All posts in Social Housing

Wish you were here? Quality assured scrutiny accreditation

This is not another blog about Pink Floyd or a postcard from the seaside. ‘Wish you were here’ refers to an organisation that has taken the co-regulation journey, placed it at the heart of everything they do and stepped up to the QAS challenge – to externally validate their progress.

Quality Assured Scrutiny is the unique accreditation award for social landlords’ co-regulation structures and it is provided in partnership by TPAS, CIH and HouseMark.

In April 2014 AmicusHorizon signed up to undertake the accreditation for QAS. I was pleased to be appointed as the assessor because five years earlier I had undertaken some of the original training for the engaged residents at AmicusHorizon. In addition, over the years I have kept abreast of the scrutiny structures (diagram 1 below) at AmicusHorizon with its Residents’ Council, which had been a bold step change for an organisation that had not always embraced resident engagement or been known for its customer care.

Diagram 1: Scrutiny structures

 

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  • QAS is not for the weak willed and the requirements will test the true commitment of landlords and the capabilities and capacity of engaged residents to deliver the ambitions of co-regulation. In June 2014, I was eager to get my teeth stuck into the 45-plus documents received from one of AmicusHorizon’s Resident Governance Officers, Laura Bradley, which attempted to evidence how the six key areas of QAS were being met:
    • clearly defined and real power
    • tenant-led and independent
    • clear roles and responsibilities and capacity to deliver
    • decisions based on freely available and commissioned information
    • embedding scrutiny in the performance management arrangements
    • diverse and accessible.
  • It wasn’t just about paperwork, I also sought direct face to face evidence through reality checks with engaged and non-engaged residents, board members and the executive team. It’s easy to talk the talk, but would the reality live up to the written words provided as evidence?
  • The reality checks took place over two days at the end of October and included an experienced independent tenant advisor (Richard Mandunya) as part of our assessment team. Full credit to AmicusHorizon’s Resident Governance Officers for managing to get all the key players available. I interviewed the following people:
    • Residents Council, Area Panel members, Task Group members and non-engaged residents
    • the executive team, including the Chief Executive and Directors
    • board members
    • operational staff, including Area Managers and Resident Governance Officers.
  • So what did the reality checks reveal about AmicusHorizon? The first surprise was the transformation of the Croydon head office, from a 1970s-type communal block entrance I had visited several years earlier to a warm and welcoming front desk.
  • The second surprise was the level of resident engagement that has been embedded in virtually every aspect of AmicusHorizon’s operation. The ‘One Team’ approach to drive up the organisation’s performance actively involves residents and places a focus on the key outcomes for them. For 2014/15 every member of staff, including all the backroom service teams, has an action-related objective on resident involvement. There are no restrictions on the reports and information the Residents’ Council can request.
  • Small part of the Co-regulation Directorate with Resident Governance Officers (centre).
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  • We started the QAS process back in April 2014 with AmicusHorizon (lead officer Laura Bradley, Resident Governance Officer) tasked with completing a detailed self-assessment. My on-site reality checks and final assessor report with recommendations went to the internal TPAS, HouseMark and CIH verifiers in October 2014. AmicusHorizon was awarded the QAS Accreditation in November 2014.
  •  There will be many housing providers out there who would like to be in same position as AmicusHorizon. The QAS assessment took seven months to complete. AmicusHorizon and its dedicated residents had started the co-regulation journey process several years earlier.

Favelas Forever & the Future of Social Housing

In a blink of an eye the World Cup is over and I was fortunate enough to enjoy eight days in Ipanema, Rio during the tournament.

In between watching two games in the Moracana stadium and two at the “Fan Fest” screen on Copacabana beach (I enjoyed the latter more!) – managed to pay homage to Christ the Redeemer, see Sugarloaf mountain, discover a party town called Lappa and the local favourite “Caipirinha” drink (being made below).

Caipirinha

In contrast to the shinny new stadiums of the World Cup and the heavily gated homes of Rio – a myriad of favelas run up the hillsides. From distant the favelas look more akin to Tuscan villages. Closer, they resemble the shanti towns of Africa and India, but rather than on flat lands – running diagonally ever upwards. The places were heavily locked down with Police and military posts on all roads running down from the favelas.

As more and more people head towards the big cities around the world, the favelas offer an insight into the future of low cost housing. A future that involves less demolition and more creative thinking about the potential of places and people:

With the right infrastructure support and the provision of shops, schools, roads and leisure facilities – the most challenging of neighbourhoods can be transformed without the need for wholesale demolition. These are the initiatives helping to transform the favelas:

  1. The provision of a modern cable car system (more synonymous with the rich ski resorts of the world) has helped transform the Complexo do Alemao – one of the largest favelas with a population of over 100,000;
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  2. It is easy to generalise whole neighbourhooods without understanding the complex mix of social classes with their own distinct aspirations. Some of the hottest places to eat in Rio are now within the favelas (see below Glimário Joao dos Santos, chef of a restaurant in the Rocinha favela. Photograph by Marcos Pinto);
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  3. Gentrification will and does happen in the most deprived areas as the young seek more affordable areas away from the high cost city centres;
  4. Former wooden shacks have been upgraded to permanent dwellings with some modern services. Residents are constantly improving their own homes through a process of ‘self-help’ and is a regular Saturday event when neighbours and friends join in;
  5. Local shops offer an unofficial post collection service, something only now been adopted by large retailers around the world;
  6. The contentious police “pacification” programme (UPP) has to a large degree worked to reduce crime. Some of the favelas have lower crime rates than the ever popular Copacabana beach area;
  7. Innovative learning programmes such as “Uere”(confidence and self esteem building) developed in the favelas are beingrolled out into the wider state sector;
  8. A consumer market exists for every type of service in the favelas and the big multinationals such as General Motors, Pearson, Visa, MasterCard and Sky are now falling over themselves to tap into this pent up demand; and
  9. Stereotyping the favelas as “slums” is misleading. These are not bleak or destitute places, but in fact are the most vibrant, creative and active places within the city.

Social housing providers need to deliver the right services to enable marginalised communities and neighbourhoods to thrive and become integral parts of the wider city scape . Otherwise, we are merely reinforcing the negative stereotypes promoted in the media and now held by so many of the population.

Farewell to Scotland

Back in March 2013 I worked with Kirsty Wells, HouseMark (Scotland) and  Marian Reid, CIH Scotland in preparing a proposal to the Scottish Government to devise a national training programme to deliver the ambitions of the new Scottish Social Housing Charter.

The Charters expectations are to improve accountability to stakeholders and drive up performance for the whole of the housing sector. The Charter has real teeth with strong support from the Scottish Government and the Scottish Housing Regulator.

On winning the bid I was tasked with designing the training content and thereafter delivering the initial pilot programme for residents, staff and boards / councillors. We called the programme “Stepping up to Scrutiny” and I have spent the best part of 12 months travelling around Scotland from Duns on the English borders to Elgin and Lossiemouth – the gateway to the “Royal Highlands” and lots of places in-between.

What I discovered was a diverse range of housing organisations (AHP / MHP, BHA, Irvine HA, Link HA, RCH and Renfrewshire Council), all making a substantial commitment to empowering stakeholders to rise up to the challenge of the Charter.

Between work and travel I also started to discover the incredible heritage, culture and traditions that make Scotland distinct from the rest of the Great Britain. It is these differences that add up to the greatness of this island nation. Scotland offers a refreshing contrast to the London bubble and the extremes of UKIP.

I will not miss the early 5.30a.m. starts – travelling from London or Birmingham to all the different places in Scotland. I will miss the generous people and the amazing places I have got to know. The snap shots below capture some of my memorable travel moments.

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Edinburgh


scotland-paisley-river
Paisley
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Cathy Newman, Channel 4 News on her way to Glasgow (One Year to the Referendum)


scotland-glasgow-art-gallery
Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow


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Elgin
scotland-irvine-1
Irvine

On Management

When it comes to management in the UK, you cannot help but think of David Brent from The Office – “I suppose I’ve created an atmosphere here where I’m a friend first, boss second. Probably an entertainer third.”

A quarter of century of managing various teams in the social housing sector, I ponder how much difference my “management” style and approach really made in the end?

Two conflicting models dominate management theory:

  • Theory X (Taylorism), workers need to be measured on outputs, watched and controlled to increase productivity. Left to their own devices workers are idle; and
  • Theory Y, workers are free spirits, creative, good-natured and left alone will get on with the task at hand.

My personal observations of the workplace is Theory X only applies to about 5% of employees and probably sucks up 30% plus of management time. It’s this imbalance that often distorts management perceptions, practices and ultimately generalised responses to the majority of their teams.

Now as a management consultant I often observe “teams and managers in action” from the boardroom to the shop floor throughout the UK. Invariably, some managers are better than others. I offer a simple experimental challenge to all managers, which I call “management off”.

Managment-Scrabble

I get two strong opposing reactions from managers who are prepared to switch to “management off”:

  • an extremely liberating experience i.e. have more time to think, be creative, interact more freely with other team members, observe team members becoming self reliant and relish their own new found freedoms; or
  • A truly frightening/unnerving experience i.e. loss of identity and control, realisation teams can function just as well without them and a wake-up call to the managers own real contribution to the business.

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reveals a “reality gap” in the capabilities of the UK’s eight million or so managers. Most managers overestimate their own leadership qualities and grossly underestimate employee dissatisfaction

Many people get into “management” based on technical ability or worst still on their longevity in the workplace. Managers often receive very little training (beyond technical matters) and understand very little on how their own conduct impacts adversely on others.

Windows on the workplace” a 2014 survey published by CIPD finds UK workers workload and deadline pressures above the European average. Forty-one per cent of workers feel ‘under excessive pressure’ at least once a week and thirteen per cent who feel ‘under excessive pressure” daily.

Good managers will know when to step back and let the team function and when to:

  • Prioritise time with the team for providing high quality feedback
  • Offer coaching and support to develop team members
  • Use the teams creativity and ideas
  • Deal appropriately with conflict, stress, disciplinary and grievances

Let’s finish with another quote from the legendary on management guru David Brent – “What upsets me about the job? Wasted talent. People could come to me, and they could go, ‘Excuse me, David, but you’ve been in the business twelve years. Can you just spare us a moment to tell us how to run a team, how to keep them task-orientated as well as happy?’ But they don’t. That’s the tragedy.”

Waiting for the One Enterprise Website

For the past seven years I’ve been on the road all around the UK with One Enterprise Ltd – my social housing consultancy. Just last week took me to Mile End (East London), Ampthill (Central Bedfordshire) and then onto sunny Elgin (Moray, Scotland). In all that time I have extensively relied on social media, such as LinkedIn and Twitter to promote the wares of the company and maintain contact with an ever growing UK housing network.

Taking on associates and partners to help expand the business in recent times, has finally meant having (or being encouraged) to invest in a website and finally build the One Enterprise Website.

People say “choice” is a good thing. The journey to finding a suitable web design company was compounded by the sheer volume of choice out there – catering for every audience and price tag to boot.

In the end deciding to select eWorx http://www.e-worx.co.uk/ as the right web design team came down to three main factors:

  • Offer of flexibility (meetings took place on FaceTime and in person in our office, favourite coffee shops and eWorx’s offices in Shoreditch;
  • Collaborative working, whereby the technical bods were happy to share learning with luddites (I now understand basic HTLM, indexing – long tail key words, meta tags, search engine optimisation and the need for “ever-green content!); and
  • Afixed price contract and a fixed eight week delivery date (the project came in on time and within budget!).

 However, the real value of developing the One Enterprise Ltd website has been to focus the business on:

  • The enormous about of tools, expertise and products that have been developed over a seven year period, many of which often remain under utilised;
  • The need to be more collaborative with clients, associates and partners to promote best practice;
  • The need to maximise promotion of the brand and ethos of the company; and
  • Having the confidence to really stand up and shout out “we have arrived!”

We welcome all your comments, reviews and suggestions for improving the One Enterprise Ltd website.

The Worlds First 3D Printed Home

It’s been almost 25 years since I visited the Netherlands as part of a social housing tour linked to my CIH qualification. I was struck by the dynamism of the Dutch model of integrating housing with health and care services and the wider general community. It offered an alternate model of social housing with minimal social stigma.

Whilst our Dutch peers are no ultimate panacea for delivering more social housing, it does today offer a glimpse into the future of housing building. “Dus Architects” http://www.dusarchitects.com are working on “The 3D Print Canal House”, which will be the worlds first 3D printed home.

Using a large moveable 3D printer called “Kamer Maker”, the building project addresses the key question of how digital production techniques can offer affordable housing solutions around the world. The Canal House is being printed with bio-plastic raw material. The techniques are still being modified and tested, with the Canal House due to be completed in three years time.

Whilst today’s house building is costly, wasteful and inefficient, the next 25 years may well see a real revolution in house building with bespoke, zero defect and low cost homes.

The skill set for your next generation of development teams may well be wholly different too – if they are not to be replaced by an “App”!

You can now visit the expo site in the heart of Amsterdam for a 2.50 Euro fee by contacting info@3dprintcanalhouse.com

Image above – Obama visits Dus Architects to see “The 3D Print Canal House” Expo.

It’s amazing how quickly the world is changing and how China is fast moving into the innovation sector. As I wrote my first blog on The 3D Print Canal House Expo, it came to my attention that a Chinese private company “WinSun” has just printed ten full size houses using a huge 3D printer in apparently just one day!

China-3d-Houses

Whilst the current houses are one-storey structures, WinSun hopes its technology will eventually be used to make skyscrapers!