From gyms and swimming pools to cinemas and business lounges, access to a range of onsite lifestyle amenities is one of the defining characteristics of Build to Rent, a sector that puts the resident experience at its centre.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, most of these amenities were forced to close overnight. Property management teams immediately had to make huge changes to the ways they operate onsite, but over recent months facilities have gradually reopened in a Covid-secure way. If anything, lockdown has highlighted the importance for residents to have access to amenities on their doorstep.
“Most of us have spent far more time at home since March, so our expectations of what we want from our living environments has expanded. It has really highlighted what people value in the places they live, and this will certainly influence the design of Build to Rent schemes in the future.
“The appetite for excellent shared facilities at Built to Rent developments isn’t decreasing, so operators and property managers have had to work hard to adapt and offer these in a safe and secure way.”Sibel Osman, Operations Manager – PRS, Rendall & Rittner
Just as everywhere else, numerous adaptations have been introduced to existing facilities across the portfolio of developments that Rendall & Rittner manages. These include booking systems for shared facilities – such as leisure suites to restrict the number of users of gyms and pools at any time. There is obviously more emphasis on hygiene, with staff implementing more regular and rigorous cleaning. In lounges and seating areas, there is more spacing between seats, while in corridors one-way systems can be introduced if needed. In certain facilities such as workspaces, partitions can be put in place between workstations, while sanitiser is offered everywhere.
Many of the changes will be here to stay and a particular legacy of the current circumstances is likely to be the emphasis on home working and access to outside space, as well as the importance of a feeling of community.
“As we have moved towards a workforce that is working more and more from home, communal workspaces will become more popular for those that want people around them – rather than just being stuck on their laptop inside their home. Outdoor spaces and communal areas have definitely become more important than ever in recent months, providing places for neighbours to come together and get outside.
“We have always placed strong emphasis on encouraging a sense of community at our developments, but Covid has actually led to increased community feeling at many developments as people feel a greater need for connectivity and interaction.”Sibel Osman, Operations Manager – PRS, Rendall & Rittner
These factors will be fundamental to the design and planning of facilities in future Build to Rent schemes. Co-working spaces will be a given, with bookable meeting rooms, office services such as printing and photocopying, and faster and more reliable Wi-Fi across the board. It’s likely that outdoor spaces will become more varied and inviting, with outdoor lounges and recreational areas being one way that people can socialise in a Covid safety conscious way.
Changes in how people work will drive a shift in the amenities they want. For example, as more people work from home, there will be rising demand for onsite creches as parents seek childcare closer to home – and in general people want a better work life balance, making the most of life without a commute.
While managing gyms and fitness facilities has become more complex due to coronavirus, people are more conscious than ever of health and wellbeing so onsite gyms will never disappear. Developers are recognising this as a priority by adding an ever-increasing range of fitness facilities – including studio spaces for yoga and Pilates or tech-enabled spaces with virtual instructors for spin and HIIT classes. Cinemas have moved lower down the agenda than before, but it’s clear that what Build to Rent schemes need from their communal areas in the future is adaptive spaces that can be used flexibly depending on circumstances and demand from residents.
Despite the difficulties it has presented, the coronavirus pandemic has provided valuable lessons for the private rented sector. The demand for high-quality, carefully designed rental homes will only continue to grow, along with the desire from residents for a well-managed environment that caters for work, play, convenience and evolving lifestyles.