Focus on: Chris Murfin

Customer Partner Chris, out and about visiting customers

Last year Grand Union introduced a new structure for managing and sustaining tenancies, moving away from traditional ‘housing officer’ role, streamlining our knowledge and skills into specific areas. Customer Partners were introduced in the restructure and they offer support and advice to customers who may be struggling to maintain their tenancy for any number of reasons.

Chris Murfin, who’s worked in housing for 20 years, is one of three Customer Partners at Grand Union and spoke to us about why he loves doing his job.

“I work with extremely vulnerable people – from those struggling with their mental health, to those who are experiencing financial difficulties. There’s often a reason why customers don’t make their payments or exhibit anti-social behavior (ASB); we help to get to the root of the problem and implement the right support package.

“One of the first customers I helped as a Customer Partner was an individual who struggled with hoarding – a recognised mental health condition. I spoke with social services, who thoroughly cleaned the customer’s property and implemented a carer for them.  I then referred them to our Wellbeing team, further helping to improve their life. What we do matters, and it helps people change their lives for the better.”

Chris’ background

“Before my first job in housing, I was working in the banking sector. Needless to say, I quickly learned that banking wasn’t for me! I wanted to work in a field where I could help people, and housing seemed to be the perfect place where I could do just that.

“I took up a position as a Housing Officer in Central Bedfordshire and never looked back. The role enabled me to use my degree, in Community Management, which taught me about managing properties and not-for-profit organisations.

“I enjoy working with people, which is what’s so good about working in housing. I like how, at Grand Union, no two days are the same, and I get to meet some fantastic people.”

Working with our customers, never against them

“I often refer to Customer Partners as the ‘golden thread’ at Grand Union. There are three of us in my team. We work alongside colleagues from different teams, figuring out exactly what support people need in order to maintain their tenancies. We liaise with individuals in crisis and once we’ve got to the root of any issues they may have, we refer them to other teams at Grand Union, such as our Domestic Abuse & Safeguarding and Wellbeing & Support teams.

“We’re not afraid to get stuck into complicated cases, talk to customers, get additional information, and do all we can to help them manage their tenancies. No-one is left to slip through the cracks.

“We attend monthly crisis management teams with local authorities, where we receive referrals of customers who need our support. At each meeting, we ensure Grand Union is doing everything right, and everything it possibly can to help each individual. At any given time, myself and the two other Customer Partners are each helping around 30 to 40 individuals; we’re constantly kept on our toes and are on hand to help each other with our caseload.

“As a team, we’re also involved in regenerating estates and improving communities. For example, we’re calling on the expertise of our colleagues to collaborate currently working on projects in Sandy, Clifton and Flitwick, to make communities safer and happier places to live. They’re building a community hub, ensuring all repairs are carried out promptly, and helping to tackle any anti-social behaviour.

“We want to achieve the same goal as the customer – to see them maintain their tenancy. We’re working with them; not against them. They’re far more likely to engage with us once they are aware of this, and resolve any problems. We provide extra services for those that need them.

“In more normal times, before coronavirus, I’d regularly conduct welfare checks at our properties. I think that maintaining excellent relationships with colleagues, local authorities and customers, is the key to successful tenancies.”

Feeling valued

“The culture at Grand Union really helps with my role. From the brilliant office, to the fact that we have all the equipment to work remotely. The people are kind and it’s a really welcoming environment.

“I feel like more than just a number and valued for my work.”