First modular homes unveiled for innovative pan-London homelessness scheme

  • By JackGraves

The first batch of modular homes designed as accommodation for homeless Londoners has been assembled on a test site in Tower Hamlets.

The prototype units belong to PLACE (the Pan-London Accommodation Collaborative Enterprise), a not-for-profit company established by London boroughs with a mission to provide high-quality temporary accommodation for homeless families. The initiative is supported by £11 million of funding from the Mayor of London and represents the first collaboration between UK local authorities purchasing modular housing for this purpose.

Designed with council housing and homelessness experts according to PLACE’s specifications, the units are manufactured by ESS Modular, a leading provider of modular homes and buildings. PLACE accommodation meets all London design requirements and building control regulations and has the quality of permanent housing but has the added advantage that the units can be relocated to a different site when required. The modular homes will be placed on vacant ‘meanwhile’ sites – land earmarked for development in the long term, which would otherwise remain underused for at least the next seven years.  

Following the successful assembly of the prototypes on the Tower Hamlets test site, PLACE is working with participating boroughs to confirm sites and accommodate homeless households within the next year. Tower Hamlets and several other boroughs are looking into suitable locations and PLACE aims to supply 200 homes across the capital by February 2022.

PLACE was developed by the London Housing Directors’ Group and the umbrella body London Councils in response to the capital’s worsening homelessness crisis and the chronic shortage of temporary accommodation options. London accounts for two-thirds of homelessness in England, with more than 60,000 London households currently living in temporary accommodation.

Boroughs face particular challenges finding family-sized accommodation, so PLACE’s units will all be two or three-bedroom properties – with all bedrooms doubles. Each unit will have a private front door and private amenity space (gardens or balconies). There is also a wheelchair accessible unit design, which will account for 10 per cent of the total number delivered.

Sir Steve Bullock, chair of PLACE, said:

“This is an exciting step forward in our mission to boost the supply of high-quality temporary accommodation for homeless Londoners.

“Designed and manufactured to strict standards and with the needs of homeless families at the forefront of our minds, PLACE’s modular housing is attractive, comfortable, and spacious. This is accommodation that families will enjoy living in and we can’t wait to see boroughs start to use our units over the coming year.”    

John Biggs, mayor of Tower Hamlets, said:

“We’re really pleased to be involved in this exciting initiative. It could make a real difference to how we accommodate homeless Londoners at a time when our city is experiencing an ongoing housing crisis.

“I am glad we’ve been able to host these test units in Tower Hamlets. We’ve already identified a site for the first modular homes and in the coming weeks we hope to secure planning permission. It’s important that we think outside the box to tackle these complex challenges and this programme is doing just that.”

Tom Copley, London’s deputy mayor for housing & residential development, said:

“PLACE shows what can be done when City Hall, councils and innovative construction and tech industries work together to tackle one of our city’s most pressing issues.

“Homeless people and those living in temporary accommodation deserve high-quality homes. This project will not only help improve the housing available for homeless families and reduce the cost of providing temporary accommodation for local authorities, but will hopefully drive innovation in house building, showing the potential of precision-manufactured housing.”

Jackie Odunoye, co-chair of the London Housing Directors’ Group, said:

“London is in the midst of the worst housing crisis in the country and boroughs face enormous pressure finding suitable accommodation for homeless residents.

“It’s fantastic to see the arrival of PLACE’s prototype units, which will provide a high-quality, affordable and local option for councils, helping to ensure that homeless residents stay close to their schools, jobs, and support networks.” 

Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils' executive member for housing and planning, said: 

“In the face of a worsening housing crisis, this project represents boroughs thinking differently and working together to deliver cutting-edge new modular homes across the capital for use as temporary accommodation. PLACE demonstrates our determination to collaborate, innovate, and improve accommodation options for homeless families.” 

Paul Tierney, CEO of ESS Modular, said:

“It is an honour for ESS Modular to work with PLACE on this important project which will provide high-quality, local accommodation for people needing a home. Using modern methods of construction, our precision-manufactured homes deliver the quality of a permanent home but offer a huge additional benefit as they can be relocated to another site needing urgent accommodation at a later date.”