Customer Sian, using her laptop in her Oakley home

Sian and her son Jacob live in a two bedroomed Grand Union home, in the pretty Bedfordshire village of Oakley, but 12 months ago it was a different story.

Sian is a qualified midwife and is currently training to become a health visitor. Because she is studying, and not earning, Sian knew that renting a home privately would be out of her reach financially, so she and her 11 year-old-son Jacob spent four years sharing a home with a friend in order to keep the costs down.

With the pandemic taking hold and the family dynamic changing in the house they shared in Bedford, Sian realised she had to find somewhere else to live.

“At the time I didn’t realise how much I was giving up by sharing. All I thought about was the positives – splitting the bills and sharing childcare.

“I was on the verge of signing a contract for a private rented place, knowing that I couldn’t really afford it, but I didn’t know what else I could do. I realised I had to pull out because it was just too tight financially.

“I didn’t think I’d qualify for social housing, but I joined the housing register for Central Bedfordshire in June 2020. I started bidding on properties but didn’t think I stood a chance.

“It was a really stressful time, but I just had to be patient. Within weeks I was top of the list for one property and second on the list for another.

Then one day Sian received a phone call from the council to tell her she’d been successful bidding on a newly built, two bedroomed, Grand Union property in the village of Oakley in Bedfordshire.

“I was a bit reluctant at first, knowing it’s a 15 minute drive from Bedford and I hadn’t been driving very long, but when I saw the house I couldn’t believe my luck!

“This house is amazing and Oakley is so lovely and quiet. It’s a really pretty area and there are lots of lovely walks round here.

“I’m still in the process of making it home because I’ve been working and studying so much. Jacob’s room is done but I need to get to the shops and have a look round properly, which is something we weren’t able to do during lockdown.

“I love that we can really relax. The best thing is being able to have friends round and the children being able to play in the garden. I’ve bought garden furniture and am hoping to get a pergola put up soon.

“Our neighbours are all lovely and friendly and there’s a real sense of community. We’ve been holding socially distanced gatherings outside and had fireworks on Bonfire Night. We’re in a street WhatsApp group so sometimes I get messages to say a neighbour has got home-grown vegetables to give away.

“I’m so enjoying having our own space, and especially when I was able to have my family round at Christmas.

“I start my new job in September as I train to become a health visitor. Although studying at university has been really stressful, and I struggled at first, it’s definitely been worth it. I have options now and a career for life.

“I also have a beautiful home where I can plan for the future. I feel very lucky.”

Sian’s home is one of four social rent homes built on the Oakley site, a former builders’ yard that now boasts 25 family homes including market sale, shared ownership, social rent and affordable rent, and one of 104 homes built last year by Grand Union.

This current year, we plan to build more than 450 new homes, over 200 of which will be for social or affordable rent, to help play our part in ending the housing crisis.