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What Social Housing means to me

emma bruteSocial Housing means a lot to our new Neighbourhood Officer Emma Brute. Here she writes about her past, and how it informs the work she does:

Having grown up on a council estate in North Wales, it was a natural career for me to work in social housing.

My fondest memories are of playing “curby” on the road and parents of the estate playing rounders on the school field in front of our house. Everyone knew everyone. We knew who “kicked in” our back door one night, we knew the mother of the toddler who was found crying outside our back door at 3 in the morning, lost.

We were a community, good and bad, living together in the best way we knew how. We were labeled, but we didn’t care.

Social housing as it is now, wasn’t the same then. My mum often comments on how much better she would’ve coped as a single mum, had she received the help and support provided by housing associations and agencies today. But then my mum received help from her mum and my family. The need for families to move to find employment is far greater today, resulting in family support networks breaking down, often leaving vulnerable people on their own without any help.

With this in mind, something I always do as a Neighbourhood Officer is talk to people. We live in an age where email, Facebook and Twitter are common and effective forms of communication but it is easy to forget the person behind a tweet, the face behind a post, the voice behind a message. I speak with tenants all the time on a range of different issues from dumped rubbish to acquiring their home. Only this morning I was speaking to a tenant who is volunteering his homemade sleigh for a Festive event in New Tredegar! It’s fair to say no two days are ever the same.

Facilitating communities to work together to empower individuals is the most rewarding part of the job. A lady who was made redundant recently, attended a surgery I arranged and is now volunteering as a digital inclusion champion for United Welsh. She was so pleased. Having been made redundant myself in the past, I know how this feels and shared her elation in being asked.

The job is busy, it can be demanding but I believe in the need for social housing and want to be a part of it. It has served me well.

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Stigma and Social Housing – one man’s perspective

As part of #HousingDay, we asked one of our former tenants – who has asked to remain anonymous – about the stigma he has faced from his time living in homeless hostels, and what social housing has meant to him.

 

An old saying is “what’s in a name?” Well, not as much as in an “address” in my opinion. The place where you live can often give people the opportunity to be judgmental over who you are and what you are (in their minds); they develop negative and damaging perceptions.

I’ve spent periods in homeless hostels, they were short spells and I had lots of help to move on but life kept delivering blows and I found myself back in hostels over several occasions. All the time I was living in hostels I was unemployed, most of my fellow residents were. But that didn’t stop me looking for work, very hard, day after day. I was willing and able to work but my address was the problem. All local employers knew the addresses of hostels and your address is on your application. You can try to disguise it but it doesn’t work and it goes against you.

I must have applied for hundreds of jobs but I never received a single reply from an employer. I met many decent people in the hostels, down on their luck like me, looking for work just like me, but they too were unsuccessful. This is unacceptable labelling of people, you are not even given the chance of an interview to explain your strengths and skills, merely because of your address, people have made the judgement that because you are in a hostel you are worthless, uneducated, unskilled and a scourge to society.

This is also the way that private landlords look upon benefit tenants and why the greediest of them put rents up much higher than housing benefit levels so that people cannot possibly afford them. What they fail to realise is that employed people are well capable of trashing properties, being guilty of anti-social behaviour and falling behind with their rent. Renting from private landlords has no security at all whether you are in your accommodation for a short period or a longer one.

This is a problem for anyone, but if you are on benefits, things get very difficult indeed when you try and find another home. It happened to me, after a hostel, I was in privately rented accommodation for two and a half years and I thought I was safe. I lost my tenancy merely because the owner returned from abroad. And then I had to return yet again to a hostel, which was very demoralising and led to depression.

“Social housing” is different as it offers people homes that are affordable, especially to those on benefits as rents are set at or below local housing benefit rates which almost eliminates the risk of arrears which can lead to homelessnessthrough eviction. This causes extreme stress and break-up of families.

I myself have recently moved into a home from a social housing provider after a very difficult few years. The overwhelming feeling I have is finally one of security and stability which means I have been able to focus on getting my life back together.

However, because “social housing” often accommodates people on benefits it develops a stigma, for people living at an address that is known to be “social” housing. Plenty of honest hard working people, many on minimum wage live, in “social housing” so why should social tenants have to face this stigma and discrimination from people? What gives people the right to develop such negative perceptions?

I throw this forward as a topic of debate for all.

And a question – could the social housing providers themselves take a more pro-active stance on this issue and help to reduce peoples’ negative attitude? After all, in these hard and difficult times, who wouldn’t want the chance of a secure and well maintained home at an affordable price?

Space Saviours – transforming open spaces

Space Saviours is a dynamic new project helping tenants transform open spaces in their local community. We’ve asked Rachel Lovell, Open Spaces Project Officer at Space Saviours, to tell us about progress to date:

 

Space Saviours is a 2 year Big Lottery project between four housing associations – United Welsh, Valleys 2 Coast, Bron Afon and Tai Calon – and is aimed at turning empty spaces into great places. The project offers training, support and guidance to help plan, design and transform open spaces.

 

Workshop sessions were held from April to July this year on Tuesday evenings at Virginia Park Golf Club in Caerphilly. Attendance was good with over 45 people engaging in a variety of informal training sessions hosted by organisations such as Keep Wales Tidy, Play Wales, Sustrans, Natural Resources Wales, The Urbanists and the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens.

 

Tenants were able to share and discuss their ideas and explore themes such as natural play, biodiversity, sustainable design, getting around your neighbourhood and community growing.

 

Targets for the first year of the project are to support and guide 5 Community Projects in each of the four housing association areas and United Welsh tenants and community members had loads of amazing ideas and enthusiasm! 5 Community Projects were selected and matched with appropriate Supporting Organisations to explore landownership, sustainability of the project and to further develop their designs, costings, and plans.

Space Saviours 1

Tenants from New Tredegar have ideas to transform this space into a wildflower meadow that the whole community can enjoy. The space is currently overgrown and very steep, but has lots of potential. This Community Project has been matched with Keep Wales Tidy who will be working closely with the group to develop and finalise their designs and costings.

 

Newport tenants are enjoying their new housing development, but some are frustrated by the lack of semi-private space outside their block of flats and would also like to develop the outside area to make better use of it.

Space Saviours 2

Some of their ideas have included developing a natural play area for children to enjoy and planting shrubs. They have also been matched with Keep Wales Tidy to fully explore design ideas to provide more private space around the flats and identify the soil to see what can be planted.

 

Over in Cardiff, a tenant is keen to develop the use of a lovely parcel of land, over looked by many houses and surrounded by beautiful trees into a natural play area for children, parents and grandparents to enjoy.

 

Currently just used to walk dogs, the area has the potential to be so much more. This project has been matched with an organisation called Play Wales, who specialise in designing natural play areas for all ages.

Space Saviours 3

Two other Community Projects involve a group of residents from Trevelyan Park in Caerphilly who want to design and install better access for pram and wheelchair users around their estate and develop play areas that the community can enjoy. They have so many ideas! They have been matched with Ground Work Caerphilly who will develop designs and costings and Play Wales to fully explore the dynamics of the potential area.

 

By November of this year, all 5 Community Projects will have a project plan and the Space Saviours Project Officers will support them in identifying and obtaining funding to realise the project.

 

The next round of workshop training sessions are currently being developed and will take place in Spring 2015. If you would like to find out more about Space Saviours, please feel free to call Rachel Lovell, Open Spaces Project Officer on 07990 835363 anytime.

Measuring Sustainability – a guest blog

By Dr John Littlewood, Sustainability Consultant

aberfawr 1

In 2012, I worked with United Welsh’s Head of Development Gareth Davies to win one of the tranche seven post construction and in-use grants for Y Llaethdy from the Technology Strategy Board, as part of the £8 Million UK-wide programme for Building Performance Evaluation (BPE).

Y Llaethdy is a low impact and partially low carbon micro-community of 13 households (9 flats and 4 houses) off Aberfawr Terrace in Abertridwr. It is owned by United Welsh and was built in 2010 by Green Hill Ltd. The houses and flats were designed and built to Development Quality Requirement (DQR) standards and levels three and four respectively of the code for sustainable homes. Eight of the flats were built to low carbon and low impact standards following funding from DECC.

Since we won the funding in 2012, we have been monitoring the performance of all the properties to measure how sustainable they are.

Aberfawr 2

As part of this work, we have interviewed tenants about their experiences of living at Y Llaethdy, as well as the design and delivery team on the design and construction intentions for the project. We have also been monitoring the climatic conditions, internal conditions and energy use in four properties since July 2013.

Electricity use is around 20% down on standard properties

Electricity use is around 20% down on standard properties

We are doing this to better understand how the properties perform in comparison to an ever changing climate; whether and how building design and heating and ventilation system design intentions have translated into construction and operation; and how occupants behave and use their homes.

We will continue to monitor and evaluate the performance of Aberfawr Terrace until September this year, with the results used to establish new standards of building performance.

Watch this space!