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Twisted perceptions of modular homes must be tackled

Brian Ham

Land for housing is a political hot potato right now, with the Letwin review in full swing to determine how to use it more efficiently.

But once we as developers have the land to build on, we need to create new homes at scale and pace. So how can we ensure quality when speeding up rates of provision?

As a housing association with a strong social focus, building the homes Britain needs is a key priority for Home Group – and this is the driver behind our ambition to build 10,000 by 2021.

But regardless of how quickly we need more housing, the quality, security and safety of homes is paramount.

Second-rate homes?

This is where modern methods of construction (MMC) come into play.

We know that offsite builds are subject to strict quality assurance rules and processes. However, research conducted by YouGov on behalf of Home Group showed 41 per cent of respondents felt modular homes were less durable than traditional builds.

Of course, the sector doesn’t see it that way, but we have the luxury of behind-the-scenes access. We see modular homes as a better option – better in terms of efficiency, quality, value, health and safety and choice.

Yet a significant 52 per cent of survey respondents said they wouldn’t choose to live in a modular home. The reason behind this appears to be based on perception, rather than reality.

“Perhaps we haven’t been as publicly outspoken about the benefits of MMC as we should have been. Perhaps we have been far too busy talking to ourselves”

Almost 90 per cent of respondents failed to recognise a modular home, and more than 70 per cent identified shipping container homes as modular homes. Why would the public associate quality and durability with modular homes if the only idea they have about modular is converted freight storage?

Those of us in the industry may well know that modular accommodation was used on luxury liner the Queen Mary II. We may also know that many manufacturers of modular homes design and build their houses to withstand earthquakes, never mind the transportation from factory to site.

The problem we face is that public perceptions are stuck in the early days of modular builds. Perhaps we haven’t been as publicly outspoken about the benefits of MMC as we should have been. Perhaps we have been far too busy talking to ourselves.

Live research project

So instead of simply telling the public our modular homes are high quality, we are inviting BRE to carry out an evaluation in collaboration with residents.

Gateshead Innovation Village is a live research project that will see Home Group and Engie work with a wide range of MMC manufacturers and smart tech providers to monitor efficiency, quality and durability, with a key focus of this being based on tenant feedback.

The factors to be considered include efficiency, cost, quality, durability and lifestyle, and we hope to gain a far deeper understanding about how we can meet all of these factors when using MMC at scale.

The project, in partnership with Homes England, is due to start in May, with the first complete modular homes expected on site during the summer and tenants set to move in around November. Overall, the site will see 41 new homes of various types come together to form the foundations of a new community.

BRE will work closely with Home Group, first to gather qualitative feedback from customers to understand their expectations before moving in, and then to monitor how the homes and tech perform for them.

Beyond the tenants who move into the Gateshead homes, we are also inviting the wider public to go behind the factory doors and see what is really involved in terms of manufacture and quality processes. We’re doing this by opening up the process digitally so that the modular journey becomes accessible and transparent through film, virtual reality and more.

We can’t just continue to tell people that MMC provides quality and efficiency; we must invite them to take a look for themselves.

Brian Ham is executive director, development, at Home Group

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