By Michala Rudman, Project Officer, Empty Homes Wales
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.
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 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.
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.
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.”