About the organisation
Barratt Developments is the country’s largest housebuilder, known in the industry for both customer service and the quality of the homes it builds. Over the past seven years Barratt increased its housing output by 40% - building more of the homes the country needs. Barratt sold 17,856 homes in the year to June 2019 and employs over 6,000 people.
What challenges were you trying to address?
As the coronavirus outbreak gathered pace, the challenge was about how to go into hibernation, which we have never done before, and closing all 400 of our sites across the country in late March.
What goals or outcomes did you want/need to achieve?
Health and safety is our number one priority. We wanted to look after our employees and customers and develop a range of enhanced measures to keep people safe whilst getting back to building the homes the country needs to support economic recovery.
What was your solution?
All operational sites were reopened by 30 June 2020 and all employees, other than those shielding, have continued working in the business. To ensure that we could work as safely as possible, we developed a detailed set of working practices and protocols to allow both our construction sites and customer-facing sales offices and showhomes to operate safely.
The new measures we put in place include changes to support social distancing such as new site signage, new site welfare facilities, improved site access and walkways and enhanced risk assessments. A nominated social distancing marshal is also now present on all our sites to ensure compliance and we are providing induction, training and support for both employees and sub-contractors.
To help customers feel safe and comfortable when they visit our sales centres and showhomes, we introduced a range of other safety measures and new working procedures. These include an appointment-only approach, protective Perspex screens, retractable barriers, strict social distancing and, where necessary, personal protective equipment (PPE), plus intercom systems and door locks to enable customers to engage with sales teams before entering offices.
As the country’s leading housebuilder, we are proud of the steps we have taken since reopening. We have seen strong demand for new, quality homes and whilst the recovery is critical, we should also aim to build back better with an increasing focus on genuine placemaking. Equally, rebuilding the economy must not cost the earth. We need to get the country building again, creating jobs and great places to live and work – for now and for the future.— David Thomas, Chief Executive, Barratt Developments plc
How did you roll out your approach?
Our approach is in line with the ‘COVID-19 secure’ guidance from government, public health authorities and the Construction Leadership Council. When creating the new protocols, it was vital that we engaged and consulted with our employees throughout. Around 400 employees, including site managers, our new social distancing marshals, contracts managers and construction directors as well as our sales teams, helped shape and refine our guidelines across a series of online consultations.
These measures were successfully implemented on one of our sites as a pilot before being rolled out more widely. Our employee-led workplace forum helped us to evolve and improve our approach, gathering feedback from our people and our partners.
As the crisis unfolded, we also donated 5,000 medical-grade facemasks to the NHS and all 400 of our defibrillators to the ambulance services in England, Wales, and Scotland. Plus, we invested more than £150,000 in local and national initiatives to support our frontline healthcare service.
What have the results been?
Since the start of May we have been back on sites in England and Wales, building homes again. Sales offices and showhomes came later, but we are now fully open for business and delighted to be helping people to buy their new homes once more.
Feedback from everyone on site has been excellent, with our employees adapting really well to the new ways of working. We have also seen a really good level of demand from our customers with a rise in sales leads and lots of positive comments back from them welcoming the steps that we have taken.
To demonstrate just how effective re-starting the business has been, we have been taking MPs and media around lots of our sites to show them all that we have done and how the new procedures are working.
To thank the NHS for their amazing work caring for people throughout the coronavirus crisis we also launched a new 5% deposit contribution scheme, with NHS customers receiving up to £15,000, to help the 1.5m NHS staff afford a new home until the end of the year. This scheme has been really popular.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking to do something similar?
We were among the first major housebuilders to close our sites and almost the last to re-open. We deliberately took our time to get things right, run pilots and involve our people so we can work together to continually improve our approach. With this crisis it is all about getting things right, and if that takes a bit more time, so be it.