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Lewisham is building pop-up villages to tackle homelessness

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I might be showing my age if I remind readers of the opening catchphrase of the Six Million Dollar Man series: “We can rebuild him; we have the technology.”

This seminal 1970s show came to mind as I was presented a pioneering plan to ease the pressing need for temporary accommodation in Lewisham. Like the rebuilding of astronaut Steve Austin, this was a plan to use cutting-edge technology and the most modern methods of construction.

Rather than costing $6m, it will actually save my council money that we currently spend on expensive short-term housing.

Like all local authorities, Lewisham has a range of redevelopment sites, some of which are currently vacant while longer-term regeneration plans are developed and subsequently shaped in conjunction with residents. Often the lead times on larger scale regeneration sites mean they can be vacant for three to four years.

So, at the same time as we are facing a short-term housing shortage, we are sitting on vacant land that could help resolve that shortage. It can only do so, however, if we can find a solution that uses the land in the short term without undermining its long-term regeneration.

We think we have found that solution. We have established that it is viable to construct and deploy factory-built housing on a site for three to four years before it is deconstructed, moved and subsequently reconstructed on another site.

This housing can be delivered for two-thirds of the cost, and in two-thirds of the time, compared with a building constructed using traditional methodology. We need not compromise quality, either of design or of living and space standards.

Our feasibility work shows that it would be financially viable to deploy a building, move it twice within 10 years and subsequently move it to a final location at that point.

We intend to trial this solution on the site of a former leisure centre that is subject to wider area regeneration. Despite it being a temporary housing solution we still want to build local use and engagement into it to maintain strong, cohesive communities.

As well as providing temporary homes for 24 families, each with their own balcony, we are looking for creative uses of the ground floor for retail, commercial and civic use. Together they will form a ready-made micro-village.

Together with the pursuit of an active acquisition programme that will mean we have access to our own hostel accommodation, we can start to make real inroads into the elimination of the most costly elements of managing homelessness.

You might say that this solution provides temporary accommodation that is better, stronger and faster.

Sir Steve Bullock (Lab), mayor, Lewisham LBC


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