One-on-one interview: Jayne Holley, general manager of Atrium

Posted 10 September 2015 by Marc Da Silva

Marc Da Silva's weekly series of Q&A's with senior figures from the housebuilding industry continues in the northwest of England as he asks the questions of Atrium's Jayne Holley.

Where in the country is your firm developing new homes?

At Atrium, we develop new homes all over the North West of England. We’re part of Symphony Housing Group, the largest registered social landlord based solely in the North West, and as a result we not only develop new homes, but take care of leasehold management for Symphony Housing Group and Liverpool Housing Trust.

What are housing market conditions currently like in those areas?

The summer is traditionally quiet time for the property sales but there is always a market for good quality well priced homes.

What types of properties is your firm developing?

We specialise in converting older homes and bringing them back into use, as well as developing new build homes.

In Liverpool, we worked on a project to renovate a late Georgian property in Canning Street, which is part of the city’s Georgian quarter. We brought the 1830s property back into use by converting it into five gorgeous apartments.

It was a really exciting project, as the team worked hard to successfully preserve the original Georgian features which made these home unique, such as a stunning marble fireplace in the ground floor apartment, fluted Doric columns at the entrance, and the original glass panes in the windows.

What projects are Atrium currently working on and what’s in the development pipeline?

At the moment we’re working on a special project in Cheshire, called St Elphin’s View.

Atrium bought some land and former agricultural buildings from the Daresbury Estate, near the picturesque villages of Daresbury and Hatton, and we have overseen the conversion of the former dairy farm buildings into six beautiful new homes.

In addition, five new build homes are being added as part of phase two of the development and they are really spectacular. Every effort has been made to ensure the new build houses complement the barn conversions, including incorporating wooden beams into the bedrooms and using a similar brick stock. Each home has gorgeous windows to bring in the beauty of the Cheshire countryside.

In the pipeline, we’re actively looking for new developments but we can’t be specific at this moment in time.

How much does a new home by Atrium typically cost to buy?

A four-bedroom new build home at St Elphin’s View in Cheshire costs £535,000, and is available with Help to Buy. However, we develop anything from apartments to detached houses at a variety of selling prices.

Why should more buyers consider buying a new build home as opposed to older property?

The benefit with buying a new build home is that the house is a blank canvas. You don’t have to rip out the previous owner’s terrible carpet or complain about holes in the roof that can result in costly repairs. Everything is brand new and just for you.

In addition, if you buy a home off-plan, normally you can work with the developer to negotiate different finishes and have a say in what your brand new home is going to look like.

What issues do housing associations face in today’s market?

It’s a challenging time for housing associations. Issues like the extension of Right To Buy and the cuts to rents announced in the Chancellor’s recent emergency Budget will have a huge impact. The National Housing Federation has estimated that the construction of around 27,000 housing association homes will be cancelled because of the rent cuts.

Another issue is housing associations reaching new customers, including people who perhaps haven’t realised they could be eligible for social housing, such as those on low incomes or ‘Generation Rent’ who can’t afford the private sector and are stuck at home with Mum and Dad.

How can social housing adapt to these issues and how can positive changes be made?

Commercial development arms such as Atrium are key to housing associations. I oversee the development of open-market schemes, building and renovating for-profit homes, but as a socially conscious developer. This means the profits Atrium makes can go back into Symphony, allowing the group to re-invest responsibly and contribute to providing quality homes and excellent services to tenants.

Having a property development arm like Atrium on board can really help housing associations to generate income and overcome some of the challenges I’ve already mentioned.

What is Atrium’s USP?

I think the fact Atrium is a socially-conscious developer means that people really empathise with the work we do. We’re only one part of a much bigger system and the work we do contributes to Symphony Housing Group work as one of the largest providers of social housing in the county. People like that. They know that when they buy a house or a brand new apartment from Atrium, they are contributing to improving the lives of social housing tenants in the North West.

Also, the work Atrium does to renovate old, unused buildings and turn them into first-class homes is really special. There are far too many empty buildings that have fallen into disrepair, which can be easily turned into gorgeous family homes or stunning apartments with just a little bit of elbow grease.

Which of the developments Atrium is currently developing do you think stands the best chance of winning a WhatHouse? Award?

I really think the show home which is part of phase two of St Elphin’s View could win Best House. St Elphin’s View is a unique development in Cheshire. If you’re looking to buy a countryside property, it doesn’t get much better than living on land that was once part of the famous Daresbury Estate. As you drive up to the development from Daresbury Lane you can feel the cares of the day disappearing.

In addition, the show home looks truly spectacular. The team have worked really hard to make a modern, countryside property, with signature features such as a large kitchen for entertaining guests, French windows leading out to the garden, and a living room with a great wood-burning fire so you can embrace rural living.

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