Revolutionary shipping container homes built for £20,000 are future of affordable housing says former Sheffield policeman

A former police officer turned eco-housebuilder wants to ‘reinvent’ the way we think about affordable housing.

Friday, 29th March 2019, 1:47 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd April 2019, 2:49 pm

For the last 18 months, Jon Johnson has lived in the home he built from two shipping containers for £20,000 after becoming frustrated with the traditional housing market.

He has since set up a business - Reach Homes - which seeks to build 600 of them a year, providing low energy homes to as many people as they can while at the same time training young people in sustainable building techniques.

The revolutionary buildings use 90 per cent less energy than a traditional home, are powered by solar panels on the roof and barely ever need heating.

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Jon Johnson at Heeley City Farm. Picture Scott Merrylees.
Jon Johnson at Heeley City Farm. Picture Scott Merrylees.

But as well as serving an important ecological and social need, Jon said they are also really nice places to live.

He said: “It is fantastic and I love waking up in the morning and looking at something I have built and thinking this is my home.

“I will be sad to move on when the time comes.”

Jon’s house sits in beautiful surroundings near Heeley City Farm who provided him the land and will eventually take over the building when he moves on.

Jon Johnson at Heeley City Farm. Picture Scott Merrylees

After seeing a similar project in Ireland on Channel 4 series Grand Designs, he says he first built a Lego model of his idea and then secured a £5,000 grant to help fund it.

“There is a negative association in some people’s minds with the old ‘prefabs’ but off-site manufacture is the future of construction without a doubt,” he said.

“We need to be building houses that are energy neutral - the 300,000 new homes they are hoping to build are just 300,000 extra climate change problems.”

Jon first came to Sheffield in 1982 to study law and later joined the police force before retiring in 2011.

Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Falling Water' house in Pennsylvania (photo: Pixabay).

He also runs Sheffield furniture recycling shop Strip the Willow and currently splits his time between there, Reach and his work with the National Federation of Affordable Builders, which he set up to take on the might of the big housebuilders.

“The housing market is a money laundering cartel and the government is complicit in it,” said Jon.

“The big firms have got all the money and walk all over the regulations which is why we have a housing crisis.

“Most people who go into it do so to make a lot of money but we are a not for profit so everything we make gets reinvested.

“People are too focused on the value of money and not what you can do with it. That is why I see social enterprises like Reach as part of the way out.”

However, Jon’s ambitions do not end with addressing social and ecological problems with state-of-the-art energy efficient homes made of shipping containers.

A fan of legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, he hopes one day to build something as iconic as the designer’s iconic ‘Falling Water’ using the same principles.

“That house has held the title of most beautiful house in the world for too long,” he jokes.

“It is not just thinking outside the box - there is no box as far as I am concerned.”

To find out more about Reach Homes, visit