Of course CIH Cymru’s TAI Housing conference is always really good value, but this year exceeded anything I had experienced before. It was very fortunate that CIH placed ‘Empty Homes’ so high on the conference agenda at a time when we are launching Empty Homes Wales and Welsh Government support is putting empties at the forefront of everyone’s minds with their loans scheme – but this was all helped immeasurably by the key note speaker and star attraction George Clarke, with whom I was invited by the CIH to share a stage (albeit briefly!)
I raised a few laughs as I introduced George by referring to him as ‘the man off the tele’ something that was picked up on blogs and twitter – I can assure you, it was a compliment of the highest order! As noted by Paul Diggory in his own Tai Empty Homes blog people in the housing sector have been ‘banging on about empty homes for years’ then along comes George to great acclaim and fanfare. Following TAI2013 there’s no doubting his passion and genuine belief that an empty property is a wasted home and his practical no-nonsense approach was infectious and really inspiring; we are lucky to have such a vocal, well respected spokesman. Having someone with the profile of George Clarke raises the profile of Empty Homes immeasurably, it’s that simple. Television programmes like the Great British Property Scandal and his role as Independent Advisor to the Government brings the sheer waste of empties into the public’s consciousness in a way that raw data and facts and figures don’t always seem to. Obviously having an estimated 26,000 empty homes across Wales is shocking. It is a number that we are doing our best to reduce but outside of the sector do people really know and appreciate the scale of the issue? Indeed ITV filmed us signing a lease on an empty property in Cardiff – a great project, a shining example of partnership working, an empty home bought back into use – but would they have come if George wasn’t there? I doubt it. But whatever raises the profile of empties is alright by me.
Other than meeting and discussing empty homes with George, another highlight was our Empty Homes Wales stand – winning the CIH award as it was so popular during the three day conference (thank you to the rising stars that voted for us!). I believe giving people an opportunity to sign up to our pledge was key to its success – It started the crucial conversation “Empty Homes Wales: what can you contribute?” I had numerous conversations about linking in with training, funding, the third sector, private companies and community engagement for example. It was so satisfying to meet other enthusiastic colleagues – many saying ‘I didn’t think about my area linking with Empty homes before and now I am; let’s work together!’ Many partnerships were born over those busy frantic few days in city hall, the networking opportunities at TAI are like no other that I have ever experienced. There were also some potential career changes – one colleague, who is completely immersed and 100% dedicated to the community involvement arena even went so far as to say he could be tempted over to Empty Homes work, after being so moved by George, and hopefully a little bit by me…
So, after a very enthusiastic , well publicised and well received Conference and an enormous amount of pledges to contribute to Empty Homes Wales – including one from Huw Lewis a mere hour or two before he was shuffled – the real hard work continues behind the scenes. The glitz and reflected glamour has started to fade but the question still remains: Empty Homes Wales: what can you contribute? By Michala Rudman, Empty Homes Officer United Welsh
Celtic Horizons, a wholly owned subsidiary created through a unique partnership between United Welsh, the South Wales based housing association and Mears the UK’s leading provider of Repairs & Maintenance services, has begun to deliver its services to communities in South Wales.
Celtic Horizons is the first wholly owned subsidiary of its kind in Wales; created in consultation with staff and tenants to deliver total asset management solutions for United Welsh spanning 11 local authority areas in South Wales. The contract which was rolled out on March 28th has a total potential value of £145 million over fifteen years.
The procurement process, which led to the creation of Celtic Horizons, started in February 2012 with the aim being to develop a model that will improve customer service standards, and reduce the time it takes to resolve enquiries from the first point of contact with United Welsh. It was decided during extensive consultation that a wholly owned subsidiary would most benefit tenants and give them greater involvement in the delivery of estates services.
Celtic Horizons will give scope to mould and improve service delivery and introduce new concepts such as the Annual Property Service, a trial of which has been part of a recent research study by Bath University. It is a concept of lean working to improve efficiency and maximise resources.
Although a number of tenants engaged with the process, four tenants each gave over 100 hours of their time to ensure that throughout the process there was input and feedback from those who experience the service. At a ‘welcome’ event on March 28th these tenants were recognised and thanked by both organisations. The process of consultation will not cease with the launch of the Celtic Horizons, in fact, more tenants will be engaged and meet monthly to discuss the subsidiary and undergo professional training to critique its service delivery.
The new 91 strong team were welcomed to their premises on Van Road in Caerphilly Business Park from where they will deliver their services to United Welsh’s 4700 properties.
Lynda Sagona, Director of Housing and Communities for United Welsh and lead on the delivery of Celtic Horizons said; “28th March has been a landmark day for the United Welsh Group seeing the launch of Celtic Horizons, a unique partnership with Mears, the first of its kind in Wales.
Celtic Horizons has been developed with the enthusiastic and invaluable input of our tenants and staff and today we have welcomed 70 new employees.
This exciting model provides us with a platform to deliver our asset management services in new and innovative ways whilst maximising the benefits to our customers and communities.”
Jane Nelson, Executive Director Mears said; ‘United Welsh, Mears and local tenants have worked really hard to get us to where we are today. Mears are proud to be working with United Welsh and its subsidiary, Celtic Horizons and we look forward to a bright future providing the best possible levels of customer service.”