Yesterday was one of those fresh, blue-sky spring days full of daffodils and bursting green foliage. I was standing in the original garden next to the caravan in which I was born telling in a few sentences a bit about this remarkable place and community to our project Quantity Surveyor and two of our architects. We briefly went on to look in on the sanctuary and Universal Hall before returning to Joan’s house on the Field via the Duneland East Whins site and the first West Pineridge eco-mobile where my son Jason was busy nailing cladding on the outside. All was right with the world; it got me thinking about this place, choice and money.
A team of us spent all day yesterday interviewing potential main contractors for the Duneland East Whins developer led co-housing project scheduled to start to be built this summer. We were having to make a choice of who out of eight pre-selected candidates would go on to our list of five firms who will actually tender for the build job. Do you go with the large national firm with a £2.2 billion turnover who may give you the most competitive price, have extensive resources to manage difficulties and risks but use almost exclusively sub-contractors to do their work or do you go with a small local firm with a turnover of £4-5 million, their own work force, more limited resources to hand so potentially some greater risks and they may well cost more?
OK so we can deal with the risk factor by putting it into perspective. Compare it to the risks involved in a community of about twelve committed individuals, including my family who were living on just over £10/ week Social Security benefits at the time, launching off to build a community centre with a kitchen to cater for two hundred people without money but a whole lot of faith and conviction! Or to when ideas of building the Universal Hall were percolating with the proposed build in the chicken yard of the Park house with no obvious way to pay. Compared to these the risk of a small firm going bust or not being able to handle an aspect of the build are paltry.
Money becomes the main factor determining whom we might choose. The whole East Whins project involves a tension between creating affordable housing, houses which have a high eco-spec and our beliefs in sharing resources and social integration encapsulated in the co-housing design. When it comes down to it, is it only what it costs that counts? You say no our ideals come first but the fact is that we do need to be able to pay for those ideals. I am heartened by those bold pioneering individuals committed to buying in to the East Whins cluster that are willing to put their money where their mouths are and invest in this community and all it stands for despite difficult economic times. (Are there others out there that also feel inspired to follow their lead; there are still some houses for sale in the heart of this community.)
It still leaves us with the dilemma of who do we choose! Watch this space for the developing story.