Changing Housing Perceptions

Swan Housing Association is leading the way on modular housing and recently launched their own Modular Design Guide based on their learning from launching their own timber volumetric modular housing factory in Essex.

A housing association with a difference, Swan is focused on achieving the biggest social impact possible and creating balanced neighbourhoods by specialising in social, affordable and private sale homes. Swan’s focus is ensuring as many people as possible have ‘somewhere to feel at home’, which is why modular housing and the use of
offsite manufacturing is of such interest to them, particularly with secured development pipeline of over 8,000 homes, the majority of which are being built by their in-house developer, NU living including homes for private sale.

Every penny of Swan’s profit is reinvested to create further funds to deliver more affordable housing, regenerate neighbourhoods in Essex and London and provide services to their residents. To date, £65million has been reinvested and by 2027 they aim to generate over £250million of profit to help them make the maximum impact on affordable home supply.

Innovation is at the heart of Swan’s approach and they have invested over £3million into their state-of-the-art factory in Basildon, Essex, where they use cross laminated timber (CLT) to build modular homes. Swan, which opened its own offsite modular factory in 2017, has already delivered precision engineered homes to its Beechwood
development in Basildon, Essex, and is now manufacturing and delivering approximately six modules per week to its Watts Grove development in East London.

Watts Grove will deliver 65 one, two and three-bedroom shared ownership apartments in Bow, Tower Hamlets. Construction work began in early 2018 and it is expected that these homes, which were shortlisted in the Inside Housing Development Awards for ‘Best Approach to Modular’, will be the UK’s first mid-rise CLT modular homes. Watts Grove has been instrumental in the research and development of the modular guide. Based on Swan’s ‘NU build’ modular system, the guide aims to give the design teams of new homes an understanding of the interrelationship between the consultants, the client and the factory. 

 Earlier this year, Swan, along with award winning architects Waugh Thistleton, launched their ‘Modular Design Guide’, setting out considerations for designing modular housing. The guide is not a pattern book, but instead provides the tools for the designer to develop their own unique project, whilst thinking about how each module is made, transported and assembled at every stage of the design development.

“Swan is truly committed to delivering innovation,” says Geoff Pearce, Swan’s Executive Director of Regeneration and Development. “Having opened our own offsite modular factory in 2017, we are convinced that this method will enable us to deliver high-quality homes that people will want to live in, at the same time building local and
national expertise in manufacturing and supporting the UK modular industry. This guide, we hope, will encourage others to consider modular, whilst enabling high-quality homes to be built, quicker, more sustainably and at a lower cost.” 

Working closely with Ramboll and Waugh Thistleton Architects – specialists in designing in engineered timber and offsite solutions, the Guide, which took two years to develop is hoped to encourage more designers, organisations and developers to look at the possibility of delivering homes via offsite manufacturing. “The NU build Guide is the culmination of two years of collaborative work with Swan developing their modular system,” says Andrew Waugh, Founding Partner, Waugh Thistleton Architects. “Speed of delivery, efficiency of production and waste reduction are at the heart of this book, demonstrating how the construction industry can modernise to meet the 21st century demands for quality as well as responding to the urgent climate emergency we face.”

Paul Williamson, Managing Director of NU Build adds: “As the UK moves towards more factory built homes we wanted to provide a Guide which prompts the design team to ask the early questions that need to be asked, something which all teams within the process could look at for guidance.” So together with the use of LEAN processes, the latest cutting machine technology, BIM and a focus on standardisation of process not product, Swan are able to manufacture high quality, stylish new homes that buyers
really want to live in. 

Swan is at the forefront of modular housing and it’s not afraid to share its success and knowledge with the industry. This year alone, Swan has welcomed over 500 guests to their factory including The Commons Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government and the newly appointed Minister for Construction, Andrew Stephenson MP. In his first official visit as Minister, Mr Stephenson took a tour of the factory to learn more about Swan’s precision engineered modular housing, where he saw firsthand the scale of Swan’s operation, which recently moved into double shifts, employing over 60 local workers.

“The use of offsite modular manufacturing is helping us harness new methods of working,” said Andrew Stephenson. “Delivering on the Government’s Construction Sector Deal to transform the sector’s productivity through innovative technologies and a more highly skilled workforce. The methods being deployed at Swan’s modular housing
factory are a testament to the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy, creating a business environment equipped for the challenges and opportunities of new technologies and ways of doing business.” 

For 25 years Swan Housing’s commitment has remained the same – to deliver quality affordable homes and create thriving communities, somewhere to call home, for those who need it most – today, tomorrow and for generations to come. 


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