Further together – two years in

News – 12 August 2022

It’s now two years since we launched Further together and we continue to make progress against the goals set out in it.

Since the turn of the year, we’ve achieved some pretty big things.

We finished the financial year strongly from a development point of view, with 308 new homes delivered – our largest number ever.

The vast majority – 284 – were affordable which represents the most affordable new homes we’ve ever added to our stock in one year. This number included 57 new social rent homes, which is the same number we built in total over the previous nine years!

This scale of delivery meant we made it into Inside Housing’s ‘Top 50 Big Builders’ list.

We are continuing with our important work to ensure we’re an environmentally responsible landlord. Firstly, we were successful in our bid for LAD2 funding, which could be as much as £800k. We’re now working with a partner to look at how we can use this money to improve 183 of our most energy inefficient homes.

Our Board signed off our portfolio management plan which gives us the green light to dispose of up to 60 of our worst performing properties per year and replace them, one for one, with highly efficient additional new builds.

We are also now actively installing environmental sensors in customers’ homes to help identify properties at risk of damp and mould.

Looking ahead, we have several exciting plans coming up.

Our application for Affordable Homes Guarantee Scheme funding has been accepted, meaning we can continue with our plans to build more much-needed affordable homes. Despite the challenges faced in the construction sector (like many others), we anticipate another record year of new-home delivery, with over 350 in our pipeline.

Some of these will be at Sorrel Gardens in Biggleswade, which is the single biggest land led scheme Grand Union has ever build. It’s made up of 68 social rent and 25 shared ownership extra care homes and is due for handover in mid-September.

As part of a small consortium of housing associations and local authorities, we’re looking to make a bid for grant from the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund. In preparation for the bid, we’re undertaking up to 400 further detailed retrofit assessments with a hope of securing up to £1m.

Our customers turn to us when they need support, and we’ve been there for them. In fact, over the last year our teams have secured over £2.5m in benefits for customers, recorded 1,289 Welfare Benefits cases and recorded 187 debt advice cases. We’ve also been helping our customers respond to rising cost of living by providing nearly £18,000 in hardship vouchers, via national projects and our own hardship budgets.

Our Community Investment team has been very busy delivering tailored employment information advice and guidance and delivering youth participation sessions both in person and online

Our Wellbeing & Support team worked with 504 customers to sustain their tenancies in the last 12 months – 123 of which had a primary support need of poor mental health. We also supported four people through the Hoarding Support Programme.

We successfully applied for Vodaphone’s Connectively Digital Inclusion Project, meaning 100 of our digitally excluded customers can now receive free internet data and calls for six months.

We’ve also moved our contact centre software to the cloud to ensure our customers will always be able to get through to us in the way they want to.

One of the biggest things we have planned in the coming months is the launch of Grand Union Voice – a new online platform that will allow customers to give totally anonymous feedback that will help shape and improve our services to give them the best possible experience.

On the subject of improving customer experience, we have a number of other things planned. We’re aiming to introduce WhatsApp as another way for our customers to communicate with us, and they will also soon be able to access real-time performance information direct from our data warehouse.

One of our biggest achievements during the last six months was being awarded Investor in People Silver accreditation in April.

Our K2 Academy continues to help colleagues learn, develop and thrive. Some of the key things achieved since the start of the year include the launch our Multi-Skilled Technician Framework, two more colleagues starting their GEM programme journey, and the graduation of the first cohort of the Operations Leader programme for experienced managers.

Our Recruitment team has taken positive action to attract and recruit more ethnically diverse colleagues at Grand Union. Our annual diversity report shows an increase in diversity of nearly 2% on last year, so that 12.3% of our colleagues are now from People of the Global Majority (PGM) backgrounds.

We will be looking at positive action to attract candidates with disabilities, as this is an area where we are under-represented.

As part of our ongoing commitment to promoting mental health, at the start of the year we teamed up with Thrive Homes so that colleagues from both organisations can benefit from the support of trained mental health first aiders.

We’re working towards achieving bronze level in the Mental Health Workplace Standards. As part of this we’ve already launched mental health training for line managers, and we’ll follow this with training for all colleagues.

We plan to recruit six apprentices this year and are keen to attract females to our two multi-skilled operative roles.

Later in the year, our domestic abuse responders will be starting, and we will also be rolling out domestic abuse training to colleagues.

Finally, to raise awareness and help more of us understand what people with dementia experience, a virtual dementia tour is being arranged in the next month or so.

We proved we’re a great partner by teaming up with fellow housing association, Catalyst, to form an innovative new partnership with regional public health teams to create a blueprint for a new way of working between health and housing.

We’ve been working with CIH to promote professionalism in housing. As part of this work, two senior civil servants from the Department or Levelling Up and Communities visited K2. They are looking at how the proposals in the social housing white paper can be implemented and what the government will mandate around professional standards for all of us who work in housing.

We’re planning a review of cyber security arrangements for key suppliers to ensure that neither of the parties puts the other at risk.

We’re also looking to improve our stakeholder management system, which will allow us to better understand the priorities of key partners while ensuring we maintain our relationships with them.