In 2015 we had another strong year in terms of increased build volume and at the same time we continued to add to our landbank to safeguard our long-term growth prospects for customers, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders alike. The demand for housing has meant continued challenging market conditions with shortages of skilled labour and materials well documented. Persimmon has continued to address these issues directly with its own investment, resource and long-term vision in a number of ways.
You will see in this year's report that we continue to train many young people; creating new jobs and securing our own labour force and to improve customer service. You will also see that we have launched two new initiatives; firstly to re-source parts of our supply chain more sustainably and secondly to create a meaningful and lasting bond with the communities we are involved with, through our innovative Community Champions scheme. In addition we conducted a detailed study of our energy usage throughout the company. All of these efforts are creating a stronger, more sustainable, business. This year we have expanded our reporting on climate change and we are publishing our Corporate Responsibility objectives which we work towards for the benefit of all of our stakeholders.
Persimmon sold 14,572 new homes last year which represents a material contribution to the industry's efforts to address the UK's housing shortage. Our strategy to focus on the volume market means that the Board is acutely aware of the housing need in the UK and we are proud that:
- A significant majority of the houses we build are family homes
- The majority of our house sales are to first-time buyers
- Our average selling price of £199,127 is accesible to many buyers
- We focus on larger schemes, creating new communities and improving infrastructure
- We begin to build as soon as implementable planning consents are received
- We built 53% of our homes on brownfield land, improving the local environment
- About 39% of our homes incorporate modern methods of construction, which increases efficiency and the speed of build
Our direct employee numbers have again increased, rising by 21% and representing 735 new jobs created. We are currently training around 580 apprentices, trainees and graduates. Our Combat to Construction scheme is now in its third year and has trained 125 armed service leavers to date at two national centres. We are delighted with the success of this scheme which provides ex-forces personnel with excellent training towards a qualification while being paid and places them into a guaranteed new permanent job. We are now extending the scheme and introducing "Up-Skill to Construction" which will provide trainees from other industry sectors the opportunity to learn new skills to allow them to earn more in new employment with Persimmon.
A new initiative during the year was to improve supply sourcing of various products and most notably bricks. Over the last three years we have replaced approximately 50% of our clay brick usage with more sustainable concrete bricks. Concrete bricks are easier to manufacture, are of a very high quality and the manufacturing process requires less energy. This strategic change helps to secure the supplies we need to meet our ambitious build programmes, supports our climate change work and allows us to concentrate on delivering the highest quality, sustainable, product and service to customers.
We also continue to use insulated timber panel systems manufactured at our Space4 facility in Birmingham. Overall 5,671 homes representing 39% of our total sales in 2015 were built using Space4 technology. Wood is effectively carbon neutral and structural timber also benefits from being organic and a naturally renewable building material. These Space4 units can then be assembled on-site in a significantly shorter build time, therefore using less energy, machinery and labour, whilst allowing a simultaneous external and internal finish process.
Our Community Champions scheme is creating a tangible bond with the communities where Persimmon is building. Each Persimmon operating business is invited to award up to £2,000 per month to two local good causes to match existing community fundraising. We have 28 companies spread around the country and the excitement generated amongst staff and communities alike has produced wonderful engagement and an important boost to local fundraising. We have also established The Persimmon Charitable Foundation which we plan to launch later in 2016.
The outlook for 2016 is positive. Our overall objective is to build high quality family homes, to please our customers and to improve the communities where we are working. This will benefit all stakeholders. We continue to be focused on the UK's housing need and we have recently increased the number of Persimmon operating businesses to provide additional capacity and maintain efficiency. Our way of working is for our Corporate Responsibility principles to be embedded within the operating businesses and to form part of "business as usual" so that all staff are responsible for it, every day. We look forward to continued improvement in the coming year.