Blackpool Housing Company Limited was created in 2016 to help tackle the long-standing quality problems that the town’s private housing sector was experiencing. It’s testament to the positive impact the organisation has already made that it recently received the Development Programme of the Year accolade at the Northern Housing Awards.
“The award success is justification of the approach we’ve taken since we established the organisation three years ago,” explains Lee Burrell, Development Director. “In that time we have acquired and developed around 350 units within Blackpool that were of a very poor standard and made the necessary investment to improve them considerably, which is significant progress given that we’re a very small team. Many of these properties were former B&Bs, houses in multiple occupation or derelict houses that are now being used as family homes or other forms of accommodation.
“One of the first major jobs we completed was the redevelopment of two 30-bedroom hotels that are located side-by-side on Albert Road. One of the properties was a notorious party hotel, while the other had been fire damaged, so we had a significant job on our hands. Despite the challenges involved we’ve been able to create a 20-home apartment block that include many of the original features as well as the addition of energy efficient heating. This is a great example of what we’re striving to achieve and we are now in the middle of handing over another double hotel project on Station Road.
“We also carry out project management for Blackpool Council’s new build housing schemes. We’re on the verge of completing a 200-unit new build scheme for which we also provided the associated project management services. We have another three or four projects in development, which is an exciting addition to our core business.”
As it doesn’t have its own internal workforce other than a small maintenance team, Blackpool Housing Company has developed frameworks consisting of small and medium-sized contractors. As many of these companies are local, the arrangement has the added benefit of creating further job and training opportunities within Blackpool and the surrounding area.
The progress that Blackpool Housing Company has made is all the more impressive given the challenges that have been overcome along the way. “The first major hurdle was acquiring property at the right price,” outlines Mr Burrell. “This may sound easy in an area where there’s an oversupply of poor quality housing, but in a failing market values remain strangely strong because of the ability to achieve housing benefit returns on even poor quality rental properties.
“Another challenge involved creating understanding and delivering an affordable product within our well-defined business plan. This was always going to be difficult at a time of rising labour and materials costs, but we are working with a group of contractors that have really bought into our philosophy. They understand that we’re in this for the long term rather than just offering a one-off contract opportunity, which has helped to strengthen the relationships involved.”
In terms of how the impressive progress and subsequent award has been achieved, Mr Burrell believes a highly focused approach has been key. “One of the most important factors was that from Day One we worked hard to fully understand what our core objectives were before putting together a team of project managers that included individuals with a wealth of experience in construction and delivery. We then fully supported them in the correct manner, with the right outlook in terms of our financial model and associated business plan.
“Once the infrastructure was in place we were able to target the type of properties within the problem areas we’d identified and make the necessary improvements. This was only the halfway point in the process, however, as we also manage the properties through our own letting business called My Blackpool Home. This demonstrates that we can not only improve the quality of those properties that need looking at most within the town, but also shows clients that we can successfully manage and maintain their homes as a responsible landlord. There’s a collective impact of acquiring a property, improving it and then maintaining it to the same standard.
“On the flipside we also expect our tenants to act responsibly, we provide a high level of advice and tenancy support, a key part of this is the fact that we’re now a member of the Residential Landlords Association. What we are doing is unique. Other large housing organisations do have property development companies but their outlook is slightly different to ours. Everything we do is funded by money that has been loaned from Blackpool Council, which we repay through rental incomes. We therefore have to be incredibly driven in terms of managing costs to meet our quality objectives and this has to be supported by income generated through rent.
“We are one of the tools that the council is using to improve the private rented sector and the housing conditions in the inner areas of the town. We support other initiatives around that and earlier this year we were lucky enough to have a royal visit from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. That kind of recognition is vital to the mission.”
With an award win under its belt and royal approval, Blackpool Housing Company is looking to maintain the impressive momentum it has built up already. “Our business plan sets out our growth agenda quite clearly so we are looking at developing between 80 and 100 new homes per annum for the next eight or ten years,” concludes Mr Burrell. “We are already at 350 homes, which is a great indicator of just how far we’ve come considering we began this journey from a standing start.”