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Peabody’s Claire Bennie: ‘We like to try new talent’

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Claire Bennie of Peabody explains how small schemes are ideal for allowing less experienced practices show what they can offer

What schemes are you working on?

We’ve got about 25 schemes on the go, ranging from small terraces in gaps on our existing estates, to a 500-home regeneration project in Clapham Junction.

How have the last few years been and how do you see the future?

Peabody spent about £150 million on its existing stock during the latter half of the noughties. This was an important and necessary phase for us. We have spent the last two years building up our development pipeline to over 1600 homes and we’re just deciding what our future programme will be beyond 2015, which will be announced in early autumn.

Has the recession affected you?

We are extremely fortunate not to have been affected by the recession due to our underlying financial strength and our large asset base in London. Our ability to borrow funds for development is key to what we do and that ability is undiminished.

What do you want from architects?

The architects we use are a pivotal part of our history and our future. We want them to design buildings that embody long-term value and quality. We want them to communicate well with Peabody, authorities and residents alike. We want them to understand what design choices work in terms of estate management and to keep coming back to their buildings for years after handover to see what has succeeded and what hasn’t. Architecture does not hold all the ingredients to successful communities but acoustic privacy, careful open space design and mixed-use, if it works, all help.

How do you find your architects?

We procured our small panel of architects via OJEU, with design quality, resident engagement and drawing ability high on our list of requirements. We also recently ran a competition that allowed us to go outside the framework and see what others could offer. If a project is small enough, we can use it to try out new talent: Pitman Tozer [in Bethnal Green] was one such commission.

Will social housing completions in London surpass pre-recession levels in the coming decade?

It depends what the next spending round brings. Genuinely affordable housing will become harder to fund, but more intermediate products may emerge.

Which is your favourite project?

At Silchester Estate in west London we are working with Haworth Tompkins and Land Use Consultants on 112 homes. The brief includes re-housing residents, reinvigorating railway arches, building a shop and community facilities, as well as working with an artist on a permanent work. All the participants are a pleasure to work with.

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