My first visit to LIFI 22 was to see one of my television heroes, Kevin McCloud, everybody’s favourite architect and designer, who has a way of offering support to self-builders whilst, at the same time, can cast a look in their direction which says ‘Are you serious?’ – or something a little stronger.

This event was a straightforward talk, much more informal and entertaining than a lecture but still getting across his point of view, which is what we were there for obviously. The problem with writing about this type of presentation is that it can read like the notes from a lesson which you took at school, and be about as interesting, so I will just give an overview.

The thrust of the piece was to advocate the sense of community within new developments, and even refurbished existing ones. He ran through a list of his personal heroes who have championed this cause in one way or another. There were architects, artists, gardeners and a psychologist, all of whom added grist to this particular mill.

It struck me that it wasn’t the format of the dwellings themselves he believes matters most, although obviously the constructions have to be sound, but the spaces between, which allow residents and visitors to interact with each other. Greenery played a large part in the talk, as did the concepts of shared ownership and social housing.

Taken at face value I thought that Mr McCloud made some excellent points but ignored a couple of fundamental things; firstly there are miserable old geysers like myself who would be more than happy not to interact with anyone in my local community more than once a month, and don’t want to have to put up with those who do, congregating outside their window; secondly, and far more importantly, the British attitude to home ownership was not mentioned at all, insofar as regarding your home as a major asset rather than somewhere to live.

We are a nation of property speculators who aspire to trade up on a more regular basis than most other countries. As I write this, a mini budget has been revealed, with one of the major tenets being the raising of the stamp duty threshold in order to kick start the economy by encouraging just this practice.

To introduce a modicum of balance here, as Mr McCloud pointed out, the Conservatives were responsible for the largest social housing programme in this country’s history in the 1950s and 1960s.

I enjoyed the presentation very much with lots to agree with, and take exception to, in almost equal measure. My biggest gripe was with the ‘questions’ section at the end where the contributors seemed to be more interested in pushing their own agendas than either obtaining clarification or adding to the debate.

Anyway, if this is the standard we can expect from LIFI 22 then I am sure that it will be a great success, and deservedly so.

Leeds International Festival of Ideas is taking place at Howard Assembly Room and runs until Sunday, 25th September. To see the full programme please go to whilst bookings can be made at There is bound to be something to stimulate the grey matter.

This event was sponsored by Weightmans Legal Services.

Featured image provided by LIFI22. Photograph by Stan Graham

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