Back to Case Studies

LILAC_Low Impact Living Affordable Community_Leeds

Created on 20-05-2022 | Updated on 09-03-2023

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. LILAC’s agenda towards social, economic, and environmental sustainability emphasises a change in lifestyle beyond a reduction in carbon emissions and improved energy performance. Their ethos incorporates economic justice, behavioural change, wellbeing, mutualism, land ownership, the role of capital and the state, and self-management. LILAC is a bottom-up grassroots initiative based around co-operative governance and cohousing design.


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. As the UKs first Mutual Home Ownership Society (MHOS), LILAC’s house prices are designed to remain permanently affordable. Costs are directly linked with average wage growth as opposed to increasing market value. Community at LILAC is heavily facilitated by shared amenities accessed via a common enclosed space and shared resources such as cars, lawnmowers, and power tools. An agreed constitution named ‘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.


LILAC boasts 20 energy efficient homes with approximately 50 residents, surrounded by landscaping including allotments and biodiversity planting. Construction costs were higher than the UK average. 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

The model for LILAC is based on the Danish co-housing model: mixing private space with shared spaces to encourage social interaction. A plethora of 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. The LILAC community benefit from a large number of communal facilities including: a common house with shared laundry, kitchen, reading area and community area; car sharing; pooling household equipment and power tools; sharing common meals twice per week; growing food in the allotment; and looking for provisions in the local area (LILAC Coop, 2022b; ModCell, n.d.). A shared lifestyle whereby resources and amenities are combined, reduces energy use and saves money.


Construction and energy performance characteristics


Constructed under a Design and Build contract (Chatterton, 2015), LILAC boasts an innovative prefabricated ModCell construction that includes a low carbon timber frame insulated with straw-bale. Residents assisted with the labour, collectively adding the straw bale insulation. External walls and interior finishes are in a lime render, increasing benefits from passive solar heating through thermal mass. Air tightness was prioritised during construction, and triple-glazed windows help to decrease heat loss during winter, allowing for Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery Systems (MVHR) to regulate indoor air temperature. Further energy performance characteristics include 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).


LILAC features a flood prevention system whereby a sustainable urban drainage system (SUDS) feeds the central pond. Roof rainwater runoff is collected into water butts that are later used to water the gardens. Overflow from water butts enters the central pond, which discharges into the public drainage system at a reduced rate. Furthermore, all ground surfaces of the site are permeable. Biodiversity planting and a permaculture design certificate course were integrated into the design at planning stage.


Major additional spending decisions were made whenever residents believed it would meet their core values and result in long term financial savings (Chatterton, 2015, p.68). Construction costs were therefore 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. However, the annual heating demand of the homes is far less than the UK average of 140kWh/m² at around 30kWh/m², reducing energy consumption and bills up to two-thirds compared with existing UK housing stock (Chatterton, 2015, p.84).


Involvement of users and stakeholders

LILAC is owned by a cooperative, through the innovative equity-based model: Mutual Home Ownership Scheme (MHOS). The MHOS is a leaseholder approach (Chatterton, 2013) where 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 subsequently becomes cheaper, thus conserving affordability. Affordable housing at LILAC is maintained as 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 (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.


The building was financed by a combination of personal members invested capital, a long-term mortgage from the ethical bank Triodos, and a government grant of £420,000 from The Homes and Communities Agency’s Low Carbon Investment Fund, specifically to experiment with ModCell straw construction (Chatterton, 2013; Lawton & Atkinson, 2019). 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 for a home was set as at least £15,000.


‘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).


Relationship to urban environment

LILAC is in a highly integrated inner-city locality, situated 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 individual consumers or households. Residents report a much higher health satisfaction – from 58% to 76% – and life satisfaction – from 58% to 87% – compared to previous accommodation (LILAC, 2021). Both physical and mental health improvements have been reported 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 include 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, conversing, 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.

Design, planning and building

Community participation

Policy and financing

* This diagram is for illustrative purposes only based on the author’s interpretation of the above case study

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.

Chatterton, P. (2015). Low Impact Living: A field guide to ecological, affordable community building. Routledge.

Pickerill, J. (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

Related vocabulary

No entries

Related publications

No entries


Icon the-discussion-for-the-right-to-housing-enhr-barcelona-2022

The discussion for the right to housing. ENHR, Barcelona 2022

Posted on 12-09-2022

The annual conference of the European Network of Housing Research took place in Barcelona this year, under the title “The struggle for the right to housing. The pressures of globalization and affordability in cities today”. At the epicenter was the issue of the unaffordability of housing and its increasing financialization. As cities become part of a global arena, urban space is increasingly subjected to the flows of capital and market forces, leaving behind the needs and the voices of the local populations. This is what Raquel Rolnik referred to, during the conference, as the colonization of the built space by finance and the processes of dispossession that it implies. In these conditions, housing is being used as an exchange value, as the preferred asset for investment by funds, or for rental exploitation and speculation, by short-term rental corporations. This understanding of housing as an exchange value, demotes its use value, as the right for a shelter, for security, and as a place that is intertwined with people's lives and well-being.   At the same time, we observe how dominant paradigms of urban organization and planning, are spreading over the world, reconfiguring cities and territories. The urban mutations that are caused, for example, by the processes of touristification and gentrification, having a more profound impact on territories at the periphery (or semi-periphery) of capitalism, create unhostile cities for its residents, breaking the social fabric and disturbing social cohesion. As a consequence, these urban reconfigurations, lead to a restructuring of the housing regimes in terms of tenure forms. The rentierization of many housing markets, for example, leads to tenure and intergenerational inequalities between homeowners and renters, creating more precarious conditions for those at rent. On a policy level, important actions were discussed such as the regulation of short-term rentals and rent-control policies together with more supply of social housing, or public support of community-led housing initiatives.    As a counter-act to the ongoing processes of financialization and speculation, there are many bottom-up responses, from groups that are claiming housing as a right and are pushing for decommodified and affordable housing. The emergence of cooperative housing and community land trusts, is such a case, intending to create alternative forms of collective and non-speculative housing, separating the use-value from the exchange value. Through participatory processes and democratic decision-making, the initiatives are creating new forms of ownership, based on collective management. The objectives are plural, as apart from the demand for access to decent and affordable housing, the groups are creating more communal ways of living, in terms of spatial and social configurations and are reconsidering the meaning of sustainability in housing.   Aspects that were discussed in relation to cooperative housing were the affordability of the model and the opportunities for access by social groups in need of affordable, decent, and secure housing, such as low-income, single-parent or immigrant households. Also, the use of policy instruments to facilitate their production and regulate their access to them, as well as the long-term affordability of the model and the prevention of future privatization and speculation. Often the discussion on the inclusion of the model and the accessibility by different social groups is related to the question of governance, in all the phases of production, management, and administration of the housing cooperative, looking at the differences between more self-managed cases, and at others that are being developed in collaboration with associations and umbrella cooperative promoters.     Co-operative housing initiatives are framed by many researchers within the literature of the commons, and thus understood and analyzed by their capacity to create spaces and practices of commoning, embedded in the everyday lives of the inhabitants. This can be analyzed in the internal structure of the housing (spatially and socially), but also in relation to the neighborhood scale, and the impact it can have on the area. In close relation is found the research of cooperative housing through the lens of the ethics of care. The collectivization of the domestic sphere is creating opportunities for different forms of social reproduction that question the dominant ways of dwelling. There are current research projects that attempt to evaluate the contribution of cooperative housing, as a way of dwelling, in the life of its inhabitants, looking at the health and well-being of the communities or the potential to tackle the social rupture created by the individualization of housing, thus looking at the social impact it can generate.   As the model is expanding, and cases of collective, shared, and cooperative housing appear in different contexts from the global north to the south, it is important for the research community to keep shedding light on the potential, but also on the contradictions of these practices. The analysis and the comparison of different cases, help us to learn from the experiences of the groups and work to strengthen the idea of housing as a right, and as a space and a practice that can be meaningful for the communities.

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

Conferences, Reflections


Relational graph

icon case study Case Study
icon case study Concept
icon case study Publication
icon case study Blogposts