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Creating strong communities key to quality of life in future housebuilding – University of Reading

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Creating strong communities key to quality of life in future housebuilding

Release Date 25 October 2012

Housebuilders of the future should seek to create stronger communities, a University of Reading professor has said. Professor Tim Dixon, Chair in Sustainable Futures in the Built Environment worked as an advisor on research commissioned by Berkeley Group, one of Britain's largest housebuilding companies, to understand the importance and relevance of social sustainability to the housing industry.

As the Government seeks to unleash the biggest housebuilding programme in a generation, the research conducted by Social Life with input from Professor Dixon, reveals that new housing can quickly create strong communities where people enjoy happier, safer and more neighbourly lives.

Four developments surveyed across London and the South-East, built in the last ten years, were independently assessed, with residents surveyed face to face and the results compared to benchmarks for comparable places. The findings show that: they feel they belong, they regularly talk to their neighbours, they plan to stay in the community, they report greater feelings of safety walking alone during the day and the night.

The results of this major study challenge the popular stereotype that new developments are less sociable and attractive places to live than older, more established communities.

The Berkeley Group now intends to trial the research framework on a number of sites in the pre-planning or early stages of development and then roll-out this approach across the business, building social sustainability into the way it approaches every site. 

Using this framework allows those involved in housing provision - from property developers to housing associations and local authorities - to identify where interventions and investments in services, support for social life, or design improvements, can have the most impact on people's quality of life. 

Professor Dixon said: "This new research shows that for housebuilders, social sustainability is not a short-term fix but a long term necessity. The house builders that succeed in building strong communities are the ones that are in it for the long term. It's about creating a sense of social cohesion and that comes about from a range of factors including good design and inclusive public spaces but also building community capital.

"This new assessment framework is an important step in highlighting the often neglected social sustainability dimension in the triple bottom line, and comes at a time when changes in the policy landscape, through localism, planning and well-being will start to play a vital role in shaping our new communities now and in the future."

Rob Perrins, Managing Director of the Berkeley Group, said: "We urgently need more homes in Britain. But we have to create successful places, not just build more housing. This research shows it can be done and crucially provides a way to measure, for the first time, people's quality of life and the strength of community on new developments." 


For all media enquiries please contact Donna Sibley, University of Reading Media and PR Officer on 0118 378 7388 or by email on

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Notes for editors:

1. The report (‘Creating strong communities: how to measure the social sustainability of new housing developments') and accompanying documents are downloadable from:       

2. Professor Tim Dixon leads the Sustainability in the Built Environment (SustBE) initiative at the University of Reading. SustBE is an innovative new interdisciplinary research programme tackling issues of environmental, economic and social sustainability. For more information please visit

3. The Berkeley Group is a mixed-use residential developer and FTSE 250 company. It is made up of five autonomous businesses: St George, St James, Berkeley, Berkeley First, and St Edward. It was voted Britain's Most Admired Company across all industries in 2011 and Housebuilder of the Year in 2010 and 2011.

4. Social Life is a new social enterprise created by the Young Foundation in 2012. Social Life's expertise is in the social dimensions of placemaking and sustainability. Residents' surveys were undertaken by ComRes, a member of the British Polling Council. 

The University of Reading is ranked among the top 1% of universities in the world (THE World University Rankings 2012) and is one of the UK's top research-intensive universities. The University is ranked in the top 20 for the number of awards it received from research councils for 2010/11.

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