Succeeding against the odds
It’s been a tough year for housing but, as Simon Brandon discovers, the winners of this year’s UK Housing Awards have found innovative and inspiring ways to overcome the challenging environment in which they are working
The winners of this year’s revamped UK Housing Awards have something in common with a certain Roy Hodgson.
The England manager has won praise for taking his team’s performance to a level beyond which many supposed it capable of reaching - for doing more with less, in other words.
There has certainly been less to go around in the housing sector. Cuts, redundancies, recession, and the social problems that accompany them: the obstacles in the way of elite performance loom large.
But this year’s winners are proof of how well the sector can overcome those challenges, and proof furthermore that an organisation’s level of performance does not have to depend on financial factors.
The judging panel, comprised of experts and leaders from within and outside the sector, had their work cut out, says Debbie Larner, head of professional practice at the Chartered Institute of Housing and co-chair of the judging panel alongside CIH president Robin Lawler.
‘We had more than 350 entries…the highest number of entries we have ever had,’ Ms Larner adds. That’s not counting the 150 entries for the new lifetime achievement award.
But don’t feel too sorry for them. As one judge was heard to comment afterwards: ‘That was much more fun than I expected.’
The winning teams
Click the links for profiles of each winner
- Business transformation of the year - Amicus Horizon
- Development of the year (small schemes) - Sunfield Close, Radian
- Small housing association of the year - Westfield Housing Association
- Development of the year (large schemes) - George House, BCHA
- Community initiative of the year - The Store, Derwentside Homes
- Local authority landlord of the year - London Borough of Croydon
- Strategic local authority of the year - Oldham Council
- Most efficient landlord of the year - Derwentside Homes
- Sustainable landlord of the year - Salix Homes
- Innovation of the year - Letfirst, Orchard & Shipman Group
- Arm’s-length management organisation of the year - Homes for Haringey
- Partnership of the year - Constructing the Future Lancashire
- Large housing association of the year - North Glasgow Housing Association
- Specialist housing provider of the year - Kemble Housing
- Landlord of the year (overall award) - Westfield Housing Association
- Lifetime achievement award - Roy Irwin
Business transformation of the year - Amicus Horizon
Sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Housing
Social landlords can turn around lives at their lowest ebb - and it turns out some organisations are able to lift themselves out of despondency in the same way.
This year’s winner of the business transformation award has done just that. In 2008, 28,000-home housing association Amicus Horizon was, in its own words, ‘in serious trouble’. The organisation was facing financial difficulties and had been placed under regulatory supervision.
Four years later, and after what the judges describe as a ‘massive turnaround’, Amicus Horizon is in a different state altogether. It has won a slew of awards, including co-regulatory champion status from the Tenant Services Authority and an Investors in People gold award. It also achieved ninth place in the not-for-profit sector on this year’s Sunday Times Top 100 Employers list.
Development of the year (small schemes) - Sunfield Close, Radian
Sponsored by Pinnacle
In 2008 the town of Andover, in Hampshire, had a surfeit of allotments. The local authority, Test Valley Council, decided to use one long-disused allotment site to help reduce the borough’s affordable housing deficit.
Four years later, Andover’s newest road, Sunfield Close - named by a local schoolboy - leads to the transformed site and a development of 17 new homes, 12 of which are designated for affordable rent and the remainder for shared ownership.
The £2.7 million development is understated and sympathetic, utilising timber cladding, brick and zinc panels. Despite the narrowness of the site at just 30m wide, each home’s outdoor space faces south, and architects Architecture PLB also emphasised residents’ privacy in their layout.
The surrounding fence was decorated by local schoolchildren and a local artist; a finishing touch to what the judges described as a ‘very, very strong scheme’.
Small housing association of the year - Westfield Housing Association
Sponsored by Amtech
Small is beautiful in West Cumbria, particularly for tenants of Westfield Housing Association. This 500-home landlord has just five full-time and six part-time staff, and yet the difference it makes to its community is entirely disproportionate to its size.
‘We are explicitly not a target-driven organisation’, asserts Westfield - which is probably just as well, because it would have to set its targets impossibly high. Westfield’s tenant satisfaction runs at 97 per cent, while satisfaction with the housing management service specifically was last measured at 100 per cent.
Westfield also runs a community centre and nursery that received a rating of outstanding from OFSTED in its last inspection, and for which staff and tenants pay half-fees. This investment ‘in staff, community and training’ won judges over, as did Westfield’s ‘dynamic focus [and] aspirational approach’.
Development of the year (large schemes) - George House, BCHA
Sponsored by Amtech
George House, a new 46-bed hostel in Plymouth developed by BCHA, has been described by the Homes and Communities Agency as a ‘stunning development’ and a ‘fantastic example of high-quality accommodation and support services’.
Praise indeed, and the UK Housing Award judges agree. From its bold, bright design to the training and IT suites within, it is a hostel with a difference, designed with input from previous residents and other stakeholders. The £4.4 million scheme also has a training kitchen, a landscaped garden and vegetable patch - all of which provide opportunities for residents to socialise and to start acquiring skills they can use to move forward. But George House’s social utility began with its construction; it sits on land that had lain derelict for 15 years, and its development provided employment and training for several long-term unemployed locals.
Community initiative of the year - The Store, Derwentside Homes
Sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Housing
The increasing popularity of sub-prime loan providers and their vertiginous interest rates has been well-documented in the news recently. Derwentside Homes, a 6,800-home landlord in County Durham, has taken them on.
At the end of last year, Derwentside - along with its lending partner, Prince Bishops Community Bank - launched The Store, a weekly payment store for tenants, through which it sells furniture, electrical and white goods for 40 per cent less than other weekly payment stores.
The scheme makes around 30 loans a month. It aims to make 4,370 in its first five years, saving tenants and the local economy around £750,000.
The Store is ‘reminiscent of the birth of the co-op’, said the judges. ‘It tackles 21st century poverty traps with an innovative and sustainable solution.’
Local authority landlord of the year - London Borough of Croydon
Sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Housing
The performance of Croydon Landlord Services, the council’s in-house housing management arm, as an out and out landlord has been impressive enough, but it was CLS’s efforts increase community cohesion that sealed its win.
The ‘All Ages’ initiative aims to develop greater respect and understanding between the generations. CLS identified intergenerational issues faced by its residents, including a lack of opportunities for people to meet and communicate and a lack of shared safe space in which to do so.
As a result of the scheme, tenants of all ages have worked together to create and improve communal spaces within council housing areas. Local businesses and organisations, including Crystal Palace FC and the fire service, have pledged their support. Monthly All Ages clubs opened their doors at Easter and more activities are planned for the summer.
Strategic local authority of the year - Oldham Council’s Strategic Housing Team
Sponsored by United House
Oldham Council’s housing team can point to several impressive achievements over the past year. It has overseen a 12,000-home stock transfer that has, the council says, ensured £149 million of investment for housing and neighbourhoods in the area, saved 1,290 local households from becoming homeless and has put in place plans to build 400 new homes and refurbish 30 empty properties.
Homelessness acceptances, meanwhile, have plummeted from 961 households in 2003/04 to just 63 in 2010/11, making Oldham’s the lowest acceptance figures in Greater Manchester.
What makes these achievements even more noteworthy is the fact that Oldham and Rochdale was one of the nine housing market renewal areas to have its funding cut completely in March 2011.
This was recognised by the judging panel, who praised Oldham’s ‘work in a challenging environment [and for] staying true to the challenges of homelessness’.
Most efficient landlord of the year - Derwentside Homes
Sponsored by Homes - the new event for the asset management community
Doubles all round for Derwentside Homes, which picks up its second housing award this year for its doughty response to the continuing economic gloom.
Derwentside’s approach has been pro-active rather than reactive, and has focused on its tenants and their prospects as well as its own. The organisation has, it says, ‘worked hard to establish a culture of efficiency improvements’ throughout the business: it claims to have saved £3.5 million during 2010/11 as a result.
Tenants have benefited from investment in several social enterprise start-ups, including an estate services business that provides training and employment to local long-term unemployed people and a community bank. By supporting its residents, Derwentside is looking after its own bottom-line - rental income - at the same time.
The judges noted each of these areas, praising Derwentside’s innovative approach, ‘good money management’ and its ‘clear investment in new initiatives’.
Sustainable landlord of the year - Salix Homes
Sponsored by Homes
Salix Homes, a 10,500-home arm’s-length management organisation operating in the Salford area, is proud of what it calls its ‘holistic’ approach to sustainability.
So as well as retrofitting 2,000 properties across central Salford, Salix has trained 60 front line housing officers to work with and educate residents about how to make the most of the improvements to their homes. By monitoring gas bills before and after retrofitting, the landlord has been able to make detailed measurements of the programme’s effectiveness - a point that was singled out by the judges.
Salix estimates these physical and behavioural changes will save 400,000 tonnes of CO2 over the course of the properties’ lifetimes, a figure that also translates into significant savings on gas bills for households living in some of England’s most deprived areas.
Innovation of the year - Letfirst, Orchard & Shipman Group
Sponsored by Housing 2013 conference & exhibition
Letfirst, the winning innovation from Slough-based housing provider Orchard & Shipman, dismantles some of the barriers that prevent people on housing benefit or low incomes from accessing the private rented sector.
Truly trailblazing’ was the judges’ assessment. The scheme was developed two years ago to support Edinburgh Council’s homelessness prevention strategy, and has, according to Orchard & Shipman, already helped 700 households into rental properties that would otherwise have been inaccessible.
Rental start-up costs - deposits or rent in advance, for example - are covered by Orchard & Shipman, which also guarantees the rent. It acts a bridge between tenants and landlords, providing reassurance to the latter and homes for the former.
Edinburgh Council’s target is to help 1,000 households with this scheme, a figure Orchard & Shipman claims it is well on the way to meeting.
Arm’s-length management organisation of the year - Homes for Haringey
Sponsored by Inside Housing
The original reason for the formation of arm’s-length management organisations was to deliver decent homes. Today, that landmark is just one achievement among many for organisations that now rank among the country’s top-performing social landlords.
In the judges’ opinion, Homes for Haringey, a 21,000-home landlord based in north London, has shone especially brightly this year. The numbers speak volumes: its customer satisfaction rate soared from 71 per cent in September 2010 to 93 per cent one year later.
This dramatic increase was due in large part, the landlord believes, to a revamped complaints handling system, itself a response to resident demand, which has drastically improved the time taken to resolve residents’ - it focuses on solving problems within five working days.
The strong relationship that Homes for Haringey has formed with its tenants and residents was singled out by the judges. They praised the ALMO’s ‘outstanding resident response’ and the ‘measurable results’ achieved with the new complaints handling system.
Partnership of the year - Constructing the Future Lancashire - CITB Construction Skills, Lancashire Housing Partnership and Regenerate Pennine Lancashire
Sponsored by Ocean Media Group
Lancashire-based business Constructing the Future ticks about every box there is: it provides high-quality, sustainable apprenticeships for young people in the county while meeting the needs of local construction companies and developing social landlords, and it does this all without relying on any outside funding.
It’s based on a simple idea: Constructing the Future employs the apprentices itself and then loans them out to its partners in the housing sector, local government and the construction industry. This flexibility benefits the apprentices, too, who get to broaden their skills and knowledge by working with a range of contractors.
The business launched in May 2010. In its first year it created 38 apprenticeships, of which 21 went on to secure employment with the contractor for whom they were working. It has been such a success, in fact, that the company has now been contracted to roll its model out across the north west of England from next year.
Large housing association of the year - North Glasgow Housing Association
Sponsored by Kier
It has been a billboard year for North Glasgow Housing Association. Among the headlines were the completion of its 1,000th new build property, a 2,500-home stock transfer that more than doubled North Glasgow’s portfolio in size, the growth of the association’s social enterprise ng2, and a partnership with Scotcash.
ng2 recruits and trains local people to provide services to other tenants and the wider community, while Scotcash provides low-cost credit, savings facilities and financial advice to local people. In its first year
Scotcash’s North Glasgow Housing Association branch has advanced £90,000 worth of loans.
The association operates in an area blighted by disadvantage and poverty, and this award reflects its success and role in tackling these issues. The judges praised NGHA’s ‘work in a extremely difficult environment’, as well as the landlord’s ‘good support for a very vulnerable client group’.
Specialist housing provider of the year - Kemble Housing
Sponsored by Inside Housing
Hereford-based Kemble Housing has won for its Supported Housing for Young People Project, which began operation in 2001 and helps young people aged between 16 and 25 in Herefordshire who have difficulties living independently.
Since its inception, Kemble says, SHYPP has helped 3,881 young people to navigate away from homelessness, prison, debt and more through its services. These include three foyers for homeless young people, supported housing and aftercare, outreach programmes throughout the county and a project that uses volunteer host families to provide emergency accommodation.
In the words of the judges, SHYPP is a ‘comprehensive specialist provider’ that won on the strength of ‘strong evidence from the client group’. And what’s more, SHYPP managed all this in the face of a 14 per cent funding reduction in 2011.
Overall winner: Landlord of the year - Westfield Housing Association
Sponsored by Mitie
Competing against fellow winners Croydon Council, Homes for Haringey, Kemble Housing and North Glasgow Housing Association, Westfield Housing Association won the overall title of landlord of the year.
In its winning application for the Small Housing Association of the Year award, the 500-home Cumbrian landlord wrote: ‘In an era when it is often heard that organisations are merging in order to deliver more and better services to [their] customers, Westfield is an example of how small organisations can effectively and efficiently deliver as much if not more (and with a lot less trumpet-blowing).’
The operative word here is ‘more’. Westfield is certainly efficient - its housing management and repairs costs are significantly lower than Housemark’s averages. Its tenant satisfaction scores on everything from repairs services to the politeness of Westfiled’s contractors begin at 94 per cent. And this small but perfectly formed landlord attains these levels of performance in an area of high deprivation.
Westfield may not blow its own trumpet but the judges felt it was time someone did.
Lifetime achievement award - Roy Irwin
Sponsored by Orchard
Few people in recent history can have had as profound an impact on the quality of social housing provision in England and Wales as Roy Irwin.
As chief inspector of housing at the Audit Commission from 1999 to 2011, Mr Irwin oversaw more than 1,400 inspections under a programme he designed and implemented himself. That inspection regime was credited in last year’s UK Housing Review for contributing to the general improvement in housing management over the past decade.
Housing has been Mr Irwin’s life’s work. He left school in 1972 and straight away began a job in Sheffield’s housing allocations department. During his career Mr Irwin brought his passion and dedication to the housing departments at Derby and Bristol, but it is his work at the Commission for which he is most recognised.
His nominator summed up Mr Irwin’s contribution simply: ‘Tenants everywhere have a lot to thank him for.’