Golden Lane Housing is an association that provides properties for residents with a learning disability. Melissa O’Donnell, director of operations, explains how it maintains safety compliance in homes
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Golden Lane Housing began as a charity to help people with a learning disability and autistic people, and is now a housing association with properties across the country.
The residents include people who need a little support with tasks such as shopping or their finances, and those who have multiple and complex disabilities who might not be mobile and rely totally on on-site support staff.
As director of operations at Golden Lane Housing your role includes overseeing repairs and maintenance, compliance, customer services and IT. What’s a typical day in your week?
When I started working at Golden Lane 12 years ago, it was different to anything I’d done before. Working here has kept me passionate about my job because of the difference we make to people’s lives. I often hear stories about tenants who have come from an institutional environment and have flourished and have a new lease of life because they have choices and their own homes with us – which is fantastic.
I wouldn’t say I have a typical day. I work across many departments so every day is varied and different. We’re an unusual housing association because our 1,106 properties are scattered across the country – our priority is to house our tenants where they would like to live and within a community they know – and we have 100 staff working at the organisation.
As you mentioned, your residents live in Golden Lane Housing because they need supported living. What does the housing offer them?
Golden Lane provides the home and we work with care providers such as Mencap to give the tenant a complete package.
We have a variety of properties: sometimes we buy a single property on the open market and make the adaptations the individual might need to live there. We have other properties that are six units together, bungalows in a gated area or 25 flats with floating support throughout the building.
Our staff have all gone through a rigorous interview and training process for their role – for example, the in-house repairs team have to be empathetic and aware that they might arrive at a property to do some work but not be able to gain access because the tenant doesn’t feel well or is having some behavioural issues that day, so they have to be understanding and work flexibly.
This is important when there’s going to be a lot of noise as this can sometimes trigger behaviours with the tenant.
We also try to make sure that the same staff return to properties so that they are familiar to the tenant and they are comfortable letting them in. This has made a huge difference to our repairs service and compliance in the past few years.
I’m very proud of Golden Lane’s staff and how much they care for the tenants. One of our repairs staff works at a complex of bungalows that was considering animal therapy for the tenants and he now regularly takes his dog, Dixie, with him when he’s working at the site. The tenants love seeing him and are happy to have him work at the properties. In fact the dog has become an unofficial mascot for Golden Lane now!
Are there additional safety measures that you have in place in your properties?
While many of our tenants might need a higher level of fire safety requirements because of their potential ability to evacuate quickly, it is the tenant’s home and as some have moved from institutional environments, we don’t want to replicate that with emergency lighting and signage. If we wouldn’t have it in our home, we won’t put it in theirs.
The fire risk assessment isn’t done until the tenant moves in so that the evaluation has the tenant in mind and how they will be using the property. Then our compliance officers come up with options to make sure the tenant is safe in their home.
Golden Lane has spent more than £1m on a fire safety programme in the past two years. We did a wholesale review of all our fire risk assessments and as a result we have upgraded many of the fire doors and installed smoke detectors in all habitable rooms. We don’t have sprinklers in many of our properties, but we have installed them into some of our sites where we know there might be issues with evacuation.
The next stage is to use a system that can pull the data remotely from the site to minimise the number of on-site visits – the fewer visits we can make to a property, the better.
How has the housing association had to adapt during lockdown and as a result of COVID-19?
Our tenants are some of the most vulnerable, so tenant safety is paramount. Many were shielding and needed our 24-hour helpline, so it was important that we set up our staff to work at home as quickly as possible. We also provided ‘easy-read’ formats of the government documentation so that our tenants could understand what was happening and why.
The relevance of the vulnerability of people with a learning disability has been shown in recent NHS England data that states that 45% of the deaths of people with a learning disability notified to the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review were COVID-19-related.
Mencap analysis reveals that there are a high proportion of COVID-19-related deaths in care homes – 31%. There has been double the usual number of deaths recorded – around an additional 550 deaths of people with a learning disability than expected for this time of year. This shows how vulnerable this group of society are and there are concerns that they are being overlooked at this time.
From a property safety perspective, we have distributed Firescape UK Homes-Safe packs, which include an extinguisher, to all our residents to add an extra layer of safety.
Our tenant group – More Voices, More Choices – looks at all our new initiatives to offer feedback. They helped us put together an easy-read instruction guide for the Homes-Safe pack to help tenants understand how to use them.
Golden Lane continued with our maintenance programme through lockdown. We have built a database of tenants who are shielding and those with any symptoms, so before any repair is deployed we know what the situation is in the property.
Our compliance programme also continued for gas checks and we managed to maintain it with very few issues.
COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to evaluate what we do and how we do it across the whole organisation. During lockdown we started to diagnose repairs before entering the property using FaceTime, and it’s worked really well.
The properties manager has been able to virtually walk around a home with the tenant and support worker to understood the job and what materials they would need before arriving. It’s made the job far more efficient so we’re going to continue this, along with a few other initiatives that have been positive.