TAKING charge of Redrow Homes’ Lancashire business during unprecedented times meant an unexpected start for new managing director Claire Jarvis.

Claire switched from her role as group sales director to head up the Chorley-based new homes business just as the Covid-19 pandemic struck and the whole of the UK went into lockdown.

And, if that wasn’t enough, she and her husband John both fell ill with suspected coronavirus early in the pandemic.

Now fully recovered and easing the Redrow operation back towards full production, Claire spoke about some of the challenges of running a housebuilder operation during a major public health crisis.

“The most important factor, of course, was keeping customers and colleagues safe,” Claire says.

“After that, one of the biggest challenges was staying connected with colleagues and the team, especially as we had some staff furloughed, others working from home and some still operating in the field. Redrow’s Lancashire operation is well known for its ‘family’ feel and so keeping everyone connected and maintaining spirits was very important to me. Like most companies we’ve had to rethink our communications and have embraced Zoom video conferences, WhatsApp chat groups and daily catch-ups of the virtual kind.”

With construction sites and sales centres closed for several weeks - and little advance warning or time to prepare - Claire’s sales background and appreciation of customer service was particularly important in making sure that customers were kept up to date about their purchase and/or their property.

She’s since had to oversee the phased return of building work at 14 live sites in Lancashire and parts of Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire, with strict social distancing protocols in place; and manage not only Redrow’s adoption of those new measures but ensure that sub-contractors and suppliers are all on board too.

“We’ve now got a Covid-19 supervisor on every site, enhanced signage and PPE, robust social distancing protocols, an e-learning module for all employees and special induction videos for contractors,” Claire explains. “We’re gradually building up the site presence at all locations as sub-contractors un-furlough their own staff and return to work.

"We’re also having to re-establish our build programmes and revise timeframes to reflect the impact of changes made on site and communicate that information to customers.

“Our sales centres and show homes have also now reopened, again with strict new social distancing protocols in place. To date we’ve been pleased with the levels of interest being shown but it is still early days. It’s certainly been a very interesting time to take charge!”

Claire, 42, joined in 2012 as sales and marketing director for Redrow Homes (Lancashire). In 2019 she was appointed to the newly created role of group sales director, taking responsibility for Redrow’s nationwide sales policies and procedures.

She has taken over from Steve Greenhalgh, who retired after 32 years with the business – the last eight as managing director.

Claire hopes her appointment will inspire and encourage more women into the construction industry.

She said: “We’re now seeing more women coming into trade apprenticeships, into site management and other roles perhaps previously perceived as male-dominated. This will no doubt lead to many more women in senior roles within the construction industry and certainly more female MDs. Likewise, we are seeing previously female-dominated roles such as sales consultants being taken by a much more even split of men and women.”