The Business of Homelessness: My Container UK Ltd

On 30 August 2017 Martin McGrail and Stacy Reed incorporated My Container UK Ltd, which lists its business on the Companies House website as the ‘Construction of commercial buildings’, and for which they are both Directors: McGrail the Managing Director, Reed the Operations Director.

The following year, on 4 June 2018, they incorporated Gorilla Holdings Ltd, for which they are the two Directors, with an equal share of the 100 shares. Its business is listed by code 64209, which is a company primarily engaged in holding or owning securities of other companies for the purpose of controlling their activities.

On the same day McGrail and Reed incorporated another one of these other companies, UK Land & Assets Ltd, which lists its business as ‘Other letting and operating of own or leased real estate’, and for which, once again, they are the two Directors.

The following day, 5 June 2018, they also incorporated Brass Monkey Brewery Ltd, which lists its business as ‘Public houses and bars’, and for which they are two of the four Directors. In December 2018 the company opened a craft ale and artisan gin bar opposite both Hillsborough Park, which hosts a large inner-city music festival, and Hillsborough Stadium, the home to Sheffield Wednesday FC. Of the other two Directors, one is Robert Johnson, the Labour councillor for the Hillsborough ward who sits on the Council’s Healthier Communities and Adult Social Care Scrutiny and Policy Development Committee, and is also the council’s representative on the Together Housing Local Panel.

A month before the bar opened, on 7 November 2018, McGrail and Reed additionally incorporated My Sleeper Ltd, a subsidiary of My Container UK Ltd, which also lists its business as ‘Construction of commercial buildings’. Once again they are the two Directors, although Reed resigned on 24 January 2019, the same day he also resigned from Gorilla Holdings Ltd, presumably because that same month Reed took up an appointment as Construction Manager at FM 247 Group (UK) Ltd.

All five of these companies list the same address: Suite 4G, Goods Wharf, Goods Road, Derbyshire, Belper, England, DE56 1UU.

On the My Container UK website the My Sleeper container system is called ‘a housing solution for the homeless’. In the promotional video (above) from an open day held in Sheffield City centre in September 2018, Reed explains that the My Sleeper containers would be located on brownfield land awaiting development then moved off when the land became ready to develop. The leases given to occupants would therefore be short term, as the company conceives of the Sleeper container as a stepping stone to the private rental market. He asks Sheffield City council to free up such land for the construction of these containers.

Standard ISO shipping containers are 8ft (2.43m) wide, 8.5ft (2.59m) high and 20ft (6.06m) long. The cost of turning them into homes is £10,000-12,000 per container completed up to the Decent Homes Standard, with second containers with additional bedrooms for the same household, bolted on to the primary container holding the kitchen and bathroom, costing an additional £8,000-£10,000. Although Reed pointedly refers to the containers as ‘affordable housing’, he doesn’t say whether their construction would therefore be available for Government subsidies. Each unit is for sale outright to the council, or My Container UK Ltd will fund the total supply, installation and management in exchange for what their website refers to as ‘suitable sites and needs’. No figures have been forthcoming on what rent My Sleeper Ltd would charge occupants, and the question isn’t raised in the list of FAQ on the My Container UK website; but Reed says this would be covered by Housing Benefit, and therefore paid by the UK Government rather than Sheffield City council, who would only need to supply the land.

Another open day was held in Sheffield in January 2019, and offering their support on the promotional video to My Sleeper containers as a solution to the city’s homelessness were Councillor Jim Steinke, the Labour Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood and Community Safety and the council’s representative on the Sheffield Health and Wellbeing Board; Councillor Ben Curran, who is Sheffield City council’s representative on SIGOMA, the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities in the northern, midland and south-coast regions of England; and Richard Eyre, Head Of City Centre Management, CCTV, Markets and Events at Sheffield City council. On 14 September last year, Councillor Robert Johnson, one of the Directors of Brass Monkey Brewery Ltd, promoted the Sleeper container systems on his Twitter account with a photograph of Steinke, Eyre and Reed standing in front of one of the containers.

In the last financial year alone, English councils spent £937 million on temporary accommodation for homeless households. Over the past five years they have spent a total of £3.87 billion for temporary accommodation. However, since most of the rental income on this temporary accommodation was paid by Housing Benefit, councils only bore 21.4 per cent of these costs. The Housing Benefit bill for the whole of the UK for 2018-19 is estimated to be £23.4 billion, with 4.6 million recipients paid an average of £5,035 each. This represents 2.9 per cent of total public spending and 1.1 per cent of national income. Even allowing for the expenditure on Housing Benefit in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, these figures show that the vast bulk of this public expenditure, at least £23 billion per year, is going into the pockets of private landlords. This is the business of homelessness.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

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