Villages, the developer of The Wintles and a number of other similar
projects in the U.K., works on the principle that sustainability is
achieved through the way in which homes are clustered and interact –
it is the external and internal spaces of individual homes that
influence community, people, and relationships and, therefore, the
way in which resources are used. The company believes that by
engaging in their community, people are more likely to live in a way
that benefits society, both socially and environmentally, and that
this is key to reducing carbon emissions.
Living Villages began life as The Living Village
Trust, set up in 1994 with the aim of researching and building
houses and neighborhoods that are both eco-friendly and convivial to
live in. The Trust actively researches how to design inspiring
places by looking at successful examples around the world, new and
old, which have the qualities that matter to it. Living Villages
Holdings (LVH) was established in 2006 to create Living Villages
schemes nationally in response to huge public and industry interest.
Each of the homes at The Wintles is built facing
towards the sun and, to draw in and trap as much light and solar
energy as possible, large, high performance, double- or
triple-glazed argon-filled windows. There are interior “sun spaces”
and inside balconies so that with the sunlight flooding into the
homes and their warm, dry interiors, residents feel like they’re
living in a Mediterranean climate. This contributes to the sense of
well-being, creativity and comfort that residents claim to
To keep heat within the highly draft-proof
building envelope, a 300mm thick layer of “Warmcel” insulation,
produced from recycled newspapers, is vacuum-packed into a membrane
in the wall cavities.
When the houses are occupied and functioning as
busy family homes, they require very little energy for heating and
are designed to maximize its effectiveness when it is used. Should
it be necessary, heat is released into the home by means of
gas-fueled underfloor heating in the areas where it is most needed,
such as living rooms and bathrooms. It then permeates upwards
through the less frequently used areas, like the bedrooms, which are
unheated by any direct means. This general principle has been called
“the thermal onion,” meaning that heat is released into the centre
of the onion and gradually moves outwards, thus heating the outer
layers to a lesser extent – and the outer layers serving to insulate
the inner. For those who like a real fire in the winter, flues are
installed for wood-burning stoves.
Heat recovery systems extract the warm, moist air from bathrooms
and kitchens and collect the heat. The stale air is vented outside
while the collected heat is transferred, via a heat exchanger, to
the fresh air coming into the building. This is distributed through
vents to the bedrooms and living rooms at a constant, comfortable
The clusters of cutting-edge eco houses are one good
reason to move to England’s bucolic Shropshire countryside.
But The Wintles housing development combines modern
high-tech energy efficiency with old-fashioned values like
conviviality and neighborliness.
Hot water is provided through the use of solar panels, although the gas
condensing boilers, which supply the underfloor heating, can also provide a
boost to water temperature should it be necessary. Residents can usually
obtain at least sixty percent of their domestic hot water needs over the
year and up to 100 percent in the summer from solar energy.
Photovoltaic systems are employed to generate some of the electricity
required by residents. The electricity is supplied by Good Energy, which
provides 100 percent renewable electricity sourced from the natural energy
of wind, sun or running water.
For the health of the planet and those living with the homes, Living
Villages endeavors to use paints and other materials that are free from
toxins or harmful products of the petro-chemical industry.
The houses are manufactured off-site using double skinned timber frame
panel systems and, once on site, the individual components can be erected
quickly. Such systems reduce waste and help raise standards of construction
Wherever possible, timber used in construction is from sustainable
sources and carries FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) certification. Living
Villages has also planted thousands of trees – including fruit trees –
around the perimeter of the site to give protection and envelop the
development in a natural cocoon.
Sand, gravel and lime are locally sourced to save energy being used in
transport. Sometimes cement has to be used for practical reasons but,
wherever possible, Living Villages uses lime instead. Lime has been used as
a building material for thousands of years and, although energy and carbon
dioxide are used in its production, it turns back to limestone over time,
absorbing carbon dioxide in the process. Reclaimed materials, particularly
bricks, slates and roof tiles, are used wherever possible.
The houses at The Wintles are designed to be flexible, taking into account
the changing needs of families over the years. Internal stud walls can be
moved to alter the size of rooms as families grow and shrink in size.
Mindful of the development’s rural location and the polluting aspects of
commuting to work, the designers have provided flexible room layouts and
broadband wiring to encourage working from home.
A Sense of Place
Living Villages’ determination to create a village-like and neighborly
environment – a sense of place – has been spawned from years of research by
The Living Village Trust. The Wintles includes land that is shared by the
residents and used for recreation, gardening, sport, woodland, orchards and
allotments. Each household has an automatic share in the ownership and
control of these areas via a residents’ management company.
This company operates in the same way as a conventional management
company for people who live in apartments with a shared lobby or facilities
such as a gym. When the development is completed, the residents take over
the ownership and control of the shared areas of the site.
Through the management company, residents are empowered to do things like
set up car sharing; bulk-purchase telephone time or power supplies from
green sources; organize local food supply chains, childcare or care of the
elderly; and build new facilities like health clubs. Each of the households
has the opportunity to participate in the running of the residents’ company
and to vote on suggestions made.
The Living Villages model is to build communities of between 35 and 85
houses in clusters of 12. Each cluster is centered on a village green so
that neighbors may come together, get to know one another and have a central
focal point in which communal activities can take place. It also enables
children to play in a safe and supervised area. Vehicle parking is
positioned away from the village green, encouraging people to walk and
making the development an even safer place to be, especially for children
Porches are a feature at the front of each home. Open porches allow
residents to sit outside on wooden decking and overlook their neighborhood,
chatting with neighbors, watching children play or dogs being taken for a
The Wintles is only a few minutes’ stroll from the centre of the old
market town of Bishop’s Castle with its population of 2,500, a well-earned
reputation for hospitality, public events and festivals, as well as sports
facilities, restaurants, pubs and shopping. A twice weekly market, dating
back some 200 years, still takes place.
This combination of technology and community is what an eco-community is
about, whether it’s rural or urban.
Living Villages Eco-Community Principles
- An eco-community should have no more than 10 to 12 households; the
wider neighborhood should have only 40 to 70 households.
- Homes must be designed to accommodate a full range of households and
types of people.
- Front doors should face each other on a circular communal area.
- Cars should be banned from the front-door area and not be allowed to
drive directly through the eco-community.
- Developments should have land set aside for woodland, orchards and
- The houses should be ultra-energy efficient, include passive solar
design and wood-burners for heating.
- Designs should reflect the local vernacular and be made as much as
possible from local materials.
- The design should encourage residents to stay for their lifetime and
work for the next generation of their family, too.