These are very challenging times – a recognised housing crisis although perhaps not a recognised plan. The pressure is firmly on for Housing Associations to ensure they maximise on their potential to provide new homes. The government is unequivocal, expecting more and feeling that a range of concessions have been made to clear the path. So what next?
Across the country, Local Authorities and HAs are being challenged by the newly titled Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, to have clear plans and to deliver, deliver, deliver. Of course it’s a national issue, but what is happening in Bromsgrove, Sajid Javid’s parliamentary seat in the West Midlands, where Bromsgrove District Housing Trust (bdht) is the biggest local housing provider?
bdht has its origins in a stock transfer from Bromsgrove Council in 2004. Chief Executive, Mike Brown, has been with bdht from the beginning and will be retiring from his role later this year.
Mike says: “I’m completely committed to bdht’s vision and values and I always will be. By modern standards we are a small housing association but we are perfectly formed. We very much believe that there may not be one right way, but there are definitely the right things to do!
“We aim to keep it simple. Every bdht employee knows what we and they are here to do. The issues we face may be problematic but the solutions are not – people need safe homes they can afford. Radical change is often the message offered as the panacea, but is it?”
Transferring 13 years ago with slightly over 3,000 properties, bdht will in April celebrate its 4,000th home in management, giving the company ownership of 1 in 10 of all homes in the Bromsgrove area. Not perhaps noteworthy on a national platform, but for those in the town who are in need or on lower incomes it’s massive.
bdht was established as a standalone HA and remains fiercely independent, holding the view that having a strong community focus is an absolutely critical part of its DNA.
Mike explains: “We understand the arguments for merger and the concept that bigger is better, although we have looked hard at who we are and where we want to go and we see a different path. Last year we produced a 2.4% increase in housing supply, a top quartile performance.
“We are clear about our role. It’s not complicated, it is, however, very important – financial capacity, service excellence, community focus, growth and highly motivated staff.
“Maybe what we do here isn’t fashionable, but we firmly believe our best future lies in our independence. Growth through merger has its place but it doesn’t necessarily create genuine new homes and it seems to me that it can put increasing distance between staff, customers and leadership. I fear for the loss of community in some of these super mega mergers.”
What about value for money? Mike proudly refers to bdht’s position in the top third of the HCA’s Social Housing Cost Index: “It’s not easy, but equally it’s not about constant reorganisation, restructuring, uncertainty and redundancy.
“Everything we have achieved we have done without threatening anyone’s job. We feel that redundancy would represent failure. Staff attitude and flexibility are, however, key, as is visible leadership in accordance with our values.”
Staff buy-in is critical to bdht. The company has been in the top 10 in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies four times, and is the current holder of the UK’s Best Places to Work™, with 98% of staff believing that bdht is a ‘great place to work’.
Mike continues: “At bdht we are totally convinced that you can only get out what you put in. Investment in staff is not an option; if you demonstrate you care about them as individuals they will look after your customers and your business.
“Having the foresight to envisage change and implement it is useful, it is not, however, a panacea. Knowing what you stand for and the importance of relationships in delivering outcomes is the critical component.”