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Steve Coffey: 'Architects must be flexible'

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Steve Coffey, chief executive of Liverpool Mutual Homes, the city’s largest housing association, talks about mayors, eco-friendly hostels and taking residents ‘on a journey’

What are your current projects and what is in the pipeline?
Our current flagship scheme is Belvidere Family Centre in partnership with Liverpool City Council and John McCall Architects that’s being officially opened next Wednesday (31 October). 
It was a convent in the 19th century and we’ve transformed it into the UK’s first eco-friendly homeless hostel.
We are putting the finishing touches to a CESP and capital-funded scheme at Broad Lane for 74 homes, again with the city council, which has huge significance for the area. 

Branching out into new build is one of our key priorities

The properties are on the former ‘Boot Estate’ and were earmarked for demolition over a decade ago and are now mostly derelict. We are working with John McCall Architects on this project.
Branching out into new build is one of our key priorities. We’re part of the JV North consortium of North West housing associations and we aim to have over 100 new units built by March 2014.

Belvidere Family Centre in partnership by John McCall Architects

Belvidere Family Centre in partnership by John McCall Architects

Some housing associations don’t have a great reputation for build and design quality? What sets you apart?
When Liverpool City Council’s stock transferred to us four years ago, one of the first projects we embarked on was a European-wide procurement process that saw tenants and directors travelling to manufacturers’ factories to discuss quality and how we could use our economies of scale to introduce high quality products into our £400m Improvement Programme.

We clocked up over 10,000 hours examining kitchens, bathrooms, tiles and the like but it was invaluable; we’ve been able create homes of a quality previously unseen in social housing featuring products like Grohe and Porcelanosa that are usually the preserve of luxury hotels and executive homes. Being newcomers to building our own homes, the build and design quality is important to us.

What do you think of Liverpool’s new mayor and has having such a figurehead helped your business?
Joe Anderson has set out a number of priorities for the economic success of Liverpool and providing a housing offer that supports this. He has also committed to supporting the less well off and vulnerable members of our communities – a key area of ours as a social housing landlord.
The mayoral system in general, and Joe in particular, provides clear leadership for the City and continuity which will help our aspirations for economic growth.

How do you find architects?  
We usually select architects via mini-competitions from procurement frameworks or through straightforward tendering. 

For flagship projects we may well look to run design competitions

For flagship projects in the future we may well look to run more formal design competitions.

What are you looking for in an architect?
It’s vital architects are flexible to meet our diverse portfolio of housing, communities and neighbourhoods.  We are a tenant-led organisation that puts our people’s best interest at the forefront of everything we do so architects need this attitude too so we can deliver the type of homes and communities tenants want and need for the long term.
When tenants on the Rock Grove estate said the best way to stop crime would be to turn the properties back to front, PTE Architects did just that, literally turning the estate on its head by moving the elevation of the flats 180° to create new front entrances.

What is the biggest mistake architects make?
Architects have great ideas and often turn abstract thoughts of residents and communities into reality. However on residential scheme they do need to take people with them – particularly residents – on the journey.

What did you think to the Pathfinder programme?
The Market Renewal Programme was much needed in areas like Liverpool and right across the Midlands and north where particular housing markets had failed.  It was a very ambitious, long-term programme which delivered much but was not able to finally see things through due to the withdrawal of funding. While so much was achieved it must also be accepted that some things could have been done better and maybe some properties could have been retained in particular areas.
There was a place for Market Renewal in this just as there is now for Growing Places and other initiatives.


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