The winners of this year’s Housing Heroes awards are the finest teams, tenants and staff in the social housing sector. Chloë Stothart finds out how they became the best
The housing sector would be nothing without the inspired and dedicated people who work to make their organisations and communities better places. Every year Inside Housing and the Chartered Institute of Housing celebrate the sector’s superstars at the Housing Heroes awards. More than 750 people attended the ceremony on 11 May at London’s Park Lane Hilton hotel to recognise the most extraordinary tenants, teams and staff in housing.
The driven and inspirational individual winners included a man who set up a homelessness charity which has helped 1,400 people and a woman who became an award-winning trainee despite a life-threatening illness. Top teams were recognised including one that opened a timber frame housing factory and another that cut anti-social behaviour on an estate by 83 per cent. Tenants also had their incredible efforts recognised - one gong went to a woman who fostered 40 children while making improvements to her estate.
The 16 winners of this year’s awards each had an impressive story to tell and their outstanding work is sure to inspire the next generation of housing heroes. Read on to find out what made them stand out from the crowd.
Front line housing team of the year
Helena Partnership’s re:new Four Acre team
Sponsored by Inside Housing
Cutting anti-social behaviour by 83 per cent is no mean feat and the re:new Four Acre team has done it. Established in 2008, it brings together housing association Helena Partnerships, St Helens Council and the local primary care trust to improve quality of life on the Four Acre estate in St Helens, which is in England’s 5 per cent most deprived areas. The team’s many activities include holding events for young people in school holidays, recruiting 36 street champions to monitor environmental standards and bringing in firefighters to teach teenager arsonists about the dangers they face. The team’s efforts have decreased criminal damage by 79 per cent and wheelie bin fires by 85 per cent between 2009 and 2011. The judges dubbed this scheme a great success story.
Support or care team of the year
Family Mosaic’s Essex Young People’s Service
Sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Housing
Can giving service users more control improve services? The team at Bramble Court, a supported housing project for young homeless people, found out when they launched a personalisation pilot last year. Tenants went to drop-in surgeries rather than making appointments with staff, they could choose how to use some support time (one person asked to be accompanied to a job interview), and there were more group activities because tenants liked them. There was a 55 per cent rise in tenants in education or employment, evictions fell 37 per cent and engagement in support rose 41 per cent. Staff benefited too: sickness fell and retention and job satisfaction rose. The judges described the project as both ‘impressive’ and ‘brilliant’.
Tenant empowerment team of the year
One Vision Housing’s resident involvement team
Sponsored by United House
One Vision shows that involving tenants can save landlords money. The scrutiny reviews set up by the organisation’s resident involvement team suggested cutting welcome packs, using net curtains and alarms rather than steel shutters on empty homes and bringing mystery shopping in-house which saved more than £100,000 in a year.
The team has also introduced tenant inspectors, five tenant board members, residents’ groups, a 350-member customer panel and ‘hot topic’ sessions. Team members visited the homes of tenants from marginalised groups and invited older residents to a tea dance. They offered free beauty treatments to young women in return for answering a questionnaire. All 46 who said they wanted to be involved are now on the customer panel. The judges praised the team’s innovation and tenant scrutiny work.
Career development star of the year
Marlon Bruce, Homes for Haringey
Sponsored by Hays Social Housing
Shadow higher education minister David Lammy said Marlon Bruce is ‘an inspiration to young people’ who will ‘go far’. Growing up in Tottenham several of Mr Bruce’s childhood friends ended up in prison, but he went to university and has succeeded ever since. He has an impressive work ethic, juggling his job as a community youth outreach officer with studying for an MSc in youth participation and being a youth worker for Islington Council in his spare time. He wants to do a doctorate and become a parliamentary advisor on youth and community matters. The judges said Mr Bruce is ‘worth his weight in gold’ and is an inspiration to young people. They were especially impressed by his commitment to education and his incessant drive for self improvement.
Financial or procurement team of the year
Orbit Group’s procurement team
Sponsored by Housing 2012 Conference & Exhibition
£10 million goes a long way so Orbit Group must be pleased its procurement team aims to save that sum between 2010 and 2015. The team is on course to hit the target, having already found £5.95 million of savings between April 2010 and December 2011 - more than double the goal of £2.25 million. The new contract for a reactive maintenance and improvements service could save more than £3.5 million a year and contractor Mitie will make £100,000 of community investment annually including DIY workshops and 18 apprenticeships. Now the team is exporting its knowledge: it has won contracts to provide procurement services for other organisations. The judges liked Orbit’s commitment to community reinvestment and were impressed by the money saved and the improvement in resident satisfaction.
Groundbreaking service team of the year
One Housing Group’s Arlington Team
Sponsored by Inside Housing
Arlington, in Camden, London, is an unusual scheme. It provides 95 supported housing units for homeless people alongside 35 studio flats at sub-market rents for people on low pay. There are also art studios, training centres and businesses, which help the residents get skills and qualifications and move into work. Homeless residents are supported by staff who can help them deal with drug and alcohol problems, and prepare for work and independent life. Eventually residents may move into the sub-market rent flats once they are in work; in the past six months 29 moved to independent living. Additionally 48 people have taken a NVQ1 and others have completed a work placement or other courses. The judges said the scheme was effective, successful and creative and liked its integration with the businesses on the site.
Human resources team of the year
The Riverside Group
Sponsored by Sector
Riverside’s HR team has introduced a series of programmes to make the best of its staff. Almost everyone at the organisation will encounter its digital induction and appraisal programmes. Managers might use its five-module management development programme, Cornerstone, which enables them to coach their teams and get Institute of Leadership and Management awards. Staff with the greatest potential will be introduced to the Riverside Investing in Star Employees programme. Staff on the RISE scheme work with a group of 16 to 25-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training via employment charity The Prince’s Trust and take Institute of Leadership and Management courses. Riverside’s HR team stood out, according to the judges because of the way they nurtured talent in the organisation and their work with young people.
Maintenance team of the year
One Vision Housing’s property services team
Sponsored by Homes
One Vision Housing property services team doesn’t just maintain homes, it funds them too. In its first 18 months of trading it made more than £5 million profit which was reinvested in more than 50 new houses. The team employs more than 150 local people, including many who lost their
jobs when One Vision’s former contractor Connaught went into administration.
Average customer satisfaction is 94 per cent, perhaps helped by the team providing appointments up to 8pm and on Saturday mornings.
In its first year, the team refurbished 1,000 empty homes and cut time taken on each house from 11.2 days to 5.9 days - something which impressed the judges. They also liked the fact that 9 per cent of the workforce were full-time apprentices.
Inspirational board or cabinet member of the year
Paul Wilson, Broadway
Sponsored by the Rising Stars competition
Former rough sleeper and Broadway service user Paul Wilson has improved the organisation’s services in all sorts of ways in 2011. Now a trustee of the organisation, he’s encouraged and trained service users to become advisors on Broadway’s bullying helpline. He ran a focus group of residents to consider the recommendations of Broadway’s street drinking research and has fundraised for all manner of activities. He helps run the client forum, which gathers service users’ views on the agenda for Broadway’s board meetings for him to voice to the other trustees. His colleagues at Broadway value his supportive attitude, perceptiveness and energy and say he’s an inspiring example to service users. The judges said Mr Wilson has channelled his experiences into his work and his achievements dispelled myths about homeless people.
IT team of the year
Sponsored by Orchard
Many housing staff need to be out of the office visiting residents or building sites. Orbit’s IT team recognised this and made sure they could access their electronic files on the move. The group developed a customer relationship system that gives real-time information and can be accessed on mobile devices, such as the 255 iPads it bought for people who frequently work outside the office. They also set up a secure system to allow residents to update their information which cut calls to the contact centre. Orbit estimates the time saving from mobile working and the IT systems is worth £3 million a year. The judges were impressed by the savings made and said the changes had empowered front line staff, enabling them to spend more time in neighbourhoods.
Inspirational leader of the year
Keith Smith, Luminus Group
Sponsored by Insight
Keith Smith set up the Ferry project for homeless people in Fenland, Cambridgshire, in 1998. It has since helped 1,400 people - nearly 300 in 2011 alone - and raised more than £3 million. Ferry, which is part of Luminus Group, rents warehouse space to other charities, and opened a furniture recycling business, a migrant workers’ shelter and a centre which includes a hostel, café, art gallery and shops.
Mr Smith, its director, has battled adversity: he started the charity after his 16-year teaching career ended when he damaged his vocal chords and he has since supported his wife in her recovery from cancer. His colleagues are inspired by the positivity and passion of this driven leader.
The judges said he is ‘an embodiment of living the values he is there to promote, he really is an inspiration’.
Inspirational mentor of the year
Christian Griffin, Weaver Vale Housing Trust
Sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Housing
Christian Griffin began his career as an apprentice bricklayer at Weaver Vale Housing Trust and has since risen through the ranks to become the leader of the responsive repairs team. Since 2007 he’s been responsible for a new generation of apprentices and people on work placements in Weaver Vale’s property services directorate. He helps recruit and select the apprentices, arranges college placements, and ensures they stay on track at work and in the classroom. He’s mentored 15 apprentices, all of whom passed and got jobs, three Future Jobs Fund trainees as well as numerous pupils on work experience. The trust says he’s made an outstanding contribution to the organisation. The judges said he is a ‘brilliant mentor’ and were impressed that all of his apprentices got hired.
Inspirational colleague of the year
Debbie Smith, New Charter Housing Trust Group
Sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Housing
It’s easy to see why Debbie Smith’s colleagues say she is ‘the embodiment of inspirational determination against real-life adversity’. A life-threatening illness in 2003 cut short her ambitions of a management career, but she was determined to get back to work. In 2009 she became a trainee debt advisor for New Charter through the Chartered Institute of Housing’s positive action for disability programme and won the 2011 CIH/Habinteg Nicky Chapman award for the best trainee.
Outside work, she’s studying for a housing degree, plans to do a postgraduate degree in the subject and has also completed an Institute of Leadership and Management certificate in team leading. The judges said she is an inspiration to her colleagues and a positive role model for disabled people.
Inspirational tenant or resident of the year
Yvonne Denny, Homes for Haringey
Sponsored by Lovell
‘I believe that all young people have a voice - there’s no such thing as a bad child.’ So says Yvonne Denny who is well-placed to know: she’s fostered more than 40 children and done an enormous amount to improve the Edgecot Grove estate in Tottenham, north London. As the residents’ association chair she led a campaign to install CCTV and security gates. Since then crime has fallen and residents feel safer.
Despite being diagnosed with brain cancer in 2010, Ms Denny set up a youth club and helped win funding for a games area. She’s also involved in Homes for Haringey’s asset management and scrutiny panels. The organisation praises her ‘extraordinary’ commitment to the community. The judges said she won against stiff competition and were really impressed with her fostering and numerous community activities.
Tenant or resident lifetime contribution award
Pat Fordham, Phoenix Community Housing
Sponsored by Estuary Housing Association
Pat Fordham’s role as a community activist for 23 years was recognised with an MBE in 2011. The chair of Phoenix Community Housing Association, she also led its shadow broad prior to the transfer of homes from Lewisham Council in 2007. Since then she’s helped deliver several community projects including transforming Bellingham Green into a ‘Green Flag’ award-winning park and Bellingham Community Nursery, which was one of the first to join the government’s Sure Start scheme.
With staff from Phoenix, she helped raised £100,000 for two new children’s play parks. The judges praised her tireless work for residents. They thought she helped establish the character of the organisation and her vision of putting tenants at its heart had become reality.
Development team of the year
Accord Group’s regeneration team
Sponsored by Higgins
Accord gave a boost to the west midlands’ manufacturing sector when in November 2011 it became the first UK housing association to open its own timber frame housing factory. The facility, which was delivering homes within two months of opening, will produce 200 homes a year, some of which will be sold to other housing associations.
The homes score highly for sustainability: they meet levels 4, 5 and 6 of the code for sustainable homes and two designs are made from 80 per cent recycled materials.
The factory created more than 20 jobs for local people, including Accord’s tenants, which impressed the judges. They also applauded the bold step of setting up the factory and liked the organisation’s residents’ design panel which influences new homes and developments.