The recent promotion of housing to the higher echelons of media coverage and political agendas has meant that “affordable housing” is no longer a term that is only used in housing industry publications and is resulting in many British people beginning to realise that “key workers” don’t just work for the Mister Minute chain.
But just as the term affordable housing can often cause confusion with many still believing it a term that just covers the socially rented sector, the term “key worker” can be equally confusing. To me “key worker” means anyone serving a community in a profession that is traditionally cannot make one wealthy. As busy working parents, we couldn’t do without our nanny, our cleaner, our gardener. As busy, time short designers we rely on taxi drivers, despatch riders, postmen, sandwich delivery people, dry cleaners, staff at the local stationary shop, the platform announcer at the tube station and indeed the staff at Hemingwaydesign. All of these will struggle to obtain a mortgage at today’s property prices. Its unsustainable and immoral to price these workers out of our towns and cities.
A search on Google for the term “key worker” throws up , on the top of the list, a site www.keyworkerliving.co.uk , a consortium of the south east’s prominent RSL’s working together to provide affordable homes to people working in Education, Health, the Police, the Prison Service,the Probation Service or a Local Authority Planners, Local Authority Social Workers, Local Authority Occupational Therapists or Local Authority Educational Psychologists. There has been lots of media coverage in the past months about how nurses, firemen and teachers annual earnings are regularly only around a twentieth of our posher towns and cities average house prices and how a key workers chance of buying via a mortgage based solely on their income is becoming increasingly remote. So we decided to try something different.
We have been fortunate to meet a new development company, Dwell Developments, who share the concerns that we have at Hemingwaydesign about housing affordability and fortunate to be able to work with them in the delivery of The Birchin… 90 apartments in Manchester ‘s Northern Quarter starting at £79,995.We carefully worked to price points (designing just about everything ourselves and producing everything locally rather than buying in expensive designer label kitchens and fittings ) with the aim of creating the most affordable apartments in central Manchester. Having become increasingly concerned about the sheer overwhelming proportion of “sold but not lived in” apartments in our cities that are detracting from the so called urban living renaissance, we came up with what we believed would be a way to dissuade investors from buying off plan and instead give the various segments of the key worker market a chance to buy a home close to where they worked.
Our cunning plan was to launch our units at shift change times ie 6am for nurses, 7am for firemen etc until a mid morning wider launch for the local resident community and community of local artisans, designers, shopkeepers, cleaners, taxi drivers et al.
The idea received national coverage (including 3 full pages in The Times, Bricks & Mortar section, full pages in the Manchester Evening News). All prospective buyers having to show their union cards or prove that they were local.
On the morning of the launch we arrived on site to find the BBC, Sky News and a gamut of reporters all expecting to get shots of nurses and firemen in their uniforms. By 6am it was clear that despite the massive coverage there wasn’t a governments description of a keyworker in sight. But there was a steady trickle which by mid morning became something of a deluge of local workers, members of the Northern Quarter community and young first time buyers who wanted to live in the Northern Quarter.
The press didn’t get nurses in their sexy uniforms, but we sold the apartments to our definition of keyworkers. Just about all of the released units ended up being sold, few to our knowledge will end up in the hands of investors and most will be occupied by keyworkers who wouldn’t be eligible for schemes like “Keyworker Living”.
Time to widen the definition of keyworkers?