Persistence paid off for Weston Homes, the 15-year-old winner of this British Gypsum-sponsored category
Weston Homes

The 15-year-old company, originally a new-build and starter-home specialist, is still loyal to its traditional market but has now broadened its repertoire to include office-to-residential conversions, luxury Thamesside apartments and sympathetic conversions of period buildings. For the £23m refurbishment of three grade II-listed buildings at Royal Earlswood Park in Surrey, Weston created a joinery shop to manufacture facsimile door and window components and converted a former corridor into an oak-fitted communal library. Weston thoughtfully provides a welcome hamper for new homeowners, including lightbulbs, cleaning products and local area information on CD-ROM. The company runs an innovative apprenticeship scheme, offering A level school leavers four years' training in all aspects of housebuilding.

Ward Homes

Kent-based Ward has evolved from a traditional family firm to an innovative regional player building 350 homes a year. After customer consultation, it has introduced a new "traditional" range of homes to which it is soon to add three-storey houses, and

it has launched a handyman service for purchasers. Ward is also addressing the retirement market, developing a retirement village of 140 cottages, bungalows and apartments in Hertfordshire.

Rialto Homes

A south-east England specialist formed 30 years ago, Rialto has forged joint ventures with other developers to build premier schemes on high-profile sites, such as Gargoyle Wharf in Wandsworth. Rialto incorporates innovations such as sliding walls and underfloor heating into its developments and is building up expertise in period conversions and "lifetime homes". It is also ecologically committed: of last year's 343 homes, 95% were on brown land.

Countryside Residential

A division of Countryside Properties, the company built 381 homes in the South-east last year. It is commited to customer research as a route map for the future, designing homes that do not conform to traditional layouts and cut down on circulation space. Instead, they draw on spiral staircases, mezzanine floors, roof gardens and attic rooms. The company has made good use of its website, attracting 35,000 visitors a month.