The Right Home, in the Right Place, at the Right Time

10.6.24 2024

Image of Housing stock

Operational living is transforming housing options in the UK, offering flexibility and accessibility to suit diverse lifestyles at different stages of their lives and careers.

Bidwells’ Kelly Bream, a long-time advocate for the sector, discusses the sector’s potential to enhance job mobility, boost productivity, and support innovation across the UK. 

Can you briefly explain what operational living means and why it matters?

In a nutshell, operational living encompasses a range of housing options designed to cater to people’s needs at different stages of life. This includes student housing, co-living spaces, build-to-rent properties, and senior living. It matters because it provides flexibility and accessibility, allowing people to live in a way that suits their lifestyle and aspirations.

Why are you such an advocate for the sector?

I’m passionate about exploring how we can unlock the full potential of operational living to benefit society as a whole. Having been involved in the sector for many years, I’ve seen the positive impact it can have on people’s lives. The sector is about so much more than putting a roof over someone’s head; it’s about creating diverse communities, providing security and roots for people to flourish in an area they want to be in, not just can afford to be in. 

What are the key challenges hindering the UK sector’s growth?

There are a few significant hurdles. Firstly, the high value of land for other types of development can make schemes less financially attractive. There’s a lack of coordinated planning from local authorities, with only a handful incorporating 
the living sector into their plans. And planning frameworks across the UK haven’t quite caught up with its unique requirements, such as size, amenities and long term management and maintenance, which puts pressure on investment

By highlighting the benefits of high-quality rental products, such as flexibility and access to amenities, we can begin to shift perceptions.

How can the planning system be adapted to better support the sector?

Local policy and the planning process could certainly do more to facilitate and encourage the sector’s ongoing growth. There is real inconsistency in addressing BTR in Local Plans across London boroughs, with 46% of local planning authorities making no reference to BTR in their plans despite the London Plan’s support 
for the sector.

We don’t need broad affordable housing policies; planning regulations need to get into the specifics, acknowledging the long-term costs and responsibilities that come with it. We need more flexibility in affordable housing requirements to 
ensure the viability of these projects. 

The lack of a clear planning classification for coliving has led to a bit of a Wild West situation at the local level. It’s a real headache for developers who are trying to get these projects off the ground. Despite these challenges, we’re seeing 
more and more co-living developments popping up across the UK. 

How do we shift societal attitudes towards renting?

We need to be challenging the deep-rooted belief that homeownership is the ultimate goal for everyone. By highlighting the benefits of high-quality rental products, such as flexibility and access to amenities, we can begin to shift 
perceptions. It’s also important to address concerns around rent increases and evictions head-on, and encourage landlords to empower tenants to make their rental feel like a home

Terms like multi-family, single-family housing, or co-living may resonate with most of those working in the living sector, but at a local or national level, there is still a lack of knowledge around what differentiates them. That is why it is critical for those operating across residential real estate to inform and educate others about BTR, its different models, and its benefits – not as a rival to homeownership, but as a complementary option.

How can operational living support job mobility and productivity?

This sector could be a game-changer for job mobility. When people have access to high-quality rental options in different locations they can more easily transition between jobs without the hassle of selling a house or securing a new mortgage. 
This flexibility is crucial in today’s dynamic job market.

Can the sector help innovation hubs like Oxford and Cambridge thrive?

These areas risk losing their competitive edge if they can’t provide adequate housing for their growing workforce. Operational living can help bridge this gap by offering a variety of housing options, ensuring that these hubs can continue to 
attract and retain top talent, and people are able to move jobs quickly without needing to move cities.

What excites you most about the future?

I firmly believe that operational living has the power to transform the way we live and work in the UK. With the right support and innovative thinking, we can build a sector that delivers real, tangible benefits for individuals, communities, and the country as a whole.

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Kelly Bream

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Kelly is the driving force behind our ambitious growth plan and ESG goals.

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