Sponsored by Vistry Group

A better blueprint: tackling the housing crisis holistically

The UK has a serious housing shortage. Countryside Partnerships' solution is built of more than brick and mortar: the company is placemaking, innovating, and staying sustainable.

A house in the Millbank Lock development – newbuild, red brick family home.

Image supplied by Vistry Group

Sponsor from Vistry Group

As rents and mortgages soar, the UK faces a worsening housing crisis exacerbated by a severe shortage of homes. Think tank Centre for Cities suggests four million homes are needed to end the crisis. The promising news is that clear action is being taken: the government has insisted it will meet a target of building 300,000 new homes each year – and that’s where Countryside Partnerships steps in.

With Countryside Partnerships recently welcomed into the fold of UK housebuilder Vistry Group (which also includes the brands Bovis Homes, Linden Homes and now Countryside Homes), the overall group is on course to build almost 18,000 homes of all tenures including affordable, build-to-rent and homes for private sale this year, making it one of the leading homebuilding companies in the UK. And it takes ‘leading’ seriously, focusing on aspects like sustainability, innovation and partnerships.

Countryside Partnerships is the biggest player in the UK homebuilding sector when it comes to partnering with affordable housing providers such as local authorities and housing associations, and as one of Homes England’s strategic partners, it has received £150m of funding. Greg Fitzgerald, CEO of Vistry Group, says: “This grant funding was instrumental to our recent partnership with housing provider Sage Homes. Through their new Home Stepper shared ownership model, we’re initially delivering around 750 shared ownership homes around the nation.”

“Everything fell into place”

Charlotte (29) is one of those who’s taken advantage of the homes on offer. A first-time buyer, she recently moved into the Millbank Lock estate in Greater Manchester. She says: “Without the Home Stepper scheme I wouldn’t have been able to get onto the property ladder – my salary wasn’t enough to qualify for a mortgage. I received an inheritance from my uncle who, before he passed away, said he wanted me to use the money towards buying a home for myself and my seven-month-old baby. Thanks to Home Stepper I’ve been able to do that.

Without the scheme I wouldn’t have been able to get onto the property ladder – my salary didn’t qualify for a mortgage.

“I’d been waiting for the houses at Millbank Lock to become available for some time, as I want to move closer to my family when I go back to work after maternity leave.

“Countryside released this home just three days after I received my inheritance, so it felt like everything fell into place.”

Roadmap to sustainability

Buildings are currently responsible for 39% of global carbon emissions, so it’s reassuring that sustainability is front and centre at Countryside Partnerships. Jack Brayshaw, group head of the technical innovation team, explains that sustainability means far more than insulated walls.

Wooden playset in a meadow setting, with children playing
An example of Countryside Partnerships’ placemaking: natural play areas (image supplied by Vistry Group)

“It’s about placemaking, biodiversity, hitting the standards around energy efficiency,” he says. “Sustainable homes are also adapted for future climate change. So overheating, flooding and other scenarios are all factored into our designs.

“It also includes employees, clients, investors and supply chains. And we have third party independent auditors that check the data that we collect is accurate, that our methods are robust and that we’re transparent.”

To guide their operations they’ve created a clear roadmap to sustainability. It shows that by using innovation, an appropriate budget and sheer determination they aim to meet the government targets earlier than required. “For example, at Europa Way in Leamington Spa, we built 54 zero carbon homes that already meet the government’s 2025 target. And the company aims to meet the government’s 2050 target in 2040,” says Brayshaw.

Foundations for the future

A young man in high-vis and a hard hat learning construction skills in a workshop setting
Enfield Skills Academy (image supplied by Vistry Group)

Another important objective for Countryside Partnerships and the Vistry Group is to help more people enter the construction industry. In 2017, the group launched their first Skills Academy, an innovative training programme delivered in partnership with local authorities, schools and colleges, as well as local supply chains. With a further 13 academies – six more planned in the next 12 months alone – the aim is to encourage more people into construction and combat the skills shortage in the industry.

Explains Fitzgerald: “Each academy provides onsite training, mentoring and skills development, creating opportunities for local people – often long-term unemployed – to gain work experience and vocational qualifications including NVQs, CSCS cards and other safety qualifications. To date 8,300 people have benefited from our academies.”

In all, the holistic approach of Countryside Partnerships and Vistry Group as a whole reassures us that the future of homebuilding is in safe hands. As Brayshaw puts it: “Sustainability really matters to us, and to our customers. It’s at the heart of what we’re doing for better placemaking, better homes and better communities – and to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for the UK.”

Sustainable and desirable

To be a success, sustainable housing needs to be something owners want. That’s why Countryside Partnerships go through a painstaking process to make sure their innovations enhance the living experience.

They have calculated that their homeowners save £135 on monthly energy bills on average “and that figure isn’t going to get smaller”, says Jack Brayshaw.

While sustainable practices and technology progress, the aim is to keep maintenance to a minimum and ensure that minimal compromise is needed. “For example, we’ve got trials on the go with water-efficient showers,” he says. “These reduce the water demand but, importantly, they give the same experience of having a power shower, rather than it just trickling out. We want to meet our sustainability targets, but we want to do that in a way that makes our customers happy.”

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