Tristan Robinson joined Thakeham in April 2020 and is the Director of External Affairs and Social Value. He was interviewed recently by our Director of Public Relations, Andrew Plant.
What does social value mean for you, on a day-to-day basis?
Thakeham is a sustainable place-maker with a focus on biodiversity and the environment, leading the charge towards net zero by 2025. Social value plays a key role in this, whether that’s supporting local schools, educating the next generation, training colleagues through apprenticeships, or supporting local sports clubs and charities. Sustainability is always at the front of my mind and Thakeham’s approach is quite different from some other major players in the industry. We’ve committed that, by 2025, on each Thakeham scheme, every home will be carbon neutral in construction, carbon zero in lifetime use and will deliver a Biodiversity Net Gain of 20%. Taking into account those commitments, we are the most advanced of any housebuilder of scale in the country. Also, when we get a site, the first thing we will do is look at where the blue infrastructure is, where the green infrastructure is, where the mature trees are. When we know what those natural assets are, we look to protect and enhance them and shape the community around that. All of this gives us a real opportunity to showcase what sustainable placemaking can look like.
What led you into your current role?
I had previously been working in political consultancy but moved just over three years ago to set up an External Affairs team at Thakeham, encompassing community engagement, political oversight and political risk management. Predominantly, my role is to look at all the sites in our portfolio and assess what we need to do to get them through the planning system, focusing on politicians, stakeholders and local communities – making sure we are responding to their needs and wants, and really understanding what makes a community tick.
What’s the key to achieving carbon neutrality in homes?
There are many ways to make a home carbon neutral, and so much terminology too! The definition that usually fits best is Net Zero Ready. This means that the home is delivered in a way that means that the energy used to run the home will be fully net zero in line with the energy supplied to it being green energy. We think this is a great way to approach building carbon neutral homes, and make sure our customers are on green tariffs from day one. We’ve looked at the many levers we can push and pull to achieve this, and always through the lens of the customer being able to use the home intuitively. We landed on a fabric first approach – timber frame, lots of insulation, making that house as efficient to run as possible, and then looking at adding solar panels, adding air source or ground source heat pumps. We are delivering net zero homes today for Waverley Council in Surrey, so we know it can be done. It adds a bit to the build cost, but we have already seen that margin narrow. The costs for those are coming down all the time. The big players in heating, when the government set clear ambitions like phasing out of gas boilers, invest in technology and the price comes down and the efficiency goes up because of that investment. We know that buyers are really starting to value EPC ratings on homes too, and if make it clear to customers how much better their heating bill could be compared to their home, that plays massively into affordability.
What is most important to you in your role?
Thakeham was built on very strong principles; we need to be building housing for everybody and making sure those houses are tenure-blind to avoid creating two-tier communities. I regularly take local councillors to one of our exemplar sites in Pease Pottage and they cannot tell which properties are owned, rented or housing association– because there is no difference – giving
everyone, no matter their situation a place to be proud to call home.
We also integrate Social Value is integrated into everything we do. For example, every site we work on, we run an educational biodiversity outreach programme for Key Stage 2 pupils, going into
primary schools to teach children about ecology, taking them onto site in hi-vis jackets and hardhats and getting them to help with site surveys, building hedgehog houses and bug hotels, all with the aim of showing the next generation just how important nature and biodiversity is.