• Sarah Tempest

Build Build Build

To borrow the Prime Minister’s slogan, "Build, Build, Build", an important part of Rooftop's work is the development of well-designed, good quality, affordable homes. The COVID-19 lockdown meant that any developments that had already begun construction were faced with new requirements to ensure safety. Any Rooftop schemes that were in the planning stages went into temporary limbo, while all of the relevant agencies were forced to stop working in normal ways. Likewise, any developments that were still being discussed and designed also went into semi-hibernation, as relevant stake holders became less available.

Along with everyone in the country, the Rooftop Development Team had to adapt to a new way of working and there was much uncertainty.

Andrew Warner, Rooftop’s Head of Programme Delivery in The Development Team says;

“we have to work with many partners and different agencies; building contractors, suppliers, planners, architects, surveyors, local communities and many others. At first the Government did not tell construction sites to stop working, so there were some places where work continued, but the guidance was vague and contractors that Rooftop worked with began to put staff onto the furlough scheme. A little after lockdown had been announced, a matter of a couple of weeks or so, contractors stopped working on sites that Rooftop were involved with. Meanwhile there was a natural slowing down in our Development Sales Department, and the members of the Development Team who worked on planning new developments and schemes, also witnessed a slow down as council planning committees and other relevant professions began setting up their own procedures for remote working.”

Walkinshaw Court, Gloucester, a Rooftop development completed at the end of 2019

There are many divisions within Development and Rooftop has its own specialist managers who look after those different areas. Nicky Baker is our Sales and Marketing Manager, she said;

“At the beginning of lockdown, there was a bit of panic throughout the housing sales industry. Some people were suggesting that sales programmes should be pulled all together and it was a very rough week or two at the start.”

Nicky argued that sales and marketing could continue in an online environment and she said it was heartening when the company Rightmove announced that they were slashing the costs of advertising between the 1st of April and the 1st of July. She says it was very quiet in sales when lockdown was first announced, as people put any thoughts of moving on hold. Enquiries dried up completely and mortgage companies pulled products, therefore making it more difficult for buyers anyway.

A few weeks into lockdown, for no particular reason that Nicky can explain, enquiries for our shared ownership properties began to pick up and she says;

“we're now getting huge numbers of enquiries, because one thing that lockdown has shown people is that where you live and the quality of your home is incredibly important.”

New Rooftop homes at Staverton

The Rooftop Sales Team recorded video tours of properties so that we could safely market without people needing to view properties in person. At the very beginning of lockdown, when there were properties that were ready for the keys to be handed over to new customers, protocols needed to be set up to make sure that this was safe. In normal circumstances when handover happens, the customer and the Rooftop sales representative look round a property together, do physical checks to make sure that there are no snagging issues to be resolved, take meter readings and generally have a good look.

Under Covid-19 restrictions, Rooftop staff have visited the property alone, made notes about any potential snagging issues, cleaned down any surfaces and door handles etc. and then left the keys in the property inside a plastic bag. The buyers have then been able to talk to the Rooftop Sales Team at a safe social distance and been able to take ownership of their home. Customers have been able to report any issues they want to highlight via email or phone.

Nicky says that sales have gone crazy now and when asked why she says;

“perhaps first time buyers might have been able to save a little bit more during lockdown because of being unable to go out, also Rooftop has homes that are in pleasant rural areas and COVID-19 has shown people that having outdoor space is incredibly important.”

Nicky says that every shared ownership property that Rooftop has ready for sale in our rural schemes are currently under offer. She feels far more positive than she did 3 months ago and she certainly couldn’t have envisaged the volume of enquiries she’s receiving now. Shared ownership properties and good social housing is more important than ever she says. Shared ownership can be beneficial for those who are uncertain about the economic future and can allow first time buyers to afford to buy their own home.

New Rooftop bungalows at Cheltenham Road, Evesham

Our Sales Team, rely on other members of the Development Team to get new houses built. Lockdown has presented difficulties to members of the Development Team that office working had not. Katherine Portman, Development Manager says;

“sitting every day in one room has been challenging, I live alone as do other members of the development team. The team have been brilliant,checking in on each other."

She says that moving forward she thinks Development will come out of this as a better team than when they went in, because they have supported each other and seen everyone in their home environment.

Apart from the challenges of adapting the way that they work, Katherine says that in many other ways the Development Team have been able to continue much as they did before. She said that many of the people that they worked with from external organisations, such as Consultants, were furloughed, but Rooftop has dealt with remaining members of staff at these companies, such as Directors, so things have carried on, but with different people.

The building contractors that Rooftop works with tend to be on the medium to small scale and she said the challenge moving forward will be that bigger contractors potentially will get their supply chains up and running faster, so for example if local sand and gravel pits have shut during lockdown, then the builders we work with may have difficulties getting materials.

Head of Programme Delivery, Andrew Warner, says that the planning side of Development basically stopped for a while as local authorities needed to set up their protocols for remote working, but during lockdown Rooftop has had a planning development approved and we are delighted that we will be able to build 27 affordable apartments on Swan Lane in Evesham. This will be welcome to Nicky Baker our Sales and Marketing Manager, who has seen such a high demand for our properties.

Images for new Rooftop flats to be built at Swan Lane, Evesham

To provide more homes, the Development Team have been in talks with developers who have what’s known as standing stock, that is completed properties that have not been sold. We have just had hand over on properties in Staverton and we also have properties about to be completed at Kempsey.

New Rooftop homes at Kempsey

Covid-19 has highlighted how important good quality affordable homes are. Unfortunately, Coronavirus has appeared to be more prevalent within areas where there is poor housing and not enough social housing available. Moving forward, Rooftop hopes, along with the "Homes At The Heart" campaign that's being run by the National Housing Federation, that the Government will invest more into much needed social housing.

Rooftop will continue to bid through the Matrix Partnership, a partnership of housing associations, for monies made available by Homes England to build good quality affordable homes for our rural communities.

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