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Building with nature – how does this benefit your tenants?

SFHA Development Conference speaker interview with Dr Gemma Jerome, Director of Building with Nature

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Ahead of her session at SFHA Development Conference on 17 March, Events Assistant Mollie Stephen spoke to Dr Gemma Jerome, Director of Building with Nature, about how housing associations will develop in the future, the future of development, and how building with nature benefits tenants.

How does building with nature benefit tenants?

The UK is set to build hundreds of thousands of new homes and enhance existing communities. Too often, developments have left the natural world poorer and opportunities to positively enhance health and well-being have been missed.

Today, there are clear targets on climate change, biodiversity, and strengthening natural capital and the Nature Recovery Network through new development and retrofitting existing development. There are also public health drivers encouraging healthy, sustainable places to live to ensure everyone has the chance to flourish where they live.

Through supporting and championing best-practice, we are helping to deliver great schemes, mainstream green infrastructure in place-making and raise the bar for industry.

Building with Nature provide a framework of quality standards, an assessment and accreditation service, and national awards recognising the design and delivery of high-quality green infrastructure.

What will be the biggest change in how housing associations develop in the future?

There are two big challenges for housing associations as we move into a less certain future. One relates to the practical challenges we collectively face with increasing uncertainty around environment change as a result of the twin threats of the climate and ecological crises.

In addition, I would say that the key message for housing associations is that sustainability of impact is inherent in the opportunities presented by this tenure type. As legacy landowners and agents/stewards of the assets (both homes and greenspaces), there is a commitment to long-term management and maintenance of the green infrastructure features which provide benefits to both people (tenants) and the wider environment (wildlife).

If an appropriate development brief is set and implemented in partnership with a sympathetic design team, construction professionals who share the same values, and an ongoing professional relationship is established from the outset with a grounds maintenance team who have the knowledge and skills to maintain and monitor functionality (as well as aesthetics) of soft, green landscaping features, this will present the best assurance of quality, and sustainability of outcomes – for people and wildlife, as expected by planning departments, and increasingly measured by the sector in terms of reputational standing.

How do you think development will change in the future?

If I were to choose one issue to focus on as we look to the future, it would be quality. It’s imperative for all of us that new development is fit for purpose. Currently, the focus is still too much on delivering as many units as possible, as quickly as possible, with the highest profit margin possible. There is an inherent misunderstanding in the sector that you have to choose between quality and quantity, and this just isn’t the case. Building with Nature exists to challenge this paradigm, and support those involved in bringing new development forward to overcome perceived and actual obstacles to delivering quality across all tenure types, to secure a better, more resilient and sustainable future for all.

There are practical changes that we can easily make to ensure we design and implement higher quality homes and communities, and developers and planners both have an important role to play in bringing forward future-proof development. But critically, we need innovation around the mechanisms to assure ongoing and appropriate level of resources to manage and maintain green features in, and around, our housing stock to ensure the benefits they bring, e.g. a sense of place, which can lead to higher retention levels, less stressful environments, higher levels of community cohesion, etc., and a more sustainability income model for housing associations.

The Development and Procurement Conference is taking place on 17 and 18 March at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. The Development Conference is on 17 March and is followed by the Procurement Conference on 18 March.     

The delegate fee for both days starts at £229 for SFHA members (£319 for non-members), which includes attendance, lunch and all refreshments.           

When you book to attend the two days, the cost is £395 – a saving of £63.       

If you book three places, you can bring a colleague for free.     

For more information, or to book your place, please visit the conference’s event page

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