John Belcher used to talk about South Yorkshire Housing Association’s “mission”. We don’t use that term today, but we all know what he meant.

Our purpose in terms of our customer focus, values and geography have changed very little in 50 years. If he were to observe a board meeting, he would recognise us immediately. He would be amazed though by many of the ways in which we have put that into practice and how we have widened our service remit. That’s where the creativity comes in. I think he would have been pleased to see we had secured the award for the most Innovative Social Housing Organisation in the country. These are just some of the ways that we’ve been inventive, brave, and continued to fulfil our purpose.

Private Finance Initiative, 1999

We were the first housing association in the country to develop social housing using the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). The Chair at the time, Rev David Walker, described the paperwork as “monstrous”, but it seemed positively brief in comparison with our second PFI scheme in Selby. For both projects we were acting as the guinea pig for a new financial model so far as the department was concerned. We broke new ground in every sense.

Safe Haven, 2003

In partnership with Leeds-based Yorkshire Housing Group, we ran the Safe Haven Yorkshire support service for asylum-seekers and refugees for 6 years. By entering into leases with social housing providers and private landlords, we were able to provide housing and support for 3,000 customers. At its peak we employed 175 staff, half of whom were drawn from refugee groups or racially and ethnically diverse communities. Between them all, they spoke 49 languages.

On a personal note, my daughter joined the Safe Haven team for her work experience when she was 16. She was inspired by the experience. Nearly 20 years later she has worked for the Refugee Council in Australia and provided casework support at a law centre in the Midlands. She is about to qualify as a solicitor and wants to specialise in this field.

SYHA Enterprises, 2008

Another main source of our diversification, whilst staying true to our geographical roots, is the development of SYHA Enterprises. When the credit crunch hit in 2008, we found ourselves with 100 unsold shared ownership homes. We set up an in-house estate agency, Crucible Homes, to deal with the backlog. It worked. This successful enterprise saw us expand Crucible to provide an ethical estate agency service for the wider public. Through a combination of good marketing and the acquisition of local agencies, Crucible is now a major force in estate agency in South Yorkshire.

Building on this success, we invested in our co-design consultancy, Co-create, and a local social enterprise, Viewpoint. We have also invested jointly in Forge New Homes, working with the four other major local developing associations to develop housing for outright sale. At the time of writing we are on site with our first 98 homes. They look fabulous and many have been reserved already.  We have acquired a second site in partnership with Homes England and have two more at an advanced stage of negotiations. SYHA Enterprises is now the well-established umbrella organisation for these activities, and is well-led by its own Board.


About ten years ago Juliann Hall restructured her LiveWell management team, creating a new position of Head of Co-design. This rapidly became the South Yorkshire Housing Association way of doing things.

We built it into our working practices and provided for it in our new business proposals. Our strike rate went through the roof. Others copied our approach, but the feedback we received from commissioners was that a strengths-based approach had become such a fundamental approach to the way we worked with customers that it was evident in everything we did at all levels of the organisation.

This culminated in attracting grant funding from NHS England to work with other public and voluntary sector organisations to support them in developing co-design in their services. When this funding came to an end, our commercial subsidiary, SYHA Enterprises, set up Co-create, a consultancy specialising in co-design and co-delivery. This has gone from strength to strength providing support to social housing organisations, NHS Trusts and local authorities. The quality of our approach was recognised when we won the national LaingBuisson health award for the best approach to personalisation.

Wikihouse, 2017

We were the first housing association in the country to develop social housing using the open source WikiHouse offsite manufactured product.

Miranda Plowden, our Business Development Director, writes about how and why we decided to test the WikiHouse model.

Final section – the next 50 years