Today, Peabody is one of the capital’s biggest housing associations — more than 27,000 homes, serving 80,000 residents — but the organisation is still grappling with a chronic homes shortage, leading it down a more commercial path in a bid to boost supply.
For the first time, Peabody is building homes for sale, hundreds of them, and is even masterminding a new “garden city” of 7,000 properties in south-east London, at Thamesmead, the troubled Sixties estate that featured in Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange, where the future suddenly looks much brighter thanks to Crossrail.
Developments unveiled include Lock Keepers, a canalside scheme in Bow; More West, close to Latimer Road Tube station in west London; The Peltons in Greenwich, and Cooper’s Road in Bermondsey. Prices start at £305,250. Visit www.peabodysales.co.uk.
New Peabody development: Coopers Road in Bermondsey. Visit peabodysales.co.uk
Coming soon are flats in Camberwell and Wandsworth town centre, while due for completion next year are 180 homes — 61 for shared ownership — at Chambers Wharf, next to fashionable Shad Thames in booming SE1.
Building private homes for sale unsettles some people in the housing association movement, but Peabody chief executive Jeremy Stibbe sums up the new strategy as “investing private sector profit into social purpose” and says it would appeal to the commercial instincts of George Peabody, an American banker, who demanded a three per cent return on his initial endowment of £500,000 — equivalent to more than £20 million today.
Besides, Peabody has little alternative. The Government has cut back the level of housing grant from 50 per cent to 20 per cent, so associations have to make a profit to plough back into the business.
Finance is one thing, quality architecture is another. Mindful of the legacy of the original Victorian estates that are sprinkled around London and which get better with age, quality design is top of the agenda. Like those early estates, the new apartment blocks are characterised by simplicity and robustness, with the occasional architectural flourish making a mark in often hard urban settings.
The first completed new scheme at Mint Street in Bethnal Green could hardly have been more challenging, being built alongside a noisy, curving railway viaduct and derelict arches. But architect Pitman Tozer has come up with a refreshing intervention that’s generous in scale, sturdy and splendidly urban.
Peabody’s template: the association’s Mint Street apartments in Bethnal Green
The bigger-than-average flats have double-glazed winter gardens to create another layer of sound insulation, while at the sheltered rear of the building is a caged courtyard, tastefully landscaped and with an all-weather ping pong table. Each resident is given a bat. All the Mint Street flats are let or sold, but the project is a template for the other developments Peabody is rolling out. Schemes are “tenure blind”, meaning shared entrance foyers and no difference in specification between private and social-rented flats, with the aim of creating a cohesive community of residents.
A waterfront development in Southwark will bring 550 new homes, many in tower blocks, the first to be built by Peabody, while 170 homes are going up on the site of former Plaistow Hospital in east London.
New Peabody homes: The Peltons in Greenwich. Visit peabodysales.co.uk
Peabody plans to invest £200 million over the next 10-15 years in Thamesmead, which was conceived in 1963 after the postwar green belt new towns failed to solve the capital’s housing shortage. Built on 1,600 acres of marshland, previously part of old Woolwich Arsenal, it was a dream set in concrete, with brutalist-style tower blocks among lakes and 150 hectares of open space. But a significant design failure was the district’s lack of shops and banks, and absence of the public transport needed because of the cut-off location.
Peabody’s plans for a new garden city include apartments along Thamesmead’s three miles of river frontage. Crucially, the rejuvenated district will be connected to the Crossrail station at Abbey Wood, due to open in 2017, which will slash the commuting time to central London to 11 minutes.
While this swath of south-east London remains one of the cheapest and rawest places to live in the capital, bold buyers could reap rewards later.