Hill Group raises the bar with SoloHaus – MMC Homes for the Homeless
Sometimes, something comes along that just knocks my socks off, and SoloHaus by Hill Group is one of those things.
Hill is a familiar name in the property game, constructing high spec, high quality housing developments across London and the south. In Oxford, Mosaics at Barton Park, on the northern edge of the city is one such build. With almost twenty years in the game myself, I am well advised on Hill developments but I hadn’t come across SoloHaus until just recently – and now that I have, I am determined to get the word out!
I’m jumping ahead slightly so let me just reverse here and provide some background to what becomes the most fantastic story. Hill Group was founded by Andy Hill back in 1999, after he was made redundant. Building a construction firm that has gone on to become one of the most recognisable names in the industry in the UK, The Hill Group is the second largest privately owned housebuilder in the UK. He admits that he was only able to achieve this with help and support from family, something that he recognises many people just simply do not have when facing similar circumstances. In 2019, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the business, Hill pledged to give back to the communities in which he operates by setting up Foundation 200, a £15 million initiative to provide modular homes for people experiencing homelessness. Following a report in 2019 about the staggering homeless crisis we have in the UK (over 250,000 people being classed as homeless on any given night in England alone) and recognising that circumstances such as he faced twenty years earlier can push many people into homelessness if help and support is not at hand. In April 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic was just beginning to bite, Hill set up Foundation 200 with his pledge ‘to build and gift 200 free homes in order to provide hundreds of people a meanwhile home, in a safe, secure, purpose-built single dwelling.’
The SoloHaus is that solution, and it is remarkable.
Hill joined forces with Volumetric Modular Ltd, taking a 50% stake in what was at that time a start-up design and manufacturing business in Shrewsbury, whose mission was to design and produce MMC (Modern Method of Construction) properties. Thus, SoloHaus was born – a self-contained dwelling, fabricated and assembled in a factory environment in as little as 15 days. The homes are easily transported and deliverable on the back of a flatbed truck, able to be lifted off and into place within just 30 minutes. They are designed to be stackable (to two storeys) meaning that small sites can be put to use to create multiple dwellings, requiring only waste, water and electric connections. Each unit provides 24 square metres of comfortable living accommodation. These are the first homes of their type to be designed specifically for the homeless, and this has been realised in collaboration with homeless stakeholder groups to ensure the design is anti-ligature, secure and created to provide a safe place. Built to Future Homes Standards, well insulated to retain heat in the winter but cool in the summer, the homes have proven to be cheap to run – just £5 in electricity costs, and this on a card-operated meter to encourage budgeting. For the end user, they provide safe, secure, comfortable and incredibly dignified accommodation, including fitted kitchen with integrated low energy white goods, fully furnished living room and bedroom with built in storage, plus a shower room with controlled-flow shower and dual flush cistern to reduce water consumption. These really are high quality individual homes that are quickly constructed and delivered, low carbon and sustainable – and with a 60 year BOPAS accredited life span, SoloHaus qualifies for grants, loans and mortgages.
People might feel that similar concepts have been tried before, but these are very different from the recycled, converted shipping container homes that gripped my own imagination once on a 1990s episode of Blue Peter (albeit that that particular idea stayed with me ever since). They are also very different from some of the modular and ‘fold-out’ homes that we have seen hitting the industry press over the past decade or so. And one of the main differences, of course, is their intent: deliberately low cost in delivery whilst maintaining high quality construction methods, and of course, notably, being specifically for homelessness. The interest from Local Authorities and other partners has meant Hill is delivering more Solohaus than expected including many purchased privately by affordable housing providers
These smart home solutions, with their intelligent objective makes me ponder whether they could provide a solution to other housing crises. As an Estate Agent, the first that springs to mind is our general housing crisis, where young people in particular, really struggle to afford quality accommodation. SoloHaus, or homes like it, could quite conceivably, in my opinion provide low cost, low rent, affordable yet safe and secure homes – and no doubt by combining units, clever engineering-types could create larger homes fit for couples and families… and remember, the more affordable solutions that we see, the more that general house prices will soften as supply starts to meet the insatiable British demand.
However, thinking more widely than just that, these homes could be quickly delivered to provide disaster relief or create safer, semi-permanent refugee camps to replace the unsanitary and insecure ‘Tent City’ camps that we see on the news; a solution to tackle what is often the sudden need to house large numbers of desperate people.
Andy Hill… what a way to give back, eh?