Hill CEO: The personal experience that’s driven me to donate 200 homes for the homeless in £10million gift
Hill, the family-owned developer, is to donate 200 homes for the homeless - a financial commitment of more than £10million - to mark the company’s 20th anniversary.
The extraordinary donation, which is beginning with up to 20 modular homes in Cambridge, is borne out of the personal experience of Hill CEO and founder Andy Hill.
In 1999, when he had a young family, he was made redundant. The family feared they would lose their home.
Instead, he set up and began growing the business, which has flourished, and now has more 10,000 homes currently under construction or in the pipeline, including the Athena development in Eddington, Ironworks in Mill Road in Cambridge, and Marleigh, the new community being created on Marshall land off Newmarket Road.
Andy said: “Homelessness is a growing crisis which I feel very passionately about and it is particularly bleak at this time of year.
“Life-changing events affect us all in different ways and over the years I have learnt to appreciate it can affect more than those who come from deprived backgrounds in the first place.
“After celebrating our 20th year of building homes at Hill, I want to give something back and create real opportunities for people who are living on the streets, to help turn their lives around.
“The whole business is taking huge pride in delivering these initiatives, and while we will not solve the problem today, we are taking a big step in the right direction which we hope others will follow.”
The pods being prepared to help tackle the homelessness problem in Cambridge are a kind of modular micro-home, or pod, which come factory-made and fully furnished, with white goods, soft furnishings, bedding and even plates and cutlery.
Other homes will be sited in London and Oxford, where Hill also operates.
The company will work in partnership with local authorities or housing associations, which will assume responsibility for maintenance and repairs, and with homeless charities on its initiative. Once ready, Hill will hand over the properties to one of the partners to manage the rehoming process.
Emma Fletcher, a director at Hill and lead for the delivery of the Foundation 200 homes project, said: “Our pledge is to help rehome the homeless – we are stepping up to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
“Gifting homes in this way has never been done before, so we are currently in the process of creating the blueprint and working out all of the details on a site by site basis with local charities, housing associations and local authorities on how to deliver these homes.”
At last Wednesday’s Cambridge City Council housing scrutiny committee, £140,000 was approved to facilitate the legal and practical arrangements for up to 20 pods, which can be relocated if required.
Potential sites for the pods have been identified in Abbey, Arbury and King’s Hedges wards, the council said, but precise locations have not been given.
The council said they “are very small sites that have proved difficult to develop to date”.
Mr Hill added: “While we are only at the initial discussion stages of this initiative, conversations with Cambridge City Council are progressing well and the council have now put forward two suitable sites.
“We are currently reviewing the number of homes which can be delivered on these sites and planning applications will be submitted shortly. We have been really touched by the amount of goodwill this project has brought in; everyone wants to help and get involved.”
A council officer said “an awful lot of work has gone into the design” of the pods. Discussing the size of the pods, the officer explained that engagement with people who have slept rough suggested in some cases “as a stepping stone from a hostel or a difficult environment towards independence, a smaller unit is sometimes what people are looking for”.
A support network and pathway to a permanent home will still be provided, the officer confirmed.
Claire Flowers, the head of the council’s housing development agency, said: “We see this as an opportunity to meet housing need and provide more housing in the city relatively quickly, and at a lower cost to the council than providing them ourselves”.
Hill, which is delivering the initiative through a newly-formed charitable trust called Hill Group Foundation, intends all 200 of the homes to be completed and inhabited within five years.
They will have a 60-year life expectancy and be arranged in small groups, with no more than eight on one site and none higher than two storeys.
Additional reporting: Ben Hatton, Local Democracy Reporter.