The journey from Barratt boxes to one of the best in class

A Section 106 agreement is a planning obligation that was first set out in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. It involves the developer making financial contributions to benefit the community within which it plans to build, with the reasoning being that creating more homes and therefore more residents, will put more stress on the infrastructure of the area.

So a 106 agreement can include anything from a proportion of affordable housing and/or cold hard cash that the council can invest in community services and facilities to ensure local people benefit from home building within their area.

The contributions can be contentious and some developers resent paying them but, if spent wisely, they can make a big difference. Gary Chambers is the managing director of the recently launched Barratt Homes Sheffield division, which covers Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Chesterfield, and fully supports the idea of giving back, so much so that he and others in Barratt’s Yorkshire stable are going above and beyond.

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Along with the usual 106 remits of building a proportion of affordable homes for rent via housing associations and providing money for sports facilities, libraries and health and social mobility projects that it is bound to do, Barratt has partnered with social impact organisation Well North Enterprise, which is led by Lord Andrew Mawson.

Barratt Homes on the Penning Fold development in BarnsleyBarratt Homes on the Penning Fold development in Barnsley
Barratt Homes on the Penning Fold development in Barnsley

The partnership is being trialled in Yorkshire and involves creating a “social value toolkit”, which in layperson’s terms means working with schools to help upskill local young people and attract them to the housebuilding sector, which has a shortage of tradespeople.

To this end, Barratt is set to build an “Insight House” on its Waverley development in Rotherham, which will launch in February 2024. Young people will be able to visit and it is hoped that some will be inspired to work in the homebuilding industry, which desperately needs new recruits.

Meanwhile, Sheffield Hallam University has had a donation of £111,000 for scholarships and bursaries from The Barratt Foundation, the charitable arm of Barratt Developments. The three-year commitment provides nine scholarships and 60 bursaries to support students facing financial hardship during their studies.

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The Barratt Foundation and Sheffield Hallam are working together to address the UK’s skills shortage in the construction sector, which has worsened since Brexit, by supporting students to study in the university’s renowned Department for the Natural and Built Environment.

“We are trying to genuinely make a difference to the communities we build in. Sheffield Children’s Hospital is our chosen charity this year and although we are a small team, we raised almost £3,000 for it by doing the Penistone 10k, which we also sponsored,” says Gary. “In Hoylandswaine, we painted a school room and we are also in talks with a school in a deprived area of Sheffield about putting a sensory garden in for them.”

The pay off is positive publicity, of course, but it is also good for staff morale. “It feels good to be doing something really worthwhile. We have staff volunteer days, which we pay them for, and that’s how we painted the school,” says Gary.

Being a good employer is absolutely vital in an industry where skilled individuals are retiring and replacements can be hard to find. “We have got an ageing workforce and there is a lack of young people coming through. Many of them don’t understand that working for a developer is not just bricklaying and plastering. It’s about buying land, quantity surveying and engineering, along with other skills,” says Gary. “We are fortunate that people want to work for us but we are not complacent. At the moment there is a lot of work going in Rotherham where we are going into schools and doing skills sessions and helping students with C.V’s.”

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The firm is also working with the University of Salford on the Zed house to test and monitor the most modern sustainable housing technology such as an air source heat pump, infrared panels, plaster that eliminates pollutants, heated skirting boards and air-powered showers, among other things.

All the above warrants an A star for effort but that wasn’t always the case. Barratt was launched in 1958 by accountant Lawrie Barratt, who saw a gap in the market for affordable, first-time buyer homes, and the profits rolled in until the 1980’s when the firm took a huge hit after its properties were labelled “Barratt boxes” not noted for their build quality.

It was an expensive lesson learned and Barratt has since rebuilt its reputation. 2023 marks the fourteenth year in a row that the company has achieved the top 5 star rating based on customer responses to the question: “would you recommend your builder to a friend?”

“The culture now is to do the right thing, whether it’s build quality, buying a piece of land or moving a customer into their new home,” says Gary.