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Exhibition marks Solihull’s self-build revolution

Publish date:Tuesday, July 3, 2018

An exhibition celebrating the work of Solihull’s self-build housing associations will be held in the Heritage Gallery on the first floor of The Core Library from Saturday 21 July to Saturday 15 September.

“They Made It Happen! – Solihull’s self-build revolution”, celebrates the self-build housing associations which built around 500 houses in Solihull in the 1950s.

The exhibition will be officially opened by The Mayor of Solihull, Councillor Mrs Flo Nash on Saturday 21 July, 10.00am-11.00am. The opening will also include a short talk by historian Dr Jean Debney, whose new book “Building the Dream” focuses on Solihull’s associations. Attendees will be able to buy a discounted copy of the book and have it signed by the author.

The associations were set up by people who were so desperate for a home of their own that they grouped together and built the houses themselves. In addition to their full-time jobs, members committed to working more than 20 hours per week for the two or three years needed to build the houses that, when complete, would be available for them to rent from the housing association. When regulations were relaxed a few years later, members were able to buy the houses.

Solihull Urban District Council welcomed the self-build groups and found land for them when other local authorities had none available. Solihull’s encouragement led the way for thousands of families to build their own homes in the 1950s.

Self-build houses are known to have been built in Ebrington Avenue, old Lode Lane, Dovedale Avenue, Portia Avenue, Fabian Crescent, Catesby Road, Oberon Drive, Regan Avenue, Shakespeare Drive, Queens Avenue, Antony Road and Fallowfield Road.

The Heritage & Local Studies Service at The Core Library is keen to hear people’s memories of the Solihull self-build schemes. Please contact the library on 0121 704 6977 or email if you have any information.


Notes to editors

For further information please contact Tracey Williams, Heritage & Local Studies Librarian, The Core Library on 0121 704 6976 or

About the author: Dr Jean Debney is the daughter of the Treasure of the Silver Birch Housing Association, one of the schemes that built houses in Ebrington Avenue. Her book charts the reasons why there was a monumental housing shortage with crippling economic problems. She examines Solihull’s timely intervention to aid many homeless Birmingham families and sets it all in the national perspective.    

Jean says: “To me, it is really important to acknowledge what these wonderful people have done. They are all in their nineties now, and many have long since left us. It would be lovely to get as many together as possible at The Core Library on 21 July to celebrate their guts and determination. A lot can be learnt from this with our present national housing crisis.”  

Background info:

In 1947, the UK was in a calamitous situation. Years of war and waves of bombing had left cities like Birmingham with immense housing shortages. There were 70,000 people on the housing list waiting for council houses in Birmingham alone, and that was rising with returning National Servicemen.  

One million homes were needed in five years – materials were in extremely short supply, and many construction workers had become casualties of the war meaning there was a national labour shortage.  

Many young couples and families found themselves living with their in-laws, and it was not uncommon for newlyweds to live apart from their spouse with their respective parents, not just for months but for years.  

Reg Harvey worked for the Post Office in Birmingham as a telegraphist. He and his wife Dot, were living with her parents as were her sister and her husband. It was Dot’s mother who first saw an article in the Birmingham Evening Mail that highlighted Mr George Lavender and the 49 GPO workers who were attempting to build their own houses in Tallington Road, Sheldon.  

In a moment of desperation Reg decided that it was only the way to go and that he was going to do the same. However, the members of George Lavender’s scheme were not builders and only had one bricklayer amongst them. Reg knew instinctively that in order to build successfully, trades were needed. With that in mind, he and the group of enthusiastic others that he had pulled together from the GPO, advertised for like-minded tradesmen to join them; they were inundated with sacks full of mail. The only problems now were to get land, licenses to build and money…


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