The 1960s

Sanctuary’s journey began on 5 May 1969 when the organisation was founded under the name World of Property Housing Trust, and registered as a charity with the Charity Commission.

The Trust sought to raise funds to begin its growth and objective of providing housing and care to those who need them. To deliver this, local boards were set up throughout the country with volunteers from the property world who would be instrumental in helping secure financial donations and providing their expertise for development opportunities.

The 1970s

As the organisation grew, it changed its name to WPHT Housing Association on 22 October 1973.

The 1980s

Then based in Hertford, it officially became Sanctuary Housing Association on 6 February 1986.

In April 1989 Sanctuary and New Spiral joined forces in the largest ever merger of two housing associations, at that time, taking the combined stock to around 13,000 homes.

As Chief Executive of New Spiral at the time, David Bennett was instrumental in the move and became deputy Chief Executive of the combined associations with special responsibility for central services and finance.

The 1990s

David was appointed to the role of Chief Executive of Sanctuary in 1991 and continued to lead the organisation until his retirement at the end of 2018, through its most successful and sustained period of growth.

Sanctuary steadily built up a portfolio of homes and by the mid-1990s had stock of over 23,000 following a merger with Housemartin Housing Association in Humberside.

In 1995 Sanctuary Care was formed to provide high-quality care services for older people through the provision of residential care homes.

Until that point, all of Sanctuary’s work had been in England, but in 1995 Sanctuary Scotland was created to provide homes in Scotland.

In 1996 Staff Council was formed. This is the main channel of communication and consultation between staff and management.


Demonstrating the organisation’s ambition, the journey and growth of Sanctuary continued and in 2002, it relocated its corporate services to Worcester, in the Midlands. Worcester was selected because of its central location, proximity to the motorway network and its cost-effective office space.

In the following years a number of other organisations were acquired including Beth Johnson and Hereward Housing.

Then in 2008, a further six organisations joined Sanctuary Group, including Rochford Housing, Banbury Homes and Kingsmead Homes in London, increasing the number of homes under the Group’s management to over 70,000.

The following year saw Riviera Housing Trust in Torbay join Sanctuary, after the Group was selected as the Trust’s preferred partner to provide housing services and help develop new housing across the region.

2010 to date

Taking Sanctuary Group’s housing stock to around 73,000, this increased to nearly 80,000 over the next few years following smaller acquisitions including Cumbernauld Housing Partnership and Tenants First in Scotland.

Throughout this period Sanctuary Group continued to be a significant developer of social housing.

In 2013, at the request of the Regulator, Sanctuary Group stepped in to secure the future of Cosmopolitan Housing Group which was in serious financial difficulties.

It was the largest rescue deal the sector had ever seen and had Sanctuary Group not stepped up, it could have had far-reaching consequences on the ability of housing associations to borrow money privately, as to that point, there had never been a housing association go bankrupt. Sanctuary took on the management of around 13,500 homes protecting the social housing for residents and mitigating the risks around some of Cosmopolitan’s student housing leases. Today Chester, Liverpool and the surrounding areas are a vital part of Sanctuary Housing’s social housing provision.

David Bennett was recognised with a CBE in the 2015 New Year’s Honours List for his services to social housing and positive impact across the sector leadership. At the time, David reflected it was a recognition of the work of staff at Sanctuary Group.

Strengthening its operations in Scotland, Sanctuary’s three Scottish housing associations formally merged in 2016. The merger made Sanctuary Scotland one of the country’s largest social landlords with more than 6,500 homes, following overwhelming support from tenants.

Sanctuary Group significantly strengthened its care portfolio a year later with the addition of 35 care homes and a supported housing scheme from Embrace, taking the number under its ownership to around 100 across the country.

Today, Sanctuary Group is responsible for managing in excess of 105,000 homes throughout England and Scotland and employs more than 13,000 people who share the Group’s values – ambition, diversity, integrity, quality and sustainability.

View our growth

World of Property Housing Trust logo

World of Property Housing Trust, which later became Sanctuary Group, was founded in 1969 by Francis Bennion, a barrister, author and Secretary of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Sanctuary's history in logos

Sanctuary’s history in logos. These are a selection of the logos used by organisations which either merged with or were acquired by Sanctuary over the years.

The Denbigh triangle

Sanctuary acquired around 500 properties from Westminster Council around Denbigh Street in Pimlico, London, known as the Denbigh triangle. It remains social housing let by Sanctuary today.

Shadwell basin, in Tower Hamlets

The development of Shadwell Basin, in Tower Hamlets, which was undertaken by Sanctuary Land Company Limited in 1987 resulting in 169 houses and flats being built around the retained historic dock.

HM The Queen visiting a new development of homes.

HM The Queen visiting a new development of homes in Valley Road, Letchworth Garden City in Hertfordshire in July 1993.

HM the Queen being introduced to Bob Holt who was Chair of Sanctuary at that time.

HM The Queen visiting a new development of homes in Valley Road, Letchworth Garden City in Hertfordshire in July 1993. Her Majesty is being introduced to Bob Holt, who was Chair of Sanctuary at that time.

Sanctuary Care logo

In 1995 Sanctuary Care was established.

The high rise flats in Ardler being demolished.

In 1999, work began to transform Ardler, an area of Dundee, which included the demolition of high rise flats.

Sanctuary head office

Sanctuary moved its head office to Worcester from Hertfordshire in 2002. The main building Sanctuary House was previously occupied by Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce, hence the name Chamber Court.

HRH The Duke of Kent opening Watlington and District care home.

HRH the Duke of Kent opening Watlington and District Care Home on 23 July 2004. The care home was refurbished from the old hospital building on the site.

Old hospital before it became Watlington and District Care Home.

Old hospital which was latterly refurbished to be Watlington and District Care Home (date unknown).

A Rochford Housing development

In 2007 Sanctuary acquired Rochford Housing.

Part of the Anderston regeneration.

In 2007, Sanctuary embarked on a £60 million regeneration project in conjunction with the Scottish Government to transform Anderston, an area of Glasgow once dominated by 1960s poor quality housing.

Tony King and contractors examining plans for Cameo House.

In 2010 Sanctuary expanded its Worcester campus by building Cameo House.

Cameo House completed

Cameo House when it was completed in 2010.

Marybone office in Liverpool

The Marybone office of Cosmopolitan Housing Group just after it was acquired by Sanctuary in 2013.

The Octavian Centre in Chester

As part of the acquisition of Cosmopolitan Housing Group, Sanctuary refurbished the Octavian Centre in Chester, which is used for training maintenance operatives.

Boris Johnson visiting Gallery Court in Walthamstow.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visiting Gallery Court on Fulbourne Road, in Walthamstow, London in 2015.

David Bennett with his CBE

Former Group Chief Executive David Bennett receiving a CBE for services to social housing in 2015.

Sanctuary Group values

In 2016, after consultation with Staff Council, Group Board and members of staff, Sanctuary defined its Group values – a set of five values which the Group stands by.

The Victoria Infirmary.

In 2016 Sanctuary purchased The Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow with a view to developing hundreds of new homes on the site. The iconic Nightingale wings shown in this picture are being preserved and integrated into the new buildings.

One of the Embrace care homes

In 2017 Sanctuary bought 35 care homes and a supported housing scheme from Embrace Care. The homes moved under the Sanctuary Care brand in 2017.

Staff and residents outside Corner House

In 2018 Sanctuary Supported Living celebrated the Group’s first CQC-rated outstanding supported scheme Corner House in Mansfield.

Craig Moule

In 2019, Sanctuary's 50th year, Craig Moule became Sanctuary's new Group Chief Executive.