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August 27, 2021 Articles

100 years of social housing: The lessons of the past create the solutions of the future

Lorna Taverner
Lead Architect, Collida Living

The UK remains in the midst of a housing crisis, the likes of which hasn’t been seen for decades. Despite this, the industry is set to continue fall far short of the government’s housebuilding targets unless it reviews its approach and perspective, especially towards social and affordable housing. Our residential lead architect Lorna Taverner looks through the lens of social housing to consider why we are in the position we are, and what is being done about it.

The concept of social and affordable housing is more than a century old, having been introduced by the Addison Act in 1919. In the wake of the First World War, social housing for the working classes became a national priority and by the 1950s, a staggering eight out of 10 homes were social housing.

With this context, the housing crisis we face seems even more remarkable. The deprivation gap is getting bigger, with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic highlighting the fact that many people live in significantly inadequate homes that are not able to fulfil their family’s basic needs.

Running parallel to this is the need to ensure that the solutions that the construction industry offers are in line with climate targets. If you factor in both the raw materials required and the energy associated with the construction process, the built environment is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, further highlighting that we not only need to build more, but build better.

Combine these two huge issues with the further challenge of the skills gap that the industry faces, and the scale of the solution required is clear for all to see.

Dudley House in the heart of the Paddington Basin
Dudley House is in the heart of the Paddington Basin, delivered by our Willmott Dixon Development Solutions team


The Construction Playbook has been heralded as the roadmap to help the industry get on track with combatting these issues, and one of its core elements is encouraging the aggregation of public works projects. By doing this, more detailed programmes of work are created, and the industry gets a much clearer pipeline, meaning that longer-term solutions can drive real value for customers.

What this means for Collida and Willmott Dixon is that we can better collaborate with customers to thoroughly understand and appraise each project at the earliest possible stage, developing a brief and the right delivery strategy to ensure success.

An example of this is our development solutions approach, which offers early engagement with a customer to help them keep control, unlock, and retain value in their assets through a range of development focussed consultancy solutions and services. This is a similar approach to that taken by Westminster City Council and our work with them at Paddington Basin.

Taken piece by piece, the overall project comprised a 22-storey BTR unit which provided 197 new affordable homes, a church refurbishment, several retail units and Marylebone Boys’ School, a seven-storey build covering 840 school places.

However, by taking a holistic approach and combining the individual projects as an overall £85m programme of works, we were able to better work with the council to achieve economies of scale and collaborative working across the supply chain, meaning that we could deliver truly affordable homes and community infrastructure.


One of the Construction Playbook’s key objectives is to ensure that the industry is taking strides towards the UK’s 2050 carbon net zero commitment, making it mission critical that any solutions to the housing crisis aren’t just quick fixes, but ones with sustainability at their core.

The Collida way of doing this to combine significant amounts of pre-manufactured value with true net zero thinking. Our Collida Living platform has been informed by significant market research, which has helped us in understanding our customers pain points, developing product solutions to address each, and – most critically – capturing those aspects of design that importantly create homes not houses.

Collida Living addresses the challenges and opportunities that our customers face, through our kit of parts platform – a suite of digitally pre-authored components, which can be assembled to create housing solutions suitable for any size and shape of development opportunity.

Developed in partnership with Architype, our designs anticipate the future homes standard 2025 and the national drive for sustainability, being both spatially adaptable, and delivering net zero carbon in operation with alongside Passivhaus certification. Aligning these with cutting edge technology produces efficiencies at every stage – for example the creation of rapid digital optioneering and feasibility production.


The construction industry is under no illusions as to the challenge it faces with the housing crisis. When the government announced its target of building 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s, the rate at which houses were being build meant that we were already eight years behind schedule.

However, progress is being made. Homes England has pledged more than £12bn of investment into affordable homes over the next five years, and this is beginning to feed down to those with real plans for tackling the crisis in a sustainable, long-term way.

When you look back at the post-war social housing boom, it’s important to remember that many of those eight-out-of-ten were not intended as much more than a temporary solution.

The difference between how the crisis was solved then and how we are approaching it today is stark, and the environmentally-sound, MMC-based approach that we at Collida take will serve to bring a completely refreshed approach to creating affordable homes – one with placemaking at its heart.