CITU is a leading Yorkshire-based sustainable developer founded 16 years ago in response to the growing climate emergency. The primary drivers of carbon emissions in the UK come from building, transport and energy systems. Founder Chris Thompson had a vision to create beautiful homes that would make it easy to live a sustainable life while still providing ‘all the ingredients to create a great place’ to live.
Chris’ background in construction and experience working with property developers led him to realise that the UK needed a holistic approach to environmental and social challenges.
To do this, he made sure CITU was focused on communities, developing a vertically integrated model that ensures its entire team is local. The company observes a ‘local-first’ approach in everything from supply chains to community outreach. Chris thinks this approach has become even more vital as a result of the pandemic: “What people have realised in the last twelve months is the strength of localism…local businesses need to have a grounding where they are based, give back to their community and invest in their locality”.
Like many SMEs, CITU initially reacted with shock to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, quickly the business realised it needed to prioritise agility; flexing to provide safe working all while dealing with challenges in supply chains and labour availability. CITU knew it had to cater to a cross-section of new requirements all while honouring its existing commitments. Chris assumed a ‘war-time leadership’ role as he sought to keep the business on track despite these challenges. “Decisions needed to be quick, firm and provide certainty to people, all while still being compassionate and supportive”.
CITU developed a skeleton-crew of socially-distanced workers, adapted to remote working and crucially, changed the way it communicated business objectives to its employees. It began reporting numbers to its entire team in an effort to create full transparency, asking people to report their own numbers and making it clear how these targets impacted people’s bonus structure. Chris noted that it created a new culture within CITU, focused on ‘being productive, rather than busy’.
As a growing business, CITU is continually investing in its capital equipment (e.g. factories where they build their pioneering timber framed houses), developing new projects and creating an investment portfolio. As the nation begins to emerge from the pandemic, Chris knows that scaling up their important work is vital. Currently CITU produces 200 homes a year but is already working to increase this output. Their work with Aldermore has made this possible, providing funding for a part of 'Kelham Central', a new project of 114 homes in Kelham Island, Sheffield with the money enabling every stage of the development from construction through to sale. Chris sees the relationship with Aldermore as a ‘change in how banking works’ with swift decision making and a flexible approach informed by the bank’s commitment to getting to know them as a business.
Through its partnership with Aldermore, CITU is able to continue to find their footing in the emerging ‘low-carbon economy’, something he hopes other SMEs will also prioritise. “If SMEs haven’t already been thinking about the environment, it’s time to turbo charge that message…It’s time to get serious about [the environment]. As they say, the best time was yesterday, the next best time is today.”