Bristol Housing Festival
Re-imagining better ways to live in our cities


My top 4 takeaways from the BHF public talks


Whilst the waterfront expo of modular housing rightly grabbed the headlines, the BHF launch week also hosted a packed out programme of public talks in the City.

I was lucky to have helped develop the programme, as well as chair all five sessions. Now that I’ve had enough time to recover from that rather intense week, I thought I’d summarise my top 4 take-aways (and save you from needing to trawl through 8 hours of video on the BHF facebook site!).

1. People care a lot about housing

In all the sessions, the number of insightful and passionate audience questions unfortunately exceeded the amount of time we had to discuss them. In the UK we spend around 90% of our time indoors, and we’ve all got a view about what good and bad housing is based on our experiences.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs summarises what we innately know – that shelter and comfort are critical to us thriving as individuals. But beyond this, people see a system that doesn’t currently work and which negatively impacts our societal wellbeing.

2. Place matters more than product

The expo made it easy to focus on the physicality and aesthetics of different house types. Visitors could kick thetyres, and try out the product. The public talks highlighted how good homes are so much more than the hardwareof the built form. We heard how social connections through inter-generational and co-housing support both place-making and place-keeping. New systems and products alone are not enough, we need different and better models for funding, building and curating our homes too.

3. We need quality and quantity

Housing is too easily downgraded to a numbers game, with policies focused on targets for “new units delivered”, let alone “housing built”, and rarely homes created. The talks illustrated how our homes and communities can be designed sustainably, for a future climate and supporting a shift to a circular economy. We heard both scepticism and excitement about the efficiencies and high quality promises of off-site construction.

4. We have both great talent and examples to learn from locally

From 15 speakers and hundreds of attendees we heard about many great local housing projects, both those up and running and planned. Many were pioneering, and all offered clues to how to do better housing in Bristol. I was struck by the breadth and depth of talent in the room – from designers to self-builders, developers to social innovators. Bristol is a place for those that do. Housing is such an important and emotive issue for us as citizens. As the first new housing projects linked with the

Bristol Housing Festival start on the ground, I look forwards to being part of a bigger and better city-wide conversation. More information about the Bristol Housing Festival can be found at with recordings of the talks via

Nick James is a design thinker and sustainable housing specialist. His consultancy and project management business, future ground, helps clients to create shared value from a better built environment.

sigh jones