“Of course they are,” he said one day, “they always have been and they always will be.” We never returned to the subject. Similarly, Rev David Walker’s and David Reid’s determination that we should focus on our local communities and Ian Cole’s analysis of the financialisation of the Housing Association sector have all placed clear markers as our strategy has developed.
Ten years ago, our Care and Supported Housing services were withering on the vine. Local commissioners increasingly sought to invite tenders for services which South Yorkshire Housing Association had been providing for years. We found ourselves having to compete on quality and cost. Although we retained most of them, we were not picking up new business at the scale we needed to replace what we were losing.
We brought in a new leadership team, led by Juliann Hall. Her verdict on our services when she arrived was that their quality was pretty good, but could be elevated by embedding co-production and strength-based approaches. We rethought our approach, putting co-creation at the heart of our service design.
We started to respond to a wider health and wellbeing agenda, and it worked. Becoming the only housing association in the country to secure an Age Better in Sheffield contract worth £6 million from The National Lottery Community Fund was a defining moment for us. The National Lottery Community Fund has since extended our contract to enable us to write up the lessons from the 14 national contracts, and develop a co-production toolkit.
Our employment services – Good Work and Working Win – have supported thousands of local people to find and thrive in employment. Good Work has been recognised as an IPS Centre of Excellence, and we’ve welcomed Director Generals, MPs and our South Yorkshire Mayor to share more about these vital services.
Building on this success, we have gone on to develop our work in a range of related areas, pushing the boundaries of health and social care services for housing associations. This includes our work on social prescribing and mental health services.
However, this doesn’t come without its challenges. The revenue model for supported housing is so broken that 80% of associations are no longer prepared to develop new homes for this purpose, and many are even withdrawing from existing schemes. In 2017, we were at the forefront of pushing back against the Government’s stated intention of imposing a cap on housing benefit payments for our tenants. Working with others, the power of the case we put to government led to the Prime Minister of the day, Theresa May, announcing a U-turn in Parliament.
Every six months, we throw our doors open to welcome people to our LiveWell Open House and share our learning. Our guests have included many people from other housing associations, local authorities, two Chief Executives of the National Housing Federation, the CEO of PlaceShapers, the President of the Chartered Institute of Housing and representatives from our funders, the Bank of England, and – perhaps the most unlikely – the Australian Treasury. When I described above our intention of impacting on the wider system, this is the sort of thing I mean.
In recent years, we’ve seen some of our lowest ever rent arrears and eviction rates – and this is despite the challenges of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. These achievements are a real credit to our teams working in our landlord and maintenance/repairs services, and to both employees and customers building trusting relationships to find solutions that work.
Winning the Landlord of the Year award at the UK Housing Awards in 2021 is a testament that the values and culture of our founders are present in everything that we do today.
We continue to acquire and develop as many homes as we can, because this is so fundamental to our purpose. We believe in well-designed homes where people can settle and thrive – we also want them to be be practical to maintain, and to be beautiful and to bring joy.