A community-led housing group in Lewisham has begun construction of 36 permanently affordable new homes – the largest project of its kind ever undertaken in London.

The new homes, available to local people who meet the scheme’s affordability criteria, will be high-quality, sustainable, and permanently affordable to future generations of tenants and buyers, with no developer profit being made and a resale covenant in place to maintain affordability. The building work, being delivered by ROOFF Ltd., is due to complete in 2023.

The Rural Urban Synthesis Society (RUSS) formally launched the scheme yesterday at a breaking ground ceremony in Ladywell, Lewisham.

A range of property sizes and tenure types, including six social rented homes for residents on Lewisham Council’s housing waiting list, will help to create a diverse resident community.

The project includes communal food-growing and gardening spaces, a shared laundry, and a publicly accessible playground. A community hub, built by nearly 100 volunteers in 2019, stands alongside the new homes and will serve as an affordable, eco-friendly work and events space for the local community.

The scheme was co-designed by a group of the future residents working alongside expert architects, and the residents will also have the opportunity to build it alongside local apprentices and volunteers.

Funding for the scheme has come from a combination of sources including grants from the GLA and loans from Triodos Bank UK, Big Issue Invest and CAF Venturesome. The scheme has also been supported by Lewisham Council, who leased the land to RUSS.

Future resident of the scheme and RUSS founder Kareem Dayes said: “My parents built their home as part of a pioneering Lewisham Council project 30 years ago, and this inspired me to set up RUSS to see if the next generation could deliver something similar.

“It’s taken a long time – more than a decade – to get to this point, and hundreds of local people, volunteers and councillors have been involved and supported us along the way. It’s been tough going too, with various set-backs along the way. But the passion and perseverance of the people involved has won through, and we are now finally ready to start the building work.”

RUSS’s Chair, Bernadette Marjoram, said: “I want to thank the many people who have helped RUSS reach this tremendous milestone, including the future residents of the scheme, Lewisham Council, the GLA and our more than 1,000 RUSS members.

“There have been many hurdles to clear on the way – securing an affordable site, funding the design team’s work, financing the construction contract, recruiting volunteers and spreading the message that communities really can deliver affordable, sustainable homes for themselves. We hope this project will inspire other groups to follow the RUSS example.”

The GLA provided pre-development financial support through the Innovation Grant Fund, and gap funding from the GLA’s Community Housing Fund will be used during the development phase.

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development Tom Copley said: “To tackle the capital’s housing crisis, we need a vibrant and diverse market with developers of all sizes playing their part. Community-led housing puts residents at the heart of the process, giving them a voice and the chance to contribute to designing their community.

“This is exactly the type of project the Mayor’s Innovation Fund was created to support, and I’m proud to be here to support RUSS members in delivering much-needed high-quality social and genuinely affordable homes.”