In particular, the loved the fact that residents would have their own kitchen, bathroom and front door. They felt that being self-contained is far more desirable than a room in a shared house even though the floor space, at 26 meters square, is roughly the same as they would have if sharing.
Shipping containers have rarely been used as temporary living accommodation in the United Kingdom but there are a number of examples in continental Europe. The most notable project is in Keetwonen, Amsterdam, a development by TempoHousing of 1000 containers using exactly the same internal design layout as the ones we are proposing to use. It was completed in 2006 and is still in use today.
Having been sceptical at the outset, I was quickly won over. The WC and shower unit is exactly the same as my daughter had in her student accommodation and she much preferred it to having to share bathrooms and toilets with other students. Who wouldn’t?
What really excites me about this opportunity is that land that might otherwise lie idle for five years will be brought back into life and used to provide much-needed temporary accommodation for 36 men and women in Brighton and Hove.
At the point when the site is to be redeveloped, the accommodation units can be transferred to other locations, be they in Brighton and Hove or elsewhere. This appears to me to be very attractive from a sustainability perspective. What could be more sustainable than reusing an existing shipping container, converted in a bespoke factory in Europe, into a modular transportable and reusable temporary housing unit?
Yes, some people might not like the idea, but I bet you that the thirty six men and women who will live in this accommodation will not be amongst them.