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Interview: Bjorn Conway, CEO, Ilke Homes

27 November 2017 | By James Kenny

With the government committing £44bn for housing and prioritising offsite manufacturing and other modern methods of construction in last week’s budget, 2018 could prove to be a productive and busy year for modular home specialists. 

One of the newest entrants to this sector is Ilke Homes, a joint venture recently launched by housebuilder Keepmoat alongside offsite specialist Elliot.

The company, which opened for business at the end of October, intends to start 2018 by launching its own modular factory, supplying bespoke homes for both the private and social housing market.

Bjorn Conway is the man in charge of Ilke Homes, which wants to eventually ramp up to producing 2,000 homes a year. Conway was formerly a lead partner for EY’s UK & Ireland government business, where he worked with government clients to help improve delivery of public services.

However, he also trained as an engineer and it is this diverse background that he believes makes him ideal to lead the company and also mirrors the dual expertise behind Ilke.

Precision manufacturing processes will go a long way towards delivering affordable new homes quickly and at a low cost, says Conway

He said: “The combination of organisations works very well. There have been others in the modular and offsite space who have gotten off to false starts. They have looked to develop a home product, but don’t understand what it really means to build to homes for people.

“And you have a lot of builders who try to set up factories but don’t quite understand how factories and manufacturing work.

“So what we’ve got is the perfect combination. Keepmoat has the experience of building homes, about 5,000 a year, and you also have Elliot with the offsite experience.”

Conway added: “The key ingredient I bring is how to get the construction side and manufacturing side working together. That’s the main point. I have experience from working with government and local sector bodies in the past as well as a construction and engineering background.”

Speaking about the Budget last week and the government’s target of building 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, Conway said: “It is hugely important that councils and housing associations across the UK adopt innovative construction techniques to ensure these targets are met.

“The use of precision manufacturing processes will go a long way towards delivering affordable new homes quickly and at a low cost.”

Ilke currently has a test site at Gallions Reach in Docklands, London, where two of its homes have been built.

Both are two-storey, 80 sq m houses: one a two-bed, four-person home for social or affordable rent; the other a three-bed, five-person home with master en suite for open market sale and private rent. 

Ilke states up to 10 homes will be able to be installed a day on site, which would save around six months of construction time on a 50-home development.

The homes are made from a steel frame and according to Conway all other materials are ready-made supply chain materials, making maintenance and upkeep to a minimum. 

Production on the houses has started and the company is currently operating from the Elliot production factory in Carnaby, Yorkshire. But next year the plan is for the yet-to-be-revealed Ilke factory site to kick into high gear, moving up towards 2,000 homes a year as well as creating hundreds of jobs.

Conway says there have been a number of discussions with housing associations as well as other launch partners and these are expected to be announced before Christmas. 

80% of the houses are expected to go to housing associations or rental providers and 20% to open market sale.

He said this is a deliberate tactic and that their main objective has always been to get the build quality of the homes right and they are not focused on quantity.

“We want this to be an additive business to the UK housing issue. What we need to do is deliver houses on a consistent and predictable basis.

“We believe we’ve cracked the problems that others may have encountered and have done our due diligence and got everything right in the process in pre-production.

“Elliot has 50 years in the modular sector and Keepmoat has the experience in the homes side, so we have that winning combination and know what the public want.”

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