Charlotte Carpenter Karbon Homes

We’ve been speaking with Charlotte Carpenter, Executive Director of Growth and Development at Karbon Homes – one of the North East’s leading organisations within the housing sector – covering topics such as MMC, garden communities and levelling up the North…

Q. Karbon manages nearly 30,000 homes across the North East and Yorkshire, how does this major portfolio shape Karbon’s approach?

Although Karbon owns and manages almost 30,000 homes across the North East and Yorkshire, these are relatively concentrated in certain locations.  This offers us the twin advantages of the benefits of scale (e.g. procurement efficiencies, specialised front and back office functions and influencing power) while retaining a localised approach.  For example, on the latter we are currently piloting a place-based approach in Stanley, exploring how we might be able to best support the foundational economy in that area in order to boost the economic resilience of households and communities there.      

Q. How is Karbon Homes supporting customers during the coronavirus pandemic?

We established an internal working group at the start of the pandemic tasked with understanding and tracking the impact of the pandemic and the lockdown measures on our customers, colleagues and services.  We have used this information and associated communication drives to help ensure that, as much as possible, we have been able to maintain the delivery of our essential services. 

We have always had a range of money and benefits advice services and our approach is always to try and sustain tendencies and work with customers facing financial difficulties as much as possible – and this activity has stepped up over the pandemic.

In addition, we have taken a number of measures to provide additional support to our most vulnerable customers – at the start of each period of lockdown (whether national or local) we directly contacted 10,000 elderly, isolated or younger vulnerable customers by phone, email, text or letter checking whether they were ok and whether they needed any additional support.  We know that many found this contact in itself reassuring and supportive, but in addition some were referred onto other external agencies or we were able to help with essential shopping, medication collection, or provide them with an anti-loneliness telephone service (Silver Talk) once a week.

Q. As a Northern Housing provider, what regional  housing changes need to happen to help achieve government aims to “level up” the region? [emaillocker id=”71749″]

It’s important that we don’t see ‘levelling up’ as a purely Northern challenge – many areas of the North, including a number of those in which Karbon operates are thriving, and conversely, many areas in parts of the Midlands and the South are not.  There are a number of actions which could help to tackle widespread inequalities across our society.  The first is more economic development policy making, and funding specifically targeted towards the needs of those areas.  Second, would be a better assessment of the impact of policies designed to support overheated areas on those suffered growing from market failure or low demand.  For example, the focus on funding for net new housing numbers only makes it very difficult to address the challenge of regenerating obsolete housing in many ex-industrial areas.

On a more positive note, there is a real opportunity to use, for example, the net carbon challenge to invest in replacing, retrofitting or remodeling old housing stock while re-stimulating local supply chains, employment, training and skills opportunities.

Q. You’re the only social housing provider working in the Garden Communities Sector, what has led to Karbon Homes participating in it, and how has that affected your approach on Seaham Garden Village?

Seaham Garden village is perhaps unusual in that there is a requirement for 50% of the homes to be affordable, and 40% to be for the elderly.  We have a long track record in working with commercial developers to help developed mixed and sustainable communities and this project is really a natural extension of that. What sets this project slightly apart from our existing activities is the scale of the development, and the fact that, working with our partners, we will be creating an integrated community – complete with a school, retail, leisure and office and innovation space.

Q. Seaham Garden Village is potentially going to be the first settlement with a mine energy district heating scheme, how will that help source its heating needs sustainability and what potential does the technology have in future schemes?

The site potentially benefits from its location on the Durham coast – near a number of old disused mine shafts which are full of water heated to 18-20 degrees by geothermal processes.  The Coal Authority already pumps this water to the surface for treatment, so they are exploring the opportunity to extract the heat and use it to power heat pumps to provide clean, cheap and sustainable energy.  If this proves feasible it has the potential to be rolled out to other former coalfield communities (estimated by the Coal Authority as 25% of homes and business in the UK).

Q. Could you share some other schemes Karbon has in the pipeline across the country?

We have a current pipeline of 2,500 homes over the next 5 years.  These range from small rural exception sites such as twelve affordable homes that we are building for our Yorkshire subsidiary (York Housing Association) in the North Yorkshire seaside village of Staithes, through to larger, mixed tenure developments such as Springfield Meadows in Darlington which will see 80 new homes developed with a mixture of Rent to Buy, Affordable Rent and Market Sale. 

We are also making increasing use of Modern Methods of Construction (12% of our current programme).  This includes some MMC only sites, such as ‘HUSK’ homes being built on the site of old disused garages as well as a proportion of MMC homes on some of our larger sites.  An example of the latter is our 105 home development on the site of the Sunderland’s old college campus at North Hylton where 20% of the homes will be built using MMC.

Q. How was your experience at the recent Garden Communities conference and how did it help you connect with the industry?

It was great to be able to share Karbon’s plans for Seaham Garden Village at BEN’s recent Garden Communities Conference, and also to hear of similar developments elsewhere across the UK.  Its always useful to keep abreast of the latest thinking on opportunities and challenges and to share experiences on how best to respond to these.