Nick Cowley, Managing Director at Euramax, explores how the construction industry can help provide a solution to the UK homeless crisis.

Finland’s approach to social housing is pretty unrivalled. The Nordic nation is a champion at tackling homelessness — it is the only country in the European Union (EU) where the number of homeless people is actually falling. In contrast, research by homelessness charity Shelter has revealed that between 4,000 and 5,000 people sleep rough on the UK’s streets each night.

In 2008, Finland adopted its Housing First approach to homelessness, resulting in a 35% reduction in people living without a fixed address. Traditional homelessness policies work on a staircase model, where rough sleepers must address issues such as drug addition and mental health problems and seek help from temporary accommodation, such as hostels and shelters, before moving up to permanent housing. Housing First flips the staircase model on its head, offering housing to people unconditionally, providing a secure foundation to help them rebuild their lives.

In the UK, the number of households in temporary accommodation has increased by over 75% since 2010, and the number of rough sleepers has almost doubled. Perhaps it is time the UK took a leaf out of Finland’s book and invested further into providing permanent accommodation for homeless people.

With its cost-effectiveness and ability to significantly shorten construction time, without compromising building quality, modular construction provides a viable way to deliver permanent housing to help tackle homelessness.

Building benefits

Modular construction involves fabricating sections of a building, such as walls, roofs, rooms or even whole living units, away from the construction site in a manufacturing facility. Those facilities combine specialised staff and automated equipment to expertly construct individual parts of the home. The modules are then transported to the construction site, lifted into place, and joined together to form a complete building.

Further benefits of the technique are that the building of the modules can continue through the night, using automated machinery, and occur simultaneously with site preparation and foundation work. The controlled factory environment lessens weather disruption, as many outdoor construction projects are delayed by rain, which can delay electrical work, and wind, which can prevent work at height.

In addition, by using the correct materials and techniques, modular builds can be constructed to the same efficiency standards as traditional houses, ensuring they are economical to run.

For example, Euramax supplies PVCu windows and doors to the modular industry that are all rated A for efficiency. Euramax’s bespoke service means we can work with our installation partners to provide a high-performance solution for a range of applications, such as contained accommodation units. Our PVCu doors are reinforced with galvanized steel for added strength, providing a cost effective solution to security. 

Automated production techniques and advanced robotics allow superior monitoring of processes, minimising mistakes. Many quality checks can be performed before leaving the factory, ensuring any faults that do occur can be corrected before the modules are brought to site.

For these reasons, modular builds can be completed up to 50% quicker than builds using traditional construction methods, shortening waiting times and costs. In fact modular homes cost ten to 25% less than other types of homes. Homes made using traditional construction methods typically cost at least £150,000 to build.

The highly controlled environment for manufacturing allows the construction project to be planned and executed better, keeping costs down through fewer wasted materials and a faster process. These savings, added to those on labour enabled by the overall shortened construction time, make the system a cost-effective option to build housing. 

A modular solution

There are already projects in the UK where modular construction is helping tackle homelessness.

Last year, Centrepoint, a charity dedicated to ending youth homelessness, announced its Independent Living Programme. As part of this plan, the first of its kind in the UK, Centrepoint aimed to work with builders to construct 300 new modular-build affordable homes in London and Greater Manchester by 2021.

The accommodation units will provide young people with a permanent and affordable home, once they no longer need the charity’s services. At £50,000 a unit, these modular builds represent a cost effective solution to providing independent living.

Finland is successfully tackling homelessness with its Housing First approach, providing permanent accommodation unconditionally. With homelessness rising in the UK, it is time to change our own strategy and prioritise affordable housing. Modular construction is already being rolled out by Centrepoint as a promising way to tackle homelessness. Modular builds can provide quick and affordable housing — helping people move from the streets to safe accommodation.