Changing housing by design

We helped Thames Valley Housing to understand residents' needs and build their service design team
a photograph of a doormat with the text 'There's No Place Like Home' on it

Building a team whilst working on a live project

Thames Valley Housing (TVH) has been providing a mixture of social housing, shared ownership and key-worker housing to people in London since the 1960s. They knew that to change the way they deliver services to residents they needed to understand their needs. They wanted to build the ability to conduct research and design services in-house doing real work on two upcoming housing schemes. 

We built a 12-week programme to work with the TVH Service Design team, senior leaders from IT, policy and customer services to undertake user research across two future development sites in Thames Valley.

Working on a live project gave the team the opportunity to practice service design approaches in real-time, whilst addressing residents’ needs as they learned.

We provided support, training, and knowledge sharing throughout, spending two days a week on-site, working closely with the in-house team and working in the open so the whole organisation could follow our work.

Understanding the organisation

To find out about the current service, we shadowed call handlers and service support teams. We mapped processes across the organisation – from sales teams through to resident onboarding and maintenance. 

Mapping the whole service like this was invaluable for the organisation. From the service map below you can see the number of parts involved and all the interdependencies that these lead to. We established an understanding of the infrastructure in all its complexity and also uncovered some small fixes that could be undertaken quite easily.

A graphic of a large systems map for TVH showing how Snook helped them understand the many interdependent aspects of Thames Valley Housing's service

Understanding the residents

We also set out to understand how residents expect services to suit their current lifestyles, what they would value and what doesn’t interest them so we could develop the service offerings for the future. 

We wanted to understand:

  • How user needs are affected by living in a high-density development
  • Which elements of the service are valued and which are not 
  • How to ensure the service meets the future needs of residents and the community
  • How the building design can be altered to meet user needs more effectively
  • What residents expect to be included in the basic offer vs what they are prepared to pay extra for

What people want from housing

We found great value in spending time speaking with and listening to residents. The needs of people living in buildings with shared entries and other facilities are different to those in other developments. Talking to people about how these needs could be best met enabled the Service Design team to understand potential residents’ needs and expectations of housing providers as the service was being developed.

  • Housing associations need to get the basics right. Things like clear communication, and being accessible and responsive. 
  • Estates should be clean, with well-lit and ventilated corridors 
  • Parcels will be delivered and/or can be left securely
  • Parking is facilitated for residents and their visitors
  • Help forming and maintaining communities 
  • Well designed, accessible indoor and outdoor communal spaces 
  • A single point of contact who knows them and their estate, and can quickly respond to (or prevent) issues when they arise.
  • A sense of ownership and belonging through things like knowing the rules, being able to personalise the flat and having a less institutional feel in communal areas.
  • Some residents, particularly shared owners, expressed an interest and willingness to pay for convenient services at their door, like dry cleaning, decorating and a handyperson. 
  • New high-density developments will require a different approach to site management and may provide new opportunities for service delivery.


Prototyping key concepts

From our research, we synthesised user insights into high-level propositions and mapped how viable they were with Thames Valley. Our ideas ranged from policy considerations on pets to how concierge services would work in the future, onboarding concepts around first-day internet services to how laundry is handled in a public building. We supported TVH to narrow the concepts down and build first prototypes of the solutions.

In this case study, we’re going to highlight three of the concepts we recommended to be tested as a way to meet users’ needs.


Allowing residents to personalise their space helps to encourage pride in the area. Currently, this can be challenging for residents – for example, doormats have frequently been removed or stolen.

We developed a concept around providing a service that offers personalisation in the home. Thames Valley Housing would offer a range of approved personalisation options from decorating (like wall colours) to physical features (like doormats).  

Impact Evaluation

This was deemed to be an exciting area for TVH to add value in residents’ sense of ownership of their homes. Stakeholders viewed this to be fairly achievable and considered it to have both a mid-to-high ‘impact on residents’ and ‘effort for TVH’. 

image of an ipad with a webpage showing options to personalise things like door colour and other interior elements of a new home

“I want to hang pictures, at the moment I just have them lined up along the wall, as I don’t know the rules about nailing into the wall.”

Private Renter, Ealing Council


Users like having a concierge service but are often confused as to what they do. Ultimately residents are after complete services and a personal relationship. People value individuals who know their property and can provide answers and solutions to their problems. 

We developed a concept called ‘Here For You’ – A digital and physical service to meet the daily needs of residents for advice and help. For example offering help with deliveries, organising key cutting and general assistance in the building. Residents want issues to be resolved quickly and value a personal connection 

Impact evaluation

Research showed that the main benefits of the concept are a single point of contact with knowledge of the estate. This is something that could be achieved digitally with regular visits. Stakeholders rated this as having a high ‘impact on residents’ and mid-to-high ‘effort for TVH. 

an ipad showing an online booking page for concierge services like receiving packages, getting access and other help with the building's features

“They are only there 50% of the time so can’t guarantee that their package will be received.”

Private Renter

Communal spaces

Communal spaces are often underused because people aren’t aware of them or don’t know how and if they can use them. Communal space needs to offer something additional to the home for residents to use it. We learned there is also a desire to get to know a wider range of people in the building than immediate neighbours.

From talking to residents we found they saw an opportunity for indoor communal space to bring people together. There’s an opportunity for public-facing facilities to include resident engagement. We brainstormed ‘How can we take advantage of underutilised spaces to benefit TVH, our residents and the community?’

We began prototyping ‘Open Living’ – A digital exploration for finding ways to increase use of internal communal spaces for individual and community activities. The open living service can enable internal spaces to be used for group or individual activities. 

Impact Evaluation

Residents view an internal communal space as nice-to-have and would not necessarily use it on a regular basis. An online booking system and suggested activities would help promote it. Stakeholders rated this fairly low, and considered this to have both a mid-to-high ‘impact on residents’ and ‘effort for TVH’. 

an ipad showing an online booking page for communal spaces - options for storage, events, private and community events are listed

“The space needs to allow me to do something I can’t do at home, or else I'll just do it at home.”

Russell Square Shared Owner

What now? What next? What’s the vision for the future?

As a result of the work with Snook, TVH were able to feed ideas back into the design brief for future developments and insights around placemaking and communication with residents fed through into a prototype for a new estates service.  The estate service proved very popular with residents of all tenures and was expanded into a new service within TVH.

From the 8 prototypes we developed, we created a Do, Next, Vision framework for next steps. As you might expect, this involves deciding which things could be done right now, what should be worked on next and what the long term vision for the service is. After validating these with residents and the organisation, 4 potential workstreams were developed that would enable TVH to better meet residents’ needs across existing and potential developments.