Building On A Brand With Helen White, Affinity Living

Helen White, the MD of new rental brand Affinity Living talks to us about the highs and lows of the industry and what we can expect from the newkid on the rental market block.

So, tell us a bit about what you do?

I head up a property brand called Affinity Living, which is a new rental brand that we’re launching in Manchester. It’s essentially gorgeous studios and one and two bed apartments, but with communal social spaces where residents can work, chill, mix with neighbours or go to events we put on, like wine tasting or pop up bands. We have four buildings in two locations that are being built in Manchester at the moment and each one is slightly different and as such will cater for a slightly different customer.

Our first one is Affinity Living, Riverside which opens in December just behind Spinningfields, then we have another across town behind Harvey Nic’s at Embankment.

So, yep with all those going up, I’m pretty busy. At the moment I’m splitting my time between the site team who are the ones responsible for getting the buildings up and making sure they’re on time and to the quality we expect, ops team so the building functions smoothly and delivers the high levels os service we want to deliver and then working with the sales and marketing team who are focussed on making sure potential customers know who we are, what we offer and starting to take bookings.

What do you love about it?

I love the pace. I’ve never been one to shy away from a day’s work and because I’ve been involved from the start, I have a huge passion for it. My background is in brand and communications, so I worked across the business to research the market and create the concept for Affinity Living back in 2015, so to see it coming to life and see actual bricks and mortar gives me a huge buzz.

What’s your biggest challenge?

I think my biggest challenge is making sure that everyone involved in the business is aligned from day one and is of the mindset that the product has to be focused on who will be living in the buildings.

Ensuring this remains a key focus throughout the whole design and construction process and also drives the operational platform is challenging, as obviously each department has its own individual pressures and targets. But the question must remain, is that what the customer would want.

And with that, comes another challenge. As a property brand we can’t pigeon-hole an entire rental community by saying they all want the same things, so a big challenge of mine is making sure we appeal to a wide rental audience. It’s misguided to assume all 27 year-old’s want the same thing. People aren’t identical, they have differing tastes and interests. Some want a gym, some want co-working space, others want more social areas, so it’s our job (and challenge!) to provide choice. And with multiple buildings going up in Manchester, we are able to cater for difference audiences and deliver different environments.

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What motivates you?

Learning new skills for sure. While my background is far more sales and marketing-led, as my first MD role within the property sector I’ve had to immerse myself in operations, learning every aspect of what’s required to deliver an operational platform that is effective, efficient and drives value, while making sure we excel at customer service.

What’s been your biggest frustration recently?

Hmm, I think like a number of developers, Carillion going bust has been our biggest hurdle and frustration. It has slowed us down hugely but we’re nearly there!

So, on property, you work in a fairly male-dominated industry, is that ever a challenge?

Yes, it’s a massively male-dominated industry and there are without a doubt not enough women working in property. However, I must say there are a number of women I work with who are excellent. Michele Steel, our Planning Director, is super switched on and Holly, who is the project manager for our construction partner at Riverside, manages a team of predominantly male builders superbly but yes, we definitely need more.

I think a lot of women are put off by construction and think it’s dull but there are so many aspects to the industry that they probably just don’t know about. A lot of the ladies from the business take part in school careers nights to try and encourage women into the industry and let them know of all the various roles that are available.

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What are you looking forward to in the next 12 months?

I really can’t wait to welcome people through the door and start hearing what customers think of their new home. It’s been a long time in the making and a lot of research and hard work has gone into the brand, so it’s hugely exciting to think the doors will be open in the next few months. Then, once Riverside is open, I’ll be taking that feedback and learnings and rolling them into the two schemes at Embankment, which are due to open towards the end of 2020. It’s an exciting time with loads going on!

For information, visit affinityliving.com

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Words by ollie

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