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Meet the team – Find out more about our Development Managers

Beyond Housing’s strategic plan includes the objective to build 2,000 new homes, for both rent and sale, between 2020 and 2025.

In August 2021 Karen Howard and Frances Barlow were appointed into new roles within Beyond Housing’s Development team to support this ambitious growth in its development activity.

Karen was appointed to the role of Development Manager – Sales & Performance and now leads these teams. The growing Sales team is responsible for the sale of 800 new homes through shared ownership, rent to buy and open market sale, representing significant expansion of our sales activity. This expansion called for a new brand under which to market and sell our new build homes, and Viola Homes was launched in October 2021. The Performance team provides statistical and technical support to the wider Development team, and includes the introduction of a new Quality Manager post.

Frances was appointed Development Manager – Delivery, leading the project managers in the delivery of the 2,000 home programme in the strategic plan. In addition to the homes for sale, the programme also includes 1,200 homes for affordable rent and supported living.

At six months into their new roles, we asked Karen and Frances some questions to help you get to know them better – from their achievements and home life to the advice they’d give to someone starting their career in the housing industry.

How long have you worked at Beyond Housing?

Karen: I joined Beyond Housing as Development Manager in 2014 but started working for my first housing association in 1991 having completed a three-year tour of duty with Homes England, so have recently celebrated a whopping 30 years working in development.

Frances: I have worked at Beyond Housing for four years in the Development team, and have been involved in the development industry for around 24 years. I have had various roles within development, and that experience has helped stand me in good stead for my current role.

Tell us about your new role.

Karen: This is an exciting new role leading sales, quality and performance, leading site-finding for our outright sales programme, and delivering sales through our group subsidiary. We have already launched Viola Homes – our fabulous new sales brand. I also lead the customer experience for our new build customers and drive customer satisfaction. It is an exciting time for me as I build the team and I am lucky to have three superb managers, having just recruited Shaun Nixon to our new Quality Manager post. Shaun will join Tom Harris, who leads our performance team and Darren Pelusi, Sales Manager, in overseeing individual streams of my team’s delivery.

Frances: I now head up the delivery of our new build homes. This includes managing, supporting and mentoring the project managers to design, build and handover all new homes in our programme. I am also responsible for ensuring our developments meet the necessary design criteria, appointing architects and other consultants to work with us, and ensuring we have good demand for our new homes by researching what places our customers want to live in, the types of homes they want and the tenure they require.

My team also consults with the local community prior to submitting planning applications for approval to build. We tender for contractors to build out the properties, monitor the budget and programme, and then hand the properties over to the Communities and Sales teams to let or sell to customers. I am also responsible for ensuring the schemes meet our financial parameters and obtaining the necessary Homes England funding to be able to pay for the developments. We are audited on Homes England grant funding and I must ensure we pass this audit. Part of my role is meeting and working with our stakeholders, whether private developers or contractors, local authorities and Homes England. This relationship building is very important to help keep Beyond Housing front of mind for future opportunities.

What's the best bit about your job?

Karen: The ever-changing housing landscape, there is never a dull moment!

Frances: The nature of development delivery includes a lot of problem-solving and finding solutions. Sometimes issues are easy to resolve and sometimes less so, but taking a problem, looking for a solution, consulting with the best people to help you find that solution and solving it is very rewarding. It can be exhausting but it’s like a rollercoaster with plenty of ups and downs, sometimes you scream and sometimes you laugh – but when it ends you’re left feeling exhilarated.

What’s been your favourite career milestone so far?

Karen: When I point out developments across the width and breadth of Yorkshire and can say “I did that.” There are very many and I have been really lucky to have worked alongside the best professionals in the business, building new homes in some of the most beautiful parts of Yorkshire. All schemes have been equally interesting and always challenging.

Frances: I have had a few favourite career milestones. Being selected to work on my previous employer’s first ever extra care scheme was a privilege and slightly terrifying at the same time. I learnt a lot from it and it was my first real confidence boost that I could take on challenges and succeed. . We have recently started on site with our first modular scheme of 117 units at Princeton Gardens, another huge challenge and a career highlight to get this scheme viable and underway but is great to see works on site and see the scheme completed.

What are your aims over the next five years?

Karen: To help shape our new sales brand Viola Homes, to contribute to the successful delivery of our five-year strategic plan to build 2,000 new homes, and to generate a profit through our outright sales programme.

Frances: To work with our existing stakeholders and form new relationships, and to ensure Beyond Housing’s development team provide an excellent service and build fantastic, sought-after homes.

Tell us about your pets, hobbies and family.

Karen: We have two dogs; Ruby, our 13 year old springer spaniel who is still as daft as a brush, and a little corgi rescue dog from Romania called Pearl who has brought us nothing but joy since we picked her up from Miss Mollie’s dog rescue last year. We have just had our mid-life crisis and bought a panel van to convert to a camper, so we can explore and enjoy Britain to start with – so bring on some nice weather!

Frances: I have a cat who’s nearly two years old – I’ve had her since she was nine weeks old – she’s crazy, but most cats are, and that’s why I love them so much! While working from home she sleeps on the chair next to me, she knows when I’m stressed and often jumps up for a cuddle. Sometimes she’s just hungry though! My main hobby is track running – I’m a sprinter and run the 100m and 200m. I’ve been involved in athletics since I was 11. I still compete for my local club but generally in the masters now, and I’m in the top 10 in the country for my age category! I also coach sprinting at my local club every week for the juniors, and monthly sessions for the seniors. My other commitment is running a Girl Guide unit in Middlesbrough and I help out with a Ranger unit in Sedgefield when they need an extra leader. I live in County Durham with my husband, who is now a real estate photographer (he used to be an accountant!), which has been his dream job for many years. My stepson is living with us after leaving university with a first in Law, but looking to move out now he has a job as a trainee accountant and auditor in Leeds. My daughter is in her first year at university at Central Saint Martin’s in London doing jewellery design and silversmithing. My family lives all over the country, with my dad near Birmingham, my sister in Derby, my nieces in Sheffield, Barnsley and Leeds, and my mum in Nunthorpe.

What's your favourite movie?

Karen: I love films, so this is really tough – but it has to be ‘Rebecca’, the original 1940 one of course, with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. A beautiful atmospheric thriller, and we named our first springer Jasper after Rebecca de Winter’s spaniel.

Frances: I love movies of most genres (not so much horrors!) I just get wrapped up in a film. I have a few favourites depending on my mood – at Christmas it has to be ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. ‘Dirty Dancing’, ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘The Matrix’ are films I can watch over and over again.

What's the best concert you've ever been to?

Karen: The very first one I went to (and still eclipses Madonna’s ‘Who’s that Girl’ tour at Roundhay Park). My dad and I went to see Rainbow at the Queens Hall in Leeds in July 1981. The venue in darkness and Ritchie Blackmore playing the opening chords of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ – my, oh my.

Frances: Cher. I didn’t really like her music that much, but we got tickets and I was blown away by the whole show. I’m going to see The Killers later this year which I am hoping will be great.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting their career in the housing industry, what would it be?

Karen: The devil is in the detail.

Frances: Ask for advice and give new things a try, with the aim of learning and improving. Strive to be the best you can be, and enjoy the process. Sometimes the end result isn’t everything – getting there is much more fun.

You can get in touch with Karen and Frances on the details below.