Constructing a community: Creating more than just bricks and mortar
Quality, affordability and nearby amenities have always been top priorities for house hunters, but an increasing number of buyers and renters are seeking something more. with a growing demand for a sense of community, your move explores how the Liverpool City Region’s developers are meeting it by creating more than just bricks and mortar.
Words by Mark Langshaw
The golden era when residents felt they could safely leave their doors unlocked is behind us, but there is evidence to suggest the community spirit is back on the rise in the Liverpool City Region.
From residents’ facilities in PRS (private rented sector) apartment blocks to shared outdoor spaces in housing regeneration projects, communal facilities are becoming more prominent in the city’s latest residential schemes and developers are harnessing them to foster a sense of togetherness.
For instance, The Keel apartment complex at Liverpool’s famous waterfront includes a residents’ gymnasium and outdoor amenity spaces where social connections can be forged, while a concierge service brings added security to this urban community.
The development’s management company Touchstone Residential even runs an events and services programme to encourage tenants to make use of these facilities and engage with their neighbours.
Residents-only parties, BBQs, baking classes and personal training sessions are regular occurrences, and these initiatives have helped Touchstone target customers whose lifestyle requirements include community living.
“We’ve built a community at The Keel by forming relationships with our customers and listening to their needs,” explains Sadie Malim of The Keel.
“While many tenants will inevitably just be looking for a new place to live, increasingly people are choosing to rent in a specific development as a lifestyle choice. Our customers ‘sleep in their apartment but live in the building’ and we try to ensure that we make our communal areas and service levels reflect that mantra.”
Meanwhile the enduring popularity of longer standing city centre developments like Beetham Tower and the Unity Building proves shared spaces help to attract long-term tenancies and owner occupiers.
“I think the increased prominence of communal features is helping to create communities,” says Debra Beach, branch manager at Liverpool agent Keppie Massie Residential which markets homes in various central apartment schemes.
“We have found that developments which offer them tend to attract a mix of owner occupiers and renters, and that encourages long term lettings because it is an environment where people can set up a home, rather than a stop-gap solution.”
“Research shows that the more social connections and friendships residents make, the more likely they are to renew a tenancy. ”
It isn’t just contemporary apartment schemes that are fostering the community spirit – several housing projects outside of the city centre include shared spaces where neighbourly vibes can flow.
Among them is Toxteth’s upcoming Welsh Streets, a regeneration project which will see old Victorian terraced housing returned to life as a range of two, three and four-bedroom family homes, complete with communal avenues where residents can mingle.
“Thriving communities are created through friendships and strong social connections,” says Martin Ellerby, head of new business and innovation at Welsh Streets developer PlaceFirst.
“A developer can’t ‘create’ a thriving community, but we can try to create the right environmental conditions to promote the social interactions necessary to establish a sense of community.
“We can ensure our residents enjoy attractive, communal spaces where children can play and neighbours can get to know each other. Research shows that the more social connections and friendships residents make, the more likely they are to renew a tenancy.”
The steadily rising number of residential developments with communal features suggests a healthy demand for them, but what is fuelling this yearning for community sentiment?
According to Debra, the market conditions are playing a part. With the decline of the social housing sector and a surge in lifelong renters leading to a boom in purpose-built rental accommodation, occupants of such housing are craving an alternative to the security homeownership brings.
“The idea that everybody should buy doesn’t work in certain economic climates and at the height of the housing boom the priority for social housing was turned on its head,” she explains.
“Alongside this, I think we’re getting to a point where there is a whole generation of young people who are thinking ‘am I ever going to be able to get enough money together for a mortgage?’
“Generation rent is seeking security and being part of a community can bring that. They are looking for a place where they feel safe and well looked after.”
Martin adds that the rise of social media has helped to create a sharing economy among the younger generation of house hunters, and he believes the promise of community living is of growing value to this demographic.
“I think the younger generation is looking for something different, particularly as many are locked out of home ownership without the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’,” he says.
“The younger generation has also grown up with social media and the ‘sharing economy’ and, because of that, I think the idea of communal features is an attractive one, particularly in core cities like Liverpool where many people may be new arrivals.
“By offering these facilities within residential developments, it can make it easier to form new social connections and friendships.”
One could argue society has lost something in these times of heightened home security, but Debra believes the recent success of communal facilities, shared amenity spaces and the schemes which are providing them are helping to rekindle the community values of a bygone age.
“I think we’ve become more insular as a society over the years – the days when you can leave your doors unlocked are long gone,” she says. “But in an age of social media, there is a willingness to engage with people more and hopefully these types of schemes will bring that sense of neighbourliness back.”