Focus on: Tom Harper

News – 20 December 2021

Tom forged his career in housing not long after leaving university. Beginning his employment in customer services, he embraced personal development opportunities and training courses, and is now thriving in his new role as a Team Leader at Grand Union.

Among a 14-colleague strong Onboarding & Relocations team, he helps to oversee the moving of customers into Grand Union homes – from applying for a new property, to signing tenancy agreements. The team, formerly known as Allocations, has evolved over recent years, with colleagues having greater responsibility in the onboarding process.

Tom said: “Being part of the Onboarding team is incredibly rewarding because you make such a difference to people’s lives. When customers sign up for a property, you’re often aware of their circumstances, which can include homelessness, fleeing from domestic abuse or being in great financial difficulty. Helping customers move into a new home is often the first step towards a happier life and it means a great deal to be part of that journey.”

There are personal reasons for Tom’s interest in housing. His degree in Sociology and his family’s experiences opened his eyes to the scale of poverty in the UK and the difference housing associations can make to those in need.

“In my dissertation I focused on the impact of the financial crisis in 2009 on society. I interviewed housing association workers, who introduced me to their customers and local food banks. I learned how the economy had caused mass redundancies; people couldn’t afford their properties and rent arrears were rife. It was a real motivator to work in social housing.

“Personally, my mum was made redundant too, so there were also motivators closer to home about choosing to work in housing. I feel passionately about removing the stigma surrounding social housing. It’s a service anyone could find themselves needing at any point in their lives. We’re all people, and we all deserve a safe and secure place to call home.”

Not long after leaving university, Tom started working in customer services for a Norwich-based housing association.

“Working in customer services gave me a great first taste of the sector and I was really grateful for the opportunity to gain experience. However, as time went on, I wanted to be more on the front line, meeting with customers, being a key part of their journey, often towards a brighter future.

“I completed a successful secondment in Onboarding – known then as Allocations – and soon learned that was the area of work for me. I loved the placement and wanted to work permanently in the role, so I applied to be an Allocations Officer at Grand Union. I was delighted to receive a job offer.”

In May 2021, Tom started a new role as a Team Leader. He now manages a team of six colleagues, dedicated to helping customers through the onboarding process.

“It’s been challenging starting my new role but also very rewarding. I loved seeing my team perform well during stressful periods, exacerbated by the pandemic. I’m proud that I helped to steer them through this time, helping them to achieve and seeing the results of their hard work.

“Stepping up to a managerial position has been a huge motivator and confirmed that I want to stay in housing going forward.”

As a Team Leader, Tom looks towards the future of housing; specifically, the digitalisation process of onboarding procedures at Grand Union. He’s worked closely alongside the IT Transformation team to digitalise application forms and tenancy documents, which proved to be a vital change during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were fortunate that, long before the pandemic began, we invested in our digital services. This meant that there was less reliance to meet customers in person, physically exchanging documents, which has made things very much easier these past couple of years.

“The new process of onboarding involves our customer portal, MyGUHG, which is not only easier for everyone involved, but much less time-consuming too.

“Alongside continuing to streamline and evolve our digital processes, I also regularly meet with registered providers and local authorities, discussing upcoming plans, changes in policies and the implementation of new service level improvements.”

Becoming a Team Leader was Tom’s first experience of managing a team, so he was keen to develop his skills and gain confidence with Grand Union’s Aspire course. The course, hosted as part of our internal training Centre of Excellence, the K2 Academy, equips colleagues with the knowledge and skills required in managerial positions.

“Joining the Aspire programme for its inaugural year was a real pleasure, and I learned a great deal about being a Team Leader. I developed a personal development plan which has given me a clear focus of where I want to be in five years and how I will achieve my goals.

“I have more direction for the future and I’m looking forward to the rest of my career in housing.”