Building diversity into Build to Rent

How much focus does diversity have from a Build to Rent product perspective? HBD’s Head of Urban Regeneration discusses this further.

Kampus Build to Rent scheme in Manchester, which benefits from a mix of independents that play a big part within diversity and the community - HBD | BTR News
Kampus Build to Rent scheme in Manchester.

Diversity remains a major talking point for developers, investors and funders – particularly given the focus on ESG and the role that equality and diversity plays within that. But how much focus does diversity have from a product perspective; in the developments that are coming forward, in the way they are designed, and how they are operated?

By Adam Brady, Executive Director and Head of Urban Regeneration, HBD

As the industry evolves, it’s vital that we are building diversity into Build to Rent schemes. We must create diverse places and spaces that allow an inclusive community to form and to thrive. Of course, there is also a commercial value to this, beyond doing the right thing. By creating Build to Rent schemes with a successful community that is welcoming and more reflective of society, we are able to deliver a profitable asset for investors. When people feel connected to their home, it means that they will stay longer, reducing churn and creating a stable income stream.

So, what elements should developers be thinking about if we are to build diversity into our Build to Rent schemes?

Encouraging diversity of thought in the design process

If we want a building to meet the needs of a broad range of people, diversity of thought must be brought into the design process. At the same time, it’s important to be mindful of unconscious bias and the role that it plays in shaping our beliefs, views and opinions.

The design team should be as representative as possible from the very early stages of the project. It’s also important to consider how our own individual sphere of influence plays a role in the decisions we make. Consideration should be given to how people feel when they arrive, in the way they will interact with the different spaces and even how the space is configured.

Focus on the small details

In terms of the way a building works day-to-day, what may seem like a minor design element could make a massive difference to someone’s experience. For example, when deciding bathroom specifications, it would be important to have an alternative to a rainfall shower; it may be popular with men, but women may not want to get their hair wet every time they shower.

A forensic level of focus on the detail should follow throughout the entirety of the scheme; from the design elements to how it is operated and run. How are you greeted on arrival? How is the space set out? How representative is the team on the ground to support the residents?

Designing space for everyone

Designing for neurodiversity is also really important – it’s something we are paying close attention to within our own schemes, taking care around the specification of materials and lighting as well as the way a space works, the noise levels and the exposure to smells.

Shared common areas and amenities are major selling points for any Build to Rent development, whether that’s co-working space, lounge areas to relax, unwind and meet friends, or dining rooms to entertain guests. There must be a variety of spaces to meet different needs. Everyone should feel comfortable within a space and should feel welcome.

Build to Rent schemes should have broad appeal

No Build to Rent scheme can truly meet the needs of everyone, in every demographic; for example, we are likely to see more multifamily products coming to market to cater for those specific requirements. However, it is important to do what we can to ensure that Build to Rent schemes have a broad appeal. We are careful not to unconsciously exclude certain age groups, for example, so we will steer away from very current design trends in favour of more classical design choices.

Creating an inclusive community

Along with the facilities available to residents, the amenity mix must also tick the right boxes. We would avoid welcoming any occupiers that would polarise or alienate anyone, and ensure that all our restaurants, bars and retailers will be a good fit for the community. Commercial occupiers play a major role in bringing people together and helping them connect. We have seen this done really well at Kampus, our award-winning development in Manchester, which benefits from a brilliant mix of independents that all play a big part within the community there.

Build to Rent as a product will continue to diversify as it matures. Developers must continue to focus on the role design plays in steering away from mono-culture communities – a great Build to Rent scheme should help to create a feeling of belonging and inclusivity.