As I sit here writing these thoughts in my temporary work-space on the dining table, I am wondering if anything could highlight in more absolute terms the importance and value of home. I am lucky enough to be here with my family in comfort and safety, but the truth is that different parts of our society will be experiencing very different lock-downs due to the relative quality of the place they call home. Our worlds have temporarily shrunk to within the confines of our own front doors, bar the odd dog-walk or (surprisingly painful) jog.
Housing has, incomprehensively to my mind, been shooting up and down the political priority agenda over the past decade like a yo-yo, but here we are as a nation, and as a world, effectively restricted to our homes for the foreseeable future. I am sure that those like me, involved in the development and delivery of new homes, have been thinking carefully about that. If there was ever a test for our design and quality standards then this is it, rather than the latest set of tick box measures (important as these may be!).
High quality homes designed with effective use of space, helpful storage provision and usable amenity and communal areas will be those that are fairing best in these unusual times, along with those that have been built with a flexibility of use ready to embrace our shifting work / home balance. And if there was ever a moment to realise the importance of the emerging Smart City / Internet of Things agenda it’s now, as we’re looking for ways to support the more vulnerable in our communities.
But aside from the on-going graphic human cost of this pandemic, which has and will affect us all, I cannot help but remain an optimist about the world that will emerge on the other side. A crisis helps us to see what matters and what doesn’t. It genuinely feels like a sense of community is blossoming around us and, as a generation, I think our values and priorities will have altered for the better.
The challenges will of course be vast. I am currently involved in an ambitious town centre regeneration project in Essex, seeing first-hand the worrying economic impact on the hospitality and retail sectors, with some businesses struggling to survive. However, I am also lucky enough to see public and private sector partners coming together to think creatively with enthusiasm and energy for the future of building homes. A future which feels very much in our hands. Some town centres and high streets will certainly emerge changed, but this could be a catalyst for a more sustainable and forward-facing landscape; with residential, retail, workspace and leisure offers working in harmony to create balanced and inclusive destinations, re-energising what were, in some cases, already tired and failing spaces. And estate regeneration projects will foster community with more confidence.
My view is that we can think and plan our way through this. I love the way that the teams that I am part of are pulling together, supporting each other, thinking differently, preparing for the recovery. The fact that we are all doing this in physical isolation feels like a minor irrelevance now – we have quickly become just as effective and I see colleagues and friends embracing this challenge.
The ultimate loss of life that Covid 19 will claim is a tragedy that was simply beyond our comprehension just a few short months ago. Maybe the best tribute will be to never forget the lessons that we have learnt through this time; use it as an opportunity to expand support for much needed affordable homes, implement modern methods of constructions to advance all development, and get serious about embracing the commitment to net zero. When the dust has finally settled, we will continue to play our role in supporting the amazing community spirit that unites us all and work towards everyone having a decent home in a good place.