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LILAC_Low Impact Living Affordable Community_Leeds

Created on 20-05-2022 | Updated on 06-06-2022

LILAC is an ecological and affordable co-housing project built on a site previously occupied by a school and purchased from the local Council in the Bramley neighbourhood of Leeds, England (Jenny Pickerill, 2015). LILAC’s agenda towards social, economic, and environmental sustainability emphasises a change in lifestyle beyond a reduction in carbon emissions and improved energy performance, incorporating “economic justice, behaviour change, wellbeing, mutualism, land ownership, the role of capital and the state, and self-management” (Chatterton, 2013). LILAC is a bottom-up grassroots initiative based around co-operative governance and cohousing design (LILAC, 2021).


The community-led housing project holistically integrates three major principles: low impact living, affordability, and community. Low impact living is achieved by a combination of environmentally conscious attitudes, sharing of resources, and design-stage nature-based solutions (LILAC, 2021). As the UKs first Mutual Home Ownership Society (MHOS), LILAC’s house prices are designed to be permanently affordable. Costs are linked directly to average wage growth, rather than increasing market value. Community at LILAC is heavily facilitated by shared amenities accessed via the ‘common house’ and pooling resources such as cars, lawnmowers, and power tools (Chatterton, 2013). An agreed constitution ‘community agreements’ guides and informs life in Lilac, covering a range of issues including individual behaviours, interactions with others, and the use and management of shared spaces (Chatterton, 2013; LILAC, 2021).


Construction costs were higher than the UK average - a 48 sqm one-bedroom flat cost £84,000 to build at a cost of £1,744 per sqm while the average costs in England were £1,200 per sqm (Jenny Pickerill, 2015). However, a return-on-investment superior to conventional housing includes permanent affordability at 35% of net household income, reduced energy bills, superior housing quality, environmental performance, health, safety, and wellbeing.

White Design Associates

Leeds, England

Project (year)

Construction (year)

Housing type
Mix of one and two bed flats and three and four bed houses. Private gardens, the upper flats have balconies

Urban context
Suburban context on an old school site

Construction system
Prefabricated ModCell wall system built with resident contribution, lime render, triple glazing

Selected option
New building


Innovative aspects of the housing design/building

  • Based on the Danish co-housing model: mixing private space with shared spaces which encourage social interaction.
  • Green spaces include allotments, pond, a shared garden and a children’s play area.
  • Akin to the private self-contained homes, the ‘common house’ includes a communal workshop, office, post room, food cooperative, kitchen, dining space, social space, bike storage, play area, guest rooms and laundry room.
  • A shared lifestyle, combine resources and amenities, reduces energy use and saves money: shared facilities in the common house include laundry, kitchen, reading area and community area; car sharing; pooling equipment and tools; sharing meals twice a week; growing food in the allotment; and looking for provisions in the local area (LILAC Coop, 2022b; ModCell, n.d.).


Construction characteristics, materials, and processes

  • Prefabricated ModCell construction: low carbon timber frame insulated with straw-bale. Residents assisted with labour – adding the straw bale insulation.
  • Finishing: lime render – increasing benefits from passive solar heating through thermal mass, lime plaster interior finishes.
  • Air tightness was prioritised in construction.
  • Triple-glazed windows.
  • Rainwater collection: roof rainwater runs off into water butts, used to water the gardens.
  • Flood prevention: LILAC features a sustainable urban drainage system (SUDS) that feed the central pond. Overspill from the water butts enters a central pond which discharges at a reduced rate, into the public drain.
  • All ground surfaces of the site are permeable.


Energy performance characteristics

  • Mechanical solutions: Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery Systems (MVHR) in the houses, solar thermal energy collection for space and hot water heating, 1.25kw solar PV array, with an extra 4kw on the common house (LILAC Coop, 2022b).
  • Permaculture design certificate course was integrated into the planning design alongside biodiversity planting.


Involvement of users

  • ‘Community agreements’ cover areas such as pets, food, communal cooking, use of the common house, management of green spaces, equal opportunities, vulnerable adults, the use of white goods, housing allocation and diversity, and garden upkeep (Chatterton, 2013; LILAC, 2021).
  • “MHOS forms the democratic heart of the project” (Chatterton, 2013). All decisions are made democratically, using templates to generate and discuss proposals, explore pros and cons, generate amendments, and ratify decisions (Chatterton, 2013).


Funding and ownership

  • The building was financed by a combination of government grant - £420,000 grant from The Homes and Communities Agency under its Low Carbon Investment Fund to experiment with straw construction (ModCell), personal members invested capital, and a long-term mortgage from the ethical bank Triodos (Chatterton, 2013; Lawton & Atkinson, 2019).
  • Equity-based model – Mutual Home Ownership Society (MHOS)
  • MHOS is an equity-based leaseholder approach, where the housing is owned by a cooperative (Chatterton, 2013).
  • Residents purchase shares in the co-operative. The number of shares owned by each member is related in part to their income, and partly according to the size of their property. If someone earn a large income, their house becomes more expensive, but another property thereby becomes cheaper, maintaining affordability.
  • Affordable housing at LILAC is maintained at no more than 35% of net household income should be spent on housing (Chatterton, 2013; LILAC Coop, 2022a).
  • Minimum net income levels were set for each different house size to ensure a 35% equity share rate generates enough income to cover the mortgage repayments (Jenny Pickerill, 2015).
  • The MHOS owns the homes and land and is made up of the residents who also manage LILAC. Members lease and occupy specific houses or flat from the MHOS. In effect, residents are their own landlords.
  • Each member makes monthly payments to the MHOS, who then pays the mortgage – deductions are made for service costs.
  • In 2015, annual household minimum income must be at least £15,000


Relationship to urban environment

  • LILAC is in a highly integrated inner-city locality, located in an urban neighbourhood of Leeds, on a site that was previously a school.
  • Integrating with the wider community in West Leeds, the common house is used for “local meetings, film nights, meals and gatherings, workshops and has been used as the local polling station” (LILAC Coop, 2022b).
  • LILAC has increased residents feeling of empowerment to participate in social action, working within the wider community to explore issues together and work for change. This has included supporting a local community association, local schools and holding charity and music events (LILAC, 2021).


Behaviour and wellbeing

  • LILACs community act in the knowledge that an adequate response to climate change and energy reduction takes shifting the way we live, enacting behavioural changes that contribute to a post-carbon transition. Decisions in cohousing are made as a community, rather than the individual consumer or household.
  • LILAC residents report a much higher health satisfaction (from 58% to 76%) and life satisfaction (from 58% to 87%) compared to previous accommodation (LILAC, 2021). Residents reported physical and mental health has improved since moving to the community due to LILAC’s “plentiful greenspace, sustainable travel options, better high air quality and natural light in the homes, greater social interaction and opportunities for socialising with neighbours” (LILAC, 2021).
  • Further benefits of LILAC as a cohousing scheme: increased safety and wellbeing, natural surveillance and support for the elderly, reduced car numbers combined with car separation and car-free home zones to increase safety as well as reducing carbon emissions related to car use (Chatterton, 2013).

Alignment with project research areas

Design, planning and building

  • An innovative cohousing model in the UK that improves social, environmental, and economic sustainability.
  • The homes are designed as inward facing, to increase opportunities for meeting, conversations, and opportunities to watch out, and care for, neighbours.
  • The common house is designed to facilitate social interaction, conserve power and energy through sharing resources that limit fuel consumption and integrate with the wider community.


Community participation

  • Community involvement is the central core of LILAC at all stages of design, construction and in use. The scheme is based on a shared ideal of the way members want to live as a community, agreed lifestyles, and ‘community agreements’ that guide and inform life at LILAC.
  • All decisions are democratically taken through an agreed process, permeating and reinforcing the non-hierarchical community structure.


Policy and Financing

  • A MHOS co-operative is better at facilitating finance because it is not possible to obtain a mortgage in the UK for shared spaces. It was also possible to get a better rate for repayments as a large entity, than a collection of individuals.
  • The land was purchased directly from the council.

Alignment with SDGs

LILAC responds to the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):


Goal 1 No Poverty: ensuring ‘affordable housing’ for all residents where total housing costs are less than 35% of household income


Goal 2 No Hunger: Cooperative living, on-site allotment, shared kitchen, food, meals. On-site food production contributed to self-sustained living. Wealthier inhabitants can also help feed the less wealthy inhabitants if needed.


Goal 3 Good health and well-being: Healthy living, outdoor communal work and multigenerational residents


Goal 6 Clean water and sanitation: SUDS


Goal 7 Affordable and clean energy: Passive and mechanical solutions to a reduction in energy costs and carbon output


Goal 9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure: pioneered new sustainable construction methods – ModCell.


Goal 11 Sustainable cities and communities: small scale sustainable eco-village (approx. 50 inhabitants)


Goal 12 Responsible consumption and production: A LILAC household produces around half the waste of an average household, 377 kgs compared to 755 kgs nationally. Bulk buying food from ethical suppliers to reduce waste, a community compost, and on-site food growing (LILAC, 2021).


Chatterton, P. (2013). Towards an agenda for post-carbon cities: Lessons from LILAC, the uk’s first ecological, affordable cohousing community. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(5), 1654–1674.

Jenny Pickerill. (2015, September). Building Eco-Homes for All: Inclusivity, justice and affordability. Building Local Resilience: Architecture and Resilience on the Human Scale: Cross-Disciplinary Conference.

Lawton, G., & Atkinson, J. (2019, April 21). Discover Permaculture with Geoff Lawton. Permaculture and Community: LILAC Green Cohousing. YouTube.

LILAC. (2021). Living in Lilac: Assessing the first Mutual Home Ownership Society in enabling sustainable living.

LILAC Coop. (2022a). Affordable. LILAC Low Impact Living Affordable Community Coop.

LILAC Coop. (2022b). Low Impact Living. LILAC Low Impact Living Affordable Community Coop.

ModCell. (n.d.). LILAC affordable ecological co-housing. ModCell Straw Technology. Retrieved March 11, 2022, from

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