Overcoming barriers to development

Chamomile Gardens is an award-winning extra care scheme, started in 2020 by Grand Union. The scheme comprised of 93 one and two bed apartments available at social rent and shared ownership.

How did they do it?

The land and funding for this scheme came from Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) and Taylor Wimpey. The council owned a couple of sites and Taylor Wimpey won these in a competitive process, on the basis that one of the two sites would be sold to a registered provider to deliver extra care housing.

The land had to be made available at no cost to the registered provider and Taylor Wimpey had to provide subsidies to make the scheme work financially. Due to the size of the build, the project manager, Clerk of Works, and the supported housing team, made weekly visits to the site, which meant decisions could be made quickly and minimised any delays to site progress.

The team also employed specialist agents to advise on progress and the installation of mechanical and electrical services. Grand Union also worked with an interior design company called Open Door to ensure furnishings were homely and dementia friendly. The scheme has a light and airy feel, with modern, homely communal spaces. There is a cinema room, lounge and tv snug, a hobbies room and an entrance with sofas and chairs, for customers to socialise and make new friends.

What challenges did they face?

The team faced delays during the Covid 19 pandemic, when they encountered labour and material shortages and rapid inflation. To minimise the effects of these barriers, Grand Union worked closely with the development contractor to order large quantities of materials. This meant that they avoided some of the cost inflation and minimised delays.

Working in partnership

The scheme also boasts a partnerships forum, made up of elected residents, Grand Union’s team and the on-site care provider, Care is Central. The forum meets monthly and provides an opportunity for residents to raise concerns, such as on repairs, antisocial behaviour, gardening, and cleaning services. The aim is for the partnership to develop and give customers a platform to inform and shape the services.

What advice would you give to housing associations looking to develop?

  • Ensure you have early engagement from the local authority and commissioning authority.
  • Ensure a detailed specification is agreed with colleagues and contractor prior to starting the build.
  • Understand the market for sales. Consider what other provision is around that the new provision might impact, but also consider the wider property market. Remember that the market can change during planning and building.
  • Do not over-estimate your sales rate – be very cautious with this element of the project cashflow.
  • Carefully consider your service charge, the impact on occupation and the cost of your service charge approach.
  • Have various stress testing models, to understand impact on slower occupancy, slower build out rate, different market conditions.
  • Ensure you have a robust marketing plan and show homes

Who to speak to

Ewan Fulford, Policy Assistant