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Bringing Modern Methods of Construction to the Public Sector

Gemma Darroch, Key Account Manager at Donaldson Timber Systems, chats to George Sell, at Showhouse Magazine to discuss bringing the latest residential MMC techniques to the public sector.

Her career in the construction industry started with a timber-based residential volumetric manufacturer and gave her a solid grounding in the sector. “As it was a start-up in the modular industry, I had the opportunity to oversee the whole process. From laying down the chalk lines on the empty factory floor, to specifying the interior of the very first show house to come off the factory line,” says Darroch.

“I then moved on to a well-established, steel-based cross sector volumetric manufacturer, and after a short time with the company I decided to go freelance until I found the right role that was a good fit for me and matched my values. My goal was to find a socially responsible and sustainable business that truly wanted to make a difference in how we build homes. I joined Donaldson Timber Systems (DTS), formally Stewart Milne Timber Systems, in 2021,” she says.

“DTS is the leading offsite timber systems manufacturer, specialising in the supply and construction of sustainable, state-of-the-art open and closed panel offsite timber frames. I found the company’s approach to people, place and product aligned with my own values on helping to combat the housing crisis we face, through partnerships, knowledge sharing and collaboration – all the while reflecting the government’s construction playbook in involving the supply chain early in the project lifecycle to reduce downstream issues and help deliver clear, outcome-focused designs and specifications.”

“We believe that the three-fold benefits of using offsite timber frame – low energy demand, carbon-neutral raw material, and a proven, reliable, cost-effective mainstream way of building high quality energy efficient homes – are vital to creating sustainable, resilient, and affordable developments for the future,” Darroch adds.

“The company has a long history in the housebuilding sector, delivering more than 150,000 homes since inception, and with a capacity to build 10,000 homes per year across the UK. It works with some of the UK’s largest housebuilders, such as Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Homes.”

Darroch’s focus is on the public sector. She says: “In recent times, we have developed strong collaborative relationships in the affordable housing sector, working with housing associations such as L&Q, Clarion, Orbit and Sanctuary. We recognise the need for the public sector to work collaboratively with the supply chain, ensuring early engagement to ensure value for money every step of the way. Early engagement allows for standardisation and the use of Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) to take full effect and essentially provide value engineering early on.”

“I have been brought in by the company to build on the company’s existing relationships with a particular focus on the north. We launched our Levelling up the North with MMC campaign back in February, which saw us take the northern affordable housing providers on a journey of discovery from concept to completion of our offsite panelised systems offering, kicking off with a webinar and then following up with site and factory visits. This was designed to show – rather than tell – the story of offsite. I feel this gives the ability to make informed choices when exploring offsite solutions through knowledge sharing. This in turn provides an understanding of what is needed to see the full benefits of offsite.”

The sustainability agenda is a high priority for every element of the new homes supply chain, and DTS is no different. Darroch says: “Environmentally speaking, timber is a natural, renewable material with significant thermal efficiency that helps to lower energy bills for social tenants whilst helping to ensure low-carbon compliance for the housing provider. Fundamentally, for UK housing associations and affordable housing developers, we believe that a timber frame, fabric-first approach to homes must now be considered the go-to solution of choice.”

“In recent times, I have seen the shift in modern methods of construction moving towards panelised systems of CAT2 of the MMC definition framework. While there’s not really a ‘one size fits all’ solution, there is a definite move towards a more flexible way of building while still utilising the benefits of offsite manufacturing. The recently launched Building Better DPS from the National Housing Federation is testament to the shift, as affordable housing providers seek to broaden their range of modern methods of construction,” she adds.

Darroch believes Imminent legislative changes have only strengthened DTS’ position: “The government’s recent announcement of the overhaul of The Procurement Bill will look to establish a single digital platform for supplier registration and set out objectives for public procurement. These include delivering value for money, maximising public benefit, treating suppliers equally and acting with integrity. There is also a strong emphasis on delivering social value.”

“The benefits of using our open and closed panelised systems – Alpha, Delta or Sigma ll – mean that works can still be carried out on site, ensuring that social value potential is reached within the communities served. Our network of subcontractor installers are typically employed in their own regions, and around 90 per cent of their work comes from us, meaning we have a national reach of social value impact – coupled with our national network of factories across the country from the merger with the Donaldson Group of companies.”

“With the government’s forthcoming changes in regulation – an uplift to standards of Part L of the Building Regulations and changes to Part F – which are the first step in achieving the Future Homes Standards, there has never been a more important time for affordable providers to make the switch to offsite construction to achieve the standards required. The Future Homes Standard will require new-build homes to be future-proofed with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency. It will be introduced by 2025, and already our Sigma II closed panel system achieves these standards. That being said, we are constantly evolving and improving our offering through research and development,” concludes Darroch.

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