Timber special: L&G’s Rosie Toogood - ‘Building a new industry’
L&G’s 550,000 sq ft factory near Leeds, which opened in 2016
The CEO of Legal & General Modular Homes on the challenges of changing construction’s old habits.
“This really is a new industry. You cannot find someone who knows how to do all of this,” says Rosie Toogood, chief executive of Legal & General Modular Homes.
There is a note of irritation as she explains that it takes time to set up a brand-new business like this one. “There’s a lack of understanding in the press about why things take so long.”
L&G launched its modular housing business in a 550,000 sq ft factory near Leeds in February 2016. A press release at the time promised the first houses in June that year. However, it wasn’t until late 2019 that the first eight-home development was delivered to housing association Silva Homes on a site owned by L&G.
“We are going to a different level of detail to that which architects are accustomed to. We are designing a product in the same way as the automotive and aerospace industries do.”
Rosie Toogood, L&G
Now, there is a much bigger project on the horizon: almost 150 homes consisting of one- and two-bed apartments and two- and three-bed homes in the centre of a small town.
“We have been working very closely with the planning department,” says Toogood, who won’t name the location until planning permission has been granted.
L&G Modular Homes has its own 24-strong team of in-house designers, supported by external design consultants who provide expertise and some resource.
“We are going to a different level of detail to that which architects are accustomed to. We are designing a product in the same way as the automotive and aerospace industries do,” says Toogood, who joined L&G Modular Homes from Rolls-Royce in the summer of 2017. “It requires engineers and architects to behave in a different way, go to a different level of detail and be specific about what is required.”
L&G Modular Homes has a construction director and a small construction team, says Toogood. “At the moment, they will manage a main contractor to help us deliver on site under L&G management. As we grow and develop and take on more sites, we will grow our internal capability.”
The L&G modular units are fully finished inside. External facades – brickwork in the case of the planned 150-home development – and a pitched roof will be added on site. “Facades and roofing systems are not yet developed that are MMC-based,” says Toogood. “We will develop them in time.”
Toogood says that the modular approach halves time on site. “It takes away a lot of the complexity and frustration of the programme management,” she adds.
A huge advantage of L&G’s system is that it really will drive continuous improvement because any areas for improvement are automatically incorporated in the next round of homes. Toogood calls it a ‘closed loop system’.
There were some minor things from the first project – such as the position of thermostats – which have been changed. “The issues were very small but they all went into our lessons learned log and were immediately addressed. Everything that goes wrong gets fixed, that’s embedded in our design.”