Test-beds, in this applied-research project, are defined as the practice-based arenas of investigation and experimentation. The aim of testbeds is to provide ideas and examples of how refugee CH can be initiated, supported and sustained with direct impact on local/regional housing provision as well as integrated neighbourhood and urban development at the European scale.
Each of our in-country testbeds responds to and reflects local contexts and variations regarding the state of collaborative housing with/for refugees and migrants. In Austria, it involves a recently built co-housing project; in Sweden, where there are few precursors, it involves developing a co-design process to engage city dwellers in the elaboration of a possible experimental space for future work on the topic; and in the UK, where there are scattered examples of parallel kinds of housing, it is the exchange of relevant groups and knowledge that seeks to generate ideas for change and future development. Despite their differences, all testbeds relate to studying the potential of collaborative housing projects as kinds of ‘anchor organisations’ that could serve the wider local community and create socio-economic benefits for different groups, including refugees.
In Austria, the project builds on more than a decade of mixed methods and transdisciplinary research on CH. Initial research funded by the City of Vienna suggests potential of housing cooperatives to act as intermediaries between residents and political decision-makers, providing opportunity structures for citizen participation. Subsequent funding from the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the EU Marie Curie Programme enabled comparative research on CH in Austria and the UK. The results advance critical understanding on how CH models can address both cohesion and inclusion aspects. Besides academic dissemination, outreach from these projects contributed to the formation of a new CH sector in England (Community Led Homes) and provided evidence-based recommendations for Austrian housing actors.
In Sweden, the project draws on more than 20 years of research on socially excluded communities and migrants in stigmatized suburban areas, collaborating with the Swedish Union of Tenants. Findings correlate e.g. the recent arrival of refugees with an increase in overcrowded housing, and ongoing housing renovations with high rent increases and gentrification. Current projects funded by Vinnova and Formas focus on living conditions of vulnerable groups (e.g. ‘unaccompanied minors’ from Afghanistan/Syria) through a self-building support center (Egnahemsfabriken) in Tjörn, where low-cost homes are collaboratively designed and built using recycled materials. Other studies include: participatory urban/housing transformation in Global South settings (funded by Formas, Vinnova, VR); a joint Sweden-South Africa project on a collaborative web-based project library (funded by NRF-STINT, and relevant for WP3/4); and methods and frameworks for the local translation of international planning/design knowledge (CUT with UCL and University of Copenhagen, funded by Formas).
In the UK, the project builds on a decade of multi-disciplinary research into CH groups in London, the UK and Europe, on academic and practitioner collaborations, and on a range of publications. A report funded by the ESRC presented to the UK Parliament gave evidence on the possibilities and barriers to CH’s wider adoption and identified key requirements from central and local governments, developers and lenders to move the sector forward. A subsequent study of the emerging roles of professional intermediaries across Europe funded by Innovate UK supported the creation of a local CLH hub and helped set new priorities for the UK Cohousing Network. By exploring the impacts of inclusive CH on loneliness and wellbeing, including under Covid19, ongoing research funded by the Ministry of Housing and Local Communities and the National Institute for Health Research will inform policy and financial decision-making at the intersections of housing, social care and urban planning and design.