Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

Supporting the digital evolution of property sales and marketing

We partnered with property development company, Citu, on a 24-month KTP project.

The project set out to develop unique virtual reality (VR) platforms to showcase Citu’s homes. It pushed boundaries in how Citu sell and develop properties in line with their customers’ lives.

Supporting the digital evolution of property sales and marketing

Citu are an award-winning development company. They build sustainable homes incorporating forward-thinking design, sustainable materials and low energy use.

Leeds Beckett’s School of Built Environment, Engineering & Computing is a community of committed colleagues who are passionate about making a difference to the way we plan, design, construct, protect and maintain the world around us.

  • Location

    Leeds, West Yorkshire
  • Founded


The Challenge

Citu bring a pioneering approach to house building by using the latest technologies to minimise carbon emissions – designing developments around the pedestrian and not the car – so it was no surprise that their approach to selling houses would be as disruptive in the marketplace.

As the digital landscape of property management and house hunting has changed dramatically in recent years, Citu wanted to be able to respond in kind. Consumers are much more engaged online, being able to explore residential areas and houses through well-known apps such as Google Maps, Rightmove and Zoopla. Citu were looking for ways to develop and innovate their digital estate and wanted to explore the impact that VR tours could make to how they market properties to their customers.

The approach

At Leeds Beckett, we had been working with Citu for a number of years. Through the Leeds Sustainability Institute (LSI), a dedicated research institute within our university, we had completed a number of collaborative projects.

As Citu began planning for the next big step in their development – the building of the Climate Innovation District in Leeds city centre – they looked for innovative ways to market the new development.

Detailed scoping exercises were carried out between the senior management team at Citu and academics from Leeds Beckett – who are specialists in the built environment as well as in computing and in particular in the use of VR. A project was designed to create a one-of-a-kind digital experience for consumers.

Leeds Beckett BSc (Hons) Games Design graduate, James Fenwick, was employed and embedded within the company for 24 months as a dedicated virtual reality and experience manager.

James’s role was to take the architect models and bring them to life in a virtual world that customers are able to explore from a central location.

The impact

At least 30 reservations were secured through the VR platform – the estimated total sales value at the time was in excess of £10m.

Significant publicity was generated as a result of the project. James presented his augmented reality (AR) and VR work at the Vision Summit in 2017, held in Los Angeles, which brought together leading creators, artists and programmers in the world of AR and VR. This was a fantastic output for a young graduate to be able to take his work internationally and demonstrate to others just how innovative his work has been.

Speaking about the impact the KTP has had on his professional development, James said: “Starting the KTP immediately after graduating was an amazing opportunity. The project gave me a unique opportunity to work alongside academics at Leeds Beckett and industry leaders at Citu, meaning I was never alone or unsupported. The project was a lot of hard work, and at times very challenging, but the support and confidence from both Citu and the university made the whole experience a pleasure.

“The project brought ample opportunities for my own personal development. The highlight of which was heading to Los Angeles for the Vision conference. At the conference I met and heard from industry leaders, sampled the latest technology and had a very brief discussion with Richard Dawkins about the parallels of human biology and virtual reality. Speaking with VR professionals at the conference reinforced that the project was on the right track, and at its forefront.”

At Citu our mission is to tackle climate change by creating places that help people to reduce their carbon footprint. We’ve achieved that by developing our own timber-framed housing system to create one of the most energy-efficient homes in the world.

The challenge for the KTP and Leeds Beckett University is to create a digital platform that de-mystifies all the integrated science and technology to allow us to sell the houses.

James has been with Citu for two years and the impact has been immense. We already have the digital platform live as a key part of the sales journey. It’s been so successful that we no longer need a physical show home to sell our houses, it’s all done in virtual reality.

Kevin Gillespie Sales and Marketing Director

CITU Leeds – Developing a Virtual Reality Experience Hear from James and from Kevin Gillespie, Sales and Marketing Director at Citu, on the success of this KTP

Find out more

if you want to find out more about our Knowledge Transfer Partnership mentioned in this article then click the link to find out more.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships