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.
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!
As part of our 25th anniversary celebrations, our Director of Corporate Services, Gareth Hexter looks at how United Welsh put its staff at the centre of everything it does.
When I joined United Welsh in November 1998 I was impressed by how organised and professional the Association seemed. I had just left a smaller community based housing association, which was far more relaxed and almost amateurish by comparison. I was also impressed with the scale and quality of work carried out by the Association and the passion of the staff. But after a while I started to think that United Welsh was a bit over-hierarchical and bureaucratic and I remember the dreaded timesheets, where everyone in the organisation had to breakdown their days down into 20 minute slots.
We were due to undertake a review of our ‘procedural agreement’ with the recognised union, Unison in 2001 and this became a great opportunity for exploring a new way of working. We used the Involvement and Participation Association (IPA) to facilitate the project and we launched a new ‘partnership agreement’ with the union in 2002. This agreement embraced the core principles of partnership working – to recognise legitimate differences whilst acknowledging the common agenda of achieving business success. The Partnership Group (TPG) held its first meeting in 2002 and we used the IPA’s Option Based Consultation model to ensure that we fully consult with our staff on proposals that affect them before we made a final decision. We trained our managers in how to consult and supported this by establishing a new role in the organisation, Partnership Manager. This approach to involving our people at the earliest stage was transformational and it led to a culture shift.
We looked for ways of maintaining the momentum and decided to enter the Financial Times Great Workplaces Competition in 2004 and were staggered to be awarded 5th Place in the UK. We celebrated by giving all our people a ‘great day off’. We went one better the following year, gaining 4th place in the UK and top not for profit organisation in the European Union. They were heady days and we sent everyone for a day in Paris to celebrate.
Since 2005 we have seen an explosion in the activity and success achieved by United Welsh. We have seen our turnover double from £12m to £24m, the number of homes in management increase from 3,600 to 4,900 and the number of people we employ increase from 105 to 227. We continue to provide quality accommodation for people in need of homes and first class support for people who have additional support needs. We have established Celtic Horizons, set up Together, achieved Investors in People Gold, built an award winning library and have raised over £100m in private finance.
Yet we remain committed to fully engaging with our workforce and have even introduced our own engagement model (Choice Based Engagement), which has achieved national recognition. We know that our people are our biggest asset and it is through our people that we will achieve continued success. And for me this is why United Welsh remains a Great Place to Work.
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