Archive | Uncategorized RSS for this section

Creative thinking

As part of our 25th anniversary celebrations, our Director of Housing and Communities Lynda Sagona takes a look at the culture of United Welsh and how that has shaped the way we deliver for our communities.

Lynda 1 (2)

 

Who was it that said ‘the only thing that is constant is change’? Having Googled it I can confirm it was Heraclitus. I’ve not met him but it is a good quote!

Gosh, have we all seen some change in the past five years? … and much of that change has been challenging. But it has challenged us to work differently, with tenants, with partners and as a team and while we may have been fearful of it and nervous about the future (just as I was when I joined the organisation 5 years ago!) we can now look back and recognise that actually that change, in many cases imposed on us by the external environment, has resulted in some very positive outcomes. Gone are the days when we did things because ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’.

The prospect of Welfare Reform caused us to take a step back, review how we work with our tenants and really consider how best we can align our services and our support. So what’s changed as a result of that? We talk to our tenants more and we know much more about them. We see our tenants more – some of them now work with us and many help us to develop our services. We meet with them to support them with money management. We tailor delivery of information and services to meet individual needs.

We are thinking outside of the traditional box and we recognise that we will need to continue to do this. If we are to address need in an environment of significantly reduced public spending, we must continue to work flexibly, to develop new solutions to housing need, to feel confident to flex tenures and to deliver services in new ways.

When I joined the sector it was very traditional in its approach to service delivery. At United Welsh we’ve broken the mould. Our asset management delivery model, embodied in Celtic Horizons, is the first of its kind in Wales, employing our tenants and offering training opportunities. We deliver repairs on a day and at a time to suit the customer, minimising visits with the introduction of the Complete Property Service. We work productively with social enterprise partners. There’s more to do but we are continually listening and learning.

The recent partnerships we have developed are fresh and sustainable. They are not partnerships that are imposed on us but those forged from shared values and a common vision to make a difference to people’s lives. If ten years ago someone had said that a Registered Social Landlord would develop, in partnership with the Local Authority, a library and a clinic at the heart of a town centre regeneration initiative, making a massive difference to the community, people would have laughed and told us to stick with building homes.

At United Welsh we are very lucky to have a team that is always up for the challenge, constantly reviewing what we are doing and how we are doing it. To have a team that is so engaged and committed to doing its best for our customers provides us with such a fantastic platform for development and creativity. It is the ‘Can Do’ attitude.

More change ahead?  I think that Heraclitus would say deffo… Are we up for it? Deffo!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

#LoveEmptyHomes

By Michala Rudman, Project Officer, Empty Homes Wales

IMG-20131129-WA0001

With so many Empty Homes in the UK, and so many people in need of safe, suitable, affordable housing, Valentine’s Day seemed an ideal opportunity to ask owners, partners and Empty Homes professionals to fall in love with their empty homes again.  I’ve said it before, but working with Empty Homes is arduous and takes an absolute age – You have to be dedicated, patient and in it for the long haul. Suffocating under a mountain of never-ending paperwork, legality and bureaucracy is tempered only by the hope that all the hard work will pay off, and you can help create a lovely home in the community again.

For me, there’s great satisfaction in visiting a property and seeing the vision you promised the owner becoming a reality.  Speaking to the long suffering neighbours is also a boost, as they are usually at their wits end about the problems caused by the empty property next door. People are still shocked that Empty Homes Wales exists purely to help them, and are really keen to engage with us and do something about their empty property. There has been great feedback about the positive assistance from the Local Authorities as well, and its important people know they have options.

Empty Homes Valentine poster_web (2)

This #LoveEmptyHomes campaign is about getting the Empty Homes Wales message out there in as many ways as possible.   Increasing levels of digital inclusion means that one message can be shared and spread far and wide with just the click of a button – the wonders of technology mean I know that so far the social reach for this is to nearly 111,000 people – which is amazing!

The purpose of #LoveEmptyHomes is to increase the ways people can get in touch with me, rather than just by me directly contacting them. Yes, we have posted cards directly to owners as this works (I’ve already had 3 responses this morning!), but with #LoveEmptyHomes I can reach so many people who come into contact with Empty Homes directly or indirectly – those who live next to them, know about them in their community, as well as those that own them.

Off the back of this campaign, I will have raised awareness to the point where the next few weeks and months will be very busy and I will never want to see another Valentine’s Day card again! There is so much help and support out there, from our partners, Local Authorities and Empty Homes Wales, and we just need to get the message out.

And perhaps the first step in that all that starts with them knowing about me and Empty Homes Wales.

United Welsh wins Project of the Year at the National Housing Maintenance Forum Awards

By Steve Bowen, Procurement Project Manager, United Welsh

IMG_0002 portrait

In the immortal words of the Four Seasons, ‘Oh what a night’!

At the National Housing Maintenance Forum (NHMF) annual awards in Stafford on Tuesday 21st January, we sat with baited breath as the awards were read out; first the Gas Service awards – lots of delightful whooping and hollering and flue-analysers being handed out to the superstars of the Gas Service world.

As I sat there, enjoying the atmosphere, I thought back over the work that had brought us here.

The Celtic Horizons ‘project’ had commenced in 2011 with an acknowledgement that we needed to improve customer satisfaction across the services we provided. This was supported by a report carried out by the University of Bath in conjunction with our Property Team, and was followed by a series of hearts and minds seminars facilitated by Echelon.

The bold decision to adopt a ‘wholly owned subsidiary’ model with expertise and experience in the form of a main contractor partner resulted in an Official Journal of the European Union – or OJEU – notice being placed in February 2012. After a Bidders’ day, the pre-qualification questionnaires; the Invitation to Submit Detailed Solutions; the informative Competitive Dialogue and Best and Final Offer evaluation process involving over 30 of our staff and a team of tenant representatives we finally appointed Mears, who had risen through the process into a worthy partner for us.

Back to the awards evening… we had submitted an entry into the ‘Best In-house maintenance service provider’ category for our Complete Property Service Project that went live a few days ahead of schedule in March 2013 – on time, within budget and with all the quality boxes ticked.

This was the third award to be announced and when the announcement came that Broadlands HA from Norwich had won, we looked around our team and thought our chance had passed for an award this year… apart from our Project Lead Luke Mitchell who insisted “we are still in with a chance!”

And so we arrived at the final award of the evening – the overall Project of the Year; the most prestigious award! And the announcer used words such as “outstanding project…unanimous choice of the judges….innovative…exceptional use of both staff and tenants…..with all the evidence showing the improvements in service!”

“And the winner is….UNITED WELSH!!!”

At that point Lynda Sagona – our Project Sponsor at United Welsh and keen supporter of the process at every stage – looked as though she had won the lottery; Jane Nelson, Mears Executive Director, punched the air in delight, Luke Mitchell said “told you” and none of us moved! We were then applauded onto the stage to receive the award and pose for some photos.

BeiRm6PCEAAXbWd

Steve (left) and Luke Mitchell showing off the award with pride!

It’s been brilliant to be involved with Celtic Horizons… and winning this award was the icing on the cake!

Welsh Government’s Renting Homes White Paper – a response

IN RESPONSE TO THE RECENT WELSH GOVERNMENT WHITE PAPER ON RENTING HOMES, CHRISTINE RUTSON, HEAD OF SUPPORT SERVICES AT UNITED WELSH, WRITES ON PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE WAY SUPPORTED HOUSING IS MANAGED:

The Welsh Government’s Renting Homes White Paper (section 6.55 to 6.61) seeks to introduce a clear framework for occupancy of supported housing, ending the current confusion around when it is appropriate (or even legal) to use excluded licences ( licences excluded from the Protection from Eviction Act, which give an individual no legal protection from eviction, including immediate eviction).

Our supported housing development Ty'r Fesen

Our supported housing development Ty’r Fesen

I am fully behind the argument in Cymorth Cymru’s response to the Renting Homes White Paper consultation that short term temporary shared supported housing e.g. refuges and hostels need the flexibility provided by the use of licence agreements . In this case licenses allow effective management of what can be quite crowded and chaotic environments where individuals are unable to protect themselves from the behaviour of fellow residents due to the lack of a fully self-contained home to retreat to in the face of aggression or other threats to their safety or well-being. We also need to be able to act effectively to deal with risks posed to staff working in a very exposed environment.

I also agree with Cymorth that the use of standard licence agreements with designated right of appeal, would protect occupants from any potential abuse of power on the part of landlords or support providers.

But do we really need to advocate for the use of licences for self-contained supported housing? I think we are better housing managers and support providers than that!

When it comes to self-contained temporary supported housing I think that we should be able to manage this with the proposed standard contract together with the additional powers provided by the enhanced management period. It would certainly be easier to use licenses but I would argue that working together effectively, with proper use of exclusions and injunctions for longer term issues we should be able to manage this type of accommodation. I also think that if we are preparing people to live independently, part of that is to support them to conduct a tenancy appropriately. Finally I think that there is an ethical and legal and human rights problem in not offering the maximum security compatible with the type of project.

For more information on United Welsh’s Supported Housing service, click here.

Ty Oborne in Caerphilly

Ty Oborne in Caerphilly

High Street Branch

photo

United Welsh supports Credit Union Expansion

Smart Money Cymru Credit Union has refurbished and opened its first high street branch in Caerphilly. With support from United Welsh the building will offer a completely new experience for customers.

The credit union with nearly 4000 members has seen a huge growth in membership since the economic crisis began. The timing could not be better to raise the profile of Smart Money Cymru and the Credit Union movement in Wales.

The new building was officially opened by Jeff Cuthbert, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty.

Jeff Cuthbert said

“It is good to have the opportunity to celebrate the opening of this new Smart Money Cymru Credit Union head office and to meet those who help make a difference to the community.”

This credit union is going from strength to strength, providing access to affordable financial services. This is more important than ever given the current economic climate.

“It is essential that communities are well informed and aware of the facts to enable them to make informed decisions about their lives is critical. Credit Unions working together across Wales are central to this and are key to our efforts to tackle poverty.”

This bold move is aimed at helping those who do not have access to main stream financial products, tackling the increase in pay day loans, and reaching out to those people who want to save more ethically.

Support for the move has been over-whelming. Both United Welsh and Caerphilly CBC have made significant contributions to support the delivery of the project.

IMG_2497c

Keith Fletcher, Chair of Smart Money Cymru said:
“The new branch will offer improved services and a very professional look and feel. We are asking people to trust us with their money so everything about Smart Money must be delivered to a high standard. This is the most ambitious Credit Union development in Wales to date and we look forward to seeing a great expansion of the Credit Union movement in Wales over the next few years”.

With changes to the Welfare Benefits System many people need access to safe and secure financial products. Promoting a saving culture and steering people away from unscrupulous lenders is important work for the credit union to do.

Smart Money Cymru has seen an increase in membership from people using the payroll deduction scheme (invisible savers). This method of saving takes money at source and is a very popular way to save for holidays and Christmas.

Another growing market has been those people who want to support their community by saving a small amount each month. This money is then used to provide low costs loans to those who don’t have access to the financial services many of us take for granted.

The relocation to Caerphilly high street will not only support business growth but has also made a significant dent in the regeneration of the area. The new branch is now a showcase premises at the top of the town.

Supported Housing Assured Tenants Choose the way they pay their rent

The landlord and tenant relationship is as important within supported housing as in any type of accommodation.  United Welsh’s Support Services team has been working with Dimensions and Cartrefi Cymru, two of its support providers, to pilot a scheme offering genuine choice and control to its assured tenants with learning difficulties which has proved such a success that it has been rolled out to all its tenants in supported living.

 

United Welsh is working to make the relationship it has with its assured tenants in supported living as similar as possible to that which exists in general needs housing. We wanted to empower our Assured tenants with the choice of how they pay their rent, a choice that tenants not in receipt of support have always had. Cartrefi Cymru and Dimensions volunteered to take part, each identifying two properties where tenants would undergo the pilot

 

Dimensions is a not-for-profit organisation which supports about 3,000 people with learning disabilities and autism across England and Wales.  Cartrefi Cymru is a not-for-profit organisation supporting people in Wales with disabilities, autism and challenging behaviour.  Both organisations recognised the benefits of the pilot for their service users.

 

Tenants were visited at their home and asked how they would like to pay their rent; via standing order, by telephone, on line, by having a rent card and paying cash at the Post Office or any shop showing the Pay Point sign or having their Housing Benefit paid directly to United Welsh.

 

Pictures were used by staff to explain the various methods of payments available and tenants were empowered to select their preferred method. Once this had happened the tenants had their photo taken with a large picture of their chosen method for use in future communications regarding rent.

 

Prior to the end of the six month period, United Welsh revisited the tenants who had taken part to review how they were getting on. Everyone involved had adjusted well to their chosen way of paying rent. 

 

When Matthew was originally consulted, he said that paying by Standing Order was the best way to pay his rent because once it was set up he could just forget about it. He was supported to go to the bank and set up a Standing Order and his rent is paid every four weeks after his Housing Benefit goes into his account.

 

Joan is well known in her community, she works and shops locally and it became clear from the start of the consultation process that she was going to pay her rent with a rent card at the Post Office a method which suits her lifestyle and she enjoys. 

 

Lynda Sagona, Director of Housing and Communities at United Welsh said; “Equality is a core value for the Association and this project is ensuring that we give the same choices to our Assured tenants in Supported Housing that we do to other tenants. It empowers them to interact with our organisation – the results have been such a success it is pleasing to be rolling this out.”