Are shipping containers really the answer to Britain’s housing crisis?


Once just a means for transporting goods across the globe, the shipping container now serves a new purpose – replacing buildings with a cheaper and more flexible alternative.

The concept has been embraced globally and created much success, including in Shoreditch where Boxpark has introduced a new hub of activity to the area, with particular focus on independent start-ups. As each merchant pays a fraction of the rent they would normally have to pay in Central London due to the short lease periods, independent retailers and others can have their own physical platform, encouraging innovation and creativity to flourish.

Now, shipping containers are being used as a temporary solution to Britain’s housing crisis too. In 2018 this form of accommodation won awards for the improvements it had made to the lives of its inhabitants, and its benefits of being highly sustainable and cost effective are good in theory.

But while this may be feasible for commercial purposes, the people living in shipping container accommodation are reporting that these conditions are unbearable to live in. Last week, the Evening Standard shed light on The Bleak Houses report by the Children’s Commissioner, which explained that this form of temporary accommodation is dangerous and not designed with the families living there in mind.

The large metal boxes hold the heat making it extremely hot inside, particularly in recent weather conditions, and can become freezing cold in the winter. Though this problem can be easily overcome by insulating the home, this often costs thousands of pounds, and those living here are already on a low income, therefore, it is simply not possible for them to pay for it directly.

These types of conditions may be bearable for a few weeks or so, which is how it seems it was intended to be at the start, as most of the families here were offered a maximum stay of 51 days. However, almost a year on, and many are still there with no sign of moving.

So, while we agree that this is a great idea, it’s not the solution to the housing crisis that many would like, and awards and prizes shouldn’t hide the full picture. This form of accommodation just isn’t suitable for long-term use, and better ideas are still needed for the many people who need somewhere safe and comfortable to live.