Social Impact Awards: the UK's best new development

Marmalade Lane in Cambridge is a fine example of an inclusive, community-led co-housing development and a worthy RICS Social Impact Award winner


  • Brendon Hooper

25 November 2020

Photo: David Butler

Winner: Residential and Outstanding Contribution to Society

Underpinned by collaboratively designed energy-efficient homes, shared facilities and sociable outdoor spaces, Marmalade Lane is a positive example of how people can live in traditional-style, close-knit communities fit for the modern world.

The 42-home co-housing scheme was made possible by an innovative land sale approach, which brought together residents who shared a desire to create a multigenerational co-housing community in Cambridge.

Co-housing schemes are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. Residents not only help to collectively fund and design the building of their homes, but also jointly manage their living environment together, forging a greater sense of community.

The result at Marmalade Lane is a neighbourhood of beautiful, sustainable homes with a strong sense of community that is having a tangibly positive impact on residents’ lives and the wider locality.

Jonny Anstead, a founding director at TOWN, the developer of the housing scheme, explains that because residents were involved in the design process from the outset, his team had to fully embrace a different way of working.

Marmalade Lane

“There were already 20 households getting involved in the design and consultation process when we joined the project,” he says. “To manage it, we formed working groups that focused on different elements of the project – for example, in the design of the dwellings, the shared internal spaces, the gardens and shared outdoor spaces, and in how to maximise energy performance.”

The residents of Marmalade Lane are from all ages and walks of life, including families with young children, retired couples and young professionals. Those who had an interest or could bring specific expertise to particular areas of the development would regularly meet with TOWN’s team to discuss ideas. The residents were also given a greater choice than usual in selecting elements such as the layout in their homes, the colour of the front doors, and even the types of bricks used. 

“Developers have different vested interests from people who are going to end up living in the places they build, so one of the biggest challenges is in finding a way to align the interests of the two,” says Anstead. "It’s critical to any good project, and it requires everyone to have good processes in place, and to build trust from the outset.”

Marmalade Lane

Marmalade Lane shows how it is possible to deliver high-quality, collaboratively built housing, working in partnership with future residents. Although it may seem like more work than is necessary for a developer, Anstead argues it can lead to a better quality of development. A sensitive, flexible and collaborative approach can pay dividends. “I would say it even decreases the risks around a project, as you are already building around the needs of the people who will live there,” adds Anstead.

Frances Wright, head of community partnering at TOWN – and a Marmalade Lane resident (see box, below) – believes the development will raise the bar for other housebuilders in creating inclusive, community led housing schemes. “Hopefully, the success of the development will make it possible for more Marmalade Lanes to be built around the country, so there is a real option for people looking for a greater sense of belonging and community, than conventional new builds usually offer.”

“Residents had to work hard in understanding a lot of the issues we faced from the development side” Jonny Anstead, TOWN

Photos: Onur Pinar and David Butler

The judges said:

“Marmalade Lane is an inspiring co-housing community, where the built environment not only harnesses this ethos, but complements and encourages its growth. Interaction of residents is everywhere, and you notice this from the moment you enter the site. Residents share many facilities and this not only promotes community, but also frees space within their homes.

The community does not limit itself to its immediate neighbours but has expanded to embrace the wider community. Interaction and supporting others is at its heart.

From the moment you arrive, you feel welcomed, not only by residents, but by the inclusivity of the development. A community hub is at its heart, with interaction and sharing a core value. The scheme design cleverly embraces this, through the units and site layout and by the maximisation of space. External growing and social spaces are prominent. The sole street is closed and turned into a further community area, where children can play safely while being visible.”

Surveyor: Monaghans
Architect: Mole Architects
Developer/contractor: TOWN
Owner/Client: Cambridge Cohousing Group

Read the full rundown of finalists in the RICS Social Impact Awards 2020

A resident’s toast to Marmalade Lane

“The inter-generational aspect just brings a great deal of richness and variety to living in the community. It’s not without challenges, but they are very much outweighed by the benefits. Everyone’s needs are different, so it’s about negotiating those needs in a respectful way.

“What you want is a culture of respect and tolerance in an inter-generational community, but the ability of the younger children to understand what that means is limited, so it requires a degree of latitude to make it work. Children are too young to be having conversations about needs and how to respect them, but they need to be integrated into the thinking.

“Many of us eat together twice a week and that is multigenerational, too. There can be 25 to 30 people there. People interact because of shared social activities and tasks. So, cooking together is inter-generational, gardening is inter-generational.

“I am quite into craft activities and when we do those activities it spans generations. Every so often, I have two little girls who knock on my door and almost ask me out to play. They say: ‘Will you come and do some craft with us?’ It’s normally at about 4:30 pm when I’m trying to do some work, but it’s lovely. My husband feeds the birds every day and some of the younger children come out and help him. Those are some of the things that can happen as friendships and connections form. There is nothing forced or unnatural about it.”

“People interact because of shared social activities and tasks. Cooking is inter-generational, gardening is inter-generational” Frances Wright, TOWN head of community partnering and Marmalade Lane resident