Tag Archives: regeneration

Moving Joe

We are all aware of sensationalist media reports depicting hoarders as freaks or health hazards but not many of us understand the extent of hoarding within the population or the complexity of this condition.  Working on rehousing projects in inner-London over the past 20 years has given me an insight into hoarding and the complex people who hoard. My experience indicates that 10-20% of people living in social housing have a hoarding issue –  they are primarily but not always single.

Joe was not my first hoarder or indeed the worst, but probably the most memorable  and certainly a “text book” example of the complexities of the compulsion. Joe was 80, born on a small Mediterranean island, he recalled traumatic childhood memories of WW2. How he ended up in social housing in London is unclear.   Joe lived quietly, until the day that regeneration arrived on his estate, resulting in the need for him to move to make way for demolition. Joe had no interest in improving his housing conditions, he believed that he was being systematically poisoned by the authorities, agents and persons unknown. He had created a makeshift bunker within his flat in which he felt safe, he was surrounded by his huge collection of useful things. Every ache and pain  he put down to substances to which he had been subjected; he believed he was being followed daily and photographed the people he believed were responsible sharing these photographs whenever we met. February 016

He traveled all over London to shake them off, he was forever on the move on some self-set assignment to get copies of documents and request that records held about him be destroyed. Joe was constantly surprising he visited book shops and knew all the latest titles, he spent afternoons at the cinema, he knew every bus route and public building in London He remembered the name of every council officer and had a clear view whether they were “part of it” – the conspiracy that is.

The day came when, supported by the excellent decant team at Hackney Council, a new home was identified for Joe and the long process of gaining his trust and relocating his bunker began. We started with single carrier bags, and odd things taken to charity shops; then boxes passed through the door; larger items too precious to be entrusted to strangers pushed on a makeshift trolley (sometimes under the cover of night); and occasionally via the boot of my car. Finally he trusted me enough to let me into his home and we could accelerate the process.

Almost two years later, having checked his new home daily  for “substances” and people getting in while he was not there; thanks to extremely patient council officers; the removal contractor who staged a phased removal; and repairs operatives –  the longest running decant move in the history of social housing was completed. Joe took me to breakfast to celebrate and paid me a touching compliment ” I have spent years running away from people because I had been in their home but couldn’t ask them into mine. Now you have been into my home – you are in my heart”.

Joe isolated himself from his brother and sister, he never married believing that contact with him would put others in danger. His delusions made him believe and say strange things, he lived a desperately lonely life and sadly died alone only six months after moving. Now he is in my heart too.

From my experience with Joe and many others like him – here are some tips for dealing with hoarders:

  • Most hoarders with them.
  • Hoarding is a compulsion not a lifestyle choice, professionals should not be judgemental, there are often other mental health issues at play.
  • Action should be person-centred, constant and at a pace comfortable for the hoarder, I recommend little steps daily.
  • Intervention should initially be limited to health and safety concerns
  • Be prepared for set-backs, major de-cluttering rarely works and generally results in compulsive re-collecting.
  • Follow-up regularly.

If you would like advice or practical support with a hoarder we are happy to help, we can agree strategies engage hoarders  and provide support workers to do face-to-face support.

Regeneration in Lock-down

Up until 20 working days ago, we wondered how we would manage to speak to so many people about so many projects and ensure that at least 7 projects would get through the ballot and planning processes this year.

With some of our clients, this push took on a life of its own driven by balancing lots of proects,  staff and venue availability and stretching everybody’s resources to the limit. Our last public event took place on the second Thursday in March and it was clear the next day,  when the football season was suspended due to risks presented the Covid-19 virus, that our industry would need to think again.

We have shifted to virtual consultation and communications;  taken our computers home and rationalised what can be done without resident input. The truth is not very much can, and I am sure that other partners in our projects are realising just how pivotal gaining the the trust and belief of residents is. Nothing can proceed to ballot or planning applications without residents seeing, hearing,  touching plans. A timely reminder of where the power should rest, within the community.

Communities need to be supported to adapt to the new normal; to put themselves and their loved ones first; and lost of all forget the worry that regeneration brings with it as well as the advantages. Whilst we can’t meet face-to-face we are keen to keep in touch and alleviate any worries people may have. Even if you are feeling stir-crazy and just want a chat, give us a call or drop an e-mail.

We have made is a list of resources for families cooped-up at home and wanting a way to keep brains going Lockdown links Feel free to ask for a copy and share this widely we all need all the help we can get. The advice from an experienced home educator is to choose just one or two activities each day plus the PE class if your family is not active otherwise (walking / cycling / playing outside), rather than attempt a home education. If nothing else, it limits screen time. If we come across more we will send them on.

We really hope you all keep healthy and well and that we see you all at a community event before too long.

Our Best Wishes

Carol Rob & the Team

Social housing should not be viewed as ‘second class’ or an experiment

I was at a workshop on building new homes and we got to a contentious point about what was being planned.  I asked the room  (mainly architects and regenerators) if they would take the same action / design they were planning if this was not social housing. There was silence in response because most recognised the likely answer was no. I then asked if they personally would live next door to or above the facility they were planning and again the answer was silence.

Why oh why do Councils and Housing providers still persist in designing things into new social housing and estates that they would not dream of placing on a ‘private’ estates? The answer clearly comes down the fact that this would result in  a reduction in sale price whereas it is not seen as an issue in social housing. All too often there is still this unconscious perception that it does not matter with social housing because ‘they’ don’t own the property.

I grew up on a council estate and am all too familiar with the snobbery and patronising behaviour that can be directed at social housing. Anybody who knows me will be aware of my complete antipathy for murals and mosaics which were the universal panacea for all ‘deprivation’ ills between the 1970’s and 1990’s. ‘These poor people are deprived, lets give them a mural (and let them eat cake too)’. Don’t get me wrong I am big supporter of public art, but I’m talking quality and well thought out work, not something  bad that marks you out as a ‘deprived’ area. How many murals and mosaics do you see on new ‘private’ estates …mmm… none! I like graffiti and a nice Gaudi mosaic but not as a marker  and I mean you too Banksy.

All too often on mixed new build estates I hear the term ‘tenure blind’ but it never is, the quality of the work surfaces, tiles and finishes is always just that bit cheaper in the social units.

A few things to consider:

  • Rent covers all costs in the same way as a mortgage does so stop treating different tenures differently
  • If it is not alright where you live why do you think it will be alright in ‘social housing’
  • By putting a different financial value on social housing you are also putting a lower social value

Builders who can Talk – Meet the contractor

We have recently  introduced six or seven different demolition and construction firms to residents’ groups with whom we have worked for some time. What has really struck me is that the best firms have really upped their game in terms of talking and listening to residents.

Sure, most have all mastered the art of producing engaging PowerPoint presentations (or their marketing departments have)  with images of actual built projects mixed up with computer generated images of projects on site or still in dreamland. However, the people talking to these slide shows have developed a real understanding of their target audience and how to draw parallels between the glossy pictures and the estates they about to start work on.

One tenant recently said to me that she wished they had met the builders before they met the architects because only when the construction company came along did they feel they feel that a resident friendly scheme could come out of the upheaval that is estate regeneration. That firm had listened to over an hour of complaints about potential management issues in the new scheme; anti-social behaviour; and pigeons. Clearly,  they could do no more than empathise  and suggest secured by design solutions yet they won the residents group over through listening.

Residents feel that builders understand buildings and what it is like to live in social housing. Probably many of them did as children. Interesting as most landlords (including hers) spend a fortune on protracted design-led consultations to nail down every single thing it is possible to specify ahead of a planning application.  Landlords have rightly wanted to rely on good design to protect the end product from short-cuts and costs saving substitute materials The bad old days of design and build contracts which delivered quickly but to questionable standards.

The best firms are those who work closely with architectural practices to achieve great design features alongside practical niceties such as supply-chain availability, buildability and durability for the end user. Those schemes shine through, they may not win awards but they do deliver fabulous homes that the people, who are living in them, love many years after the grand opening.

Our hot tips are to ask:

  1. Whether the builder and architect (pre /post planning) have worked together before.
  2. How they will agree and communicate any design modifications
  3. Whether you can visit a scheme which has been occupied for more than 1 or 2 years

Well done, you all know who you are,  as do those who are more old school.

 

Community so much more than a Centre

Last Saturday a small enthusiastic group of resident volunteers from Kings Crescent Estate in Hackney, their newly re-elected ward councillors and some of their children  made the short journey to the Redmond Community Centre at Woodberry Down. This was intended as fact-finding mission as we seek to inspire residents to look at ways in which the proposed community centre to be built in the final stages of the regeneration might bring a new vibrant social and community life to the area. The Redmond Centre is managed by the Manor House Development Trust (MDHT) which has operated for almost 11 years at Woodberry Down.

The lovely temporary Vince Murrain Centre is under-used which is a shame and a cause for concern for the Council who have committed to reprovide the facility. It will be removed to make way  for the construction of the next phase and replaced in the ground floor of one of the new buildings.

We had struggled to get volunteers to attend but were grateful that a few people showed interest and gave up their morning. The first thing you notice about the Redmond Centre when you enter is the high ceiling, the next is the mass of activities taking place and  being advertised.  The map on the floor reminds you that you are just less than ten minutes walk away from Kings Crescent, not in another world. The children quickly realised that the more interesting feature of the Centre is not the building but the linked yet separate play area. The parents quickly realised that they could relax and absorb the presentation and tour feeling their children were occupied and safe.

As ever, Simon Donovan (CEO of the Trust) spoke passionately about the model he has established to ensure that the Centre is viable and how the business relies not just on a paid team; but draws volunteers from corporate and student organisations. The things that impressed residents in the tour were the small and simple things: the community fridge which has  given away 300kg of food; the recycled wood used for the ceiling and shelving;  the communal growing area; and the open design of the entrance.

Lessons learnt from the visit are:

  • Community is more complex than just an Estate
  • Linking indoor and outdoor community space works really well
  • Running a centre has to be treated like running a business
  • The building is just a platform for developing and implementing ideas

We hope to develop more ideas through visiting other centres and talking to more social enterprises over the coming months . Although Kings Crescent’s  Community Centre won’t have the back-drop of the reservoirs to frame their environment, there is already a playable street to which will be added high quality landscaping. Just add Community.

 

It’s a mystery why most landlords are shopping less

In the early part of this century  even before the halcyon days when there was a Tenants Services Authority ( who remembers them?), the customer or tenant or leaseholder were King and Queen. Landlords were keen to find out what their service users thought of them!

I spent a lot of time training both residents and landlords in the fine art of Mystery Shopping and getting them to ask meaningful questions that would actually deliver real opinions. Fast forward to today and very few landlords are using this tool or even worse are using a version that is so antiseptic it tells them nothing.

Why is this happening? I have a few theories.

Too truthful

Good Mystery Shopping actually tells you.in real time, what your customers are experiencing. This can often at first be unpalatable. I spent many a feed back session, gently explaining that the written testimonies were what residents were actually getting when they phoned the call centre/used online services/visited the office. With support most landlords could learn to use this as a tool for improvement. Over time staff change and the skills atrophy so the strength and opportunity that ‘shopping’ offered got lost.

Deregulation

As the housing sector has become increasingly deregulated then there has been an associated reduction in the time and money dedicated to seeking resident’s views. Good Mystery shopping which resulted in change  was real plus point for audit and could lead to better satisfaction ratings. Neither of these two carry anything like the importance they used to.

Cuts

Almost always the first thing to go with cuts (or the rent reduction which is the same) is any form of resident involvement. Unfortunately, Mystery Shopping  was seen all too often as an involvement tool. In reality, Mystery Shopping is cheap and effective quality assurance and service improvement.

Landlords, don’t be shy find out what your customers  think by testing your service! With the increasing move into new sectors Mystery shopping offers real feedback. Some of the targeted ‘shops’ we have developed include:

  • The experience of new home owners, share owners and tenants when they move into new homes
  • How was the regeneration for you – learning lessons for new developments
  • Channel Changing – our experience of moving it all online

Any Mystery Shopping needs to be bespoke to the landlord and residents and will tell you how it really is!

 

Applicants wanted to work in Regeneration and Social Housing

 

Last year, for  almost 6 months we tried to appoint a young person based in Hackney as a paid intern to gain experience of housing regeneration and community work. As we love our work,  we naïvely thought that this position would attract plenty of school leavers or graduates keen to get some practical skills to add to their CV.

Careers in housing seem to be reached almost entirely by accident, yet the range of skills that can be acquired and the diversity of areas you can work in means that there are very, very few boring jobs in the sector. The sector needs to do more to attract bright compassionate people to want to work in housing and community work.

Eventually we recruited Lydia through word of mouth and it was a successful six month internship on both sides. Lydia enjoyed the wide range of tasks we gave her and the chance to follow her own interests too. We appreciated having an extra pair of hands. She has gone on to be successfully accepted onto a masters degree in Urban Regeneration and follow her dream to work abroad.  Read her blog of December 2017 to learn more about how she felt.

This year we are busier than ever and hope to give another enthusiastic graduate or school leaver the chance to find out how fascinating working with a community as they face major changes to their homes and community can be. Our advertisement is on the Graduate Talent Poll website and www.indeed.com. We also will accept CVs via e-mail to rob@sourcepartnership.com or carol@sourcepartnership.com

 

Six Months An Intern

I’m coming to the end of a 6-month internship at Source Partnership, and I can’t quite believe how quickly the time has flown by. I know it’s such a cliché but I genuinely feel so lucky to have had this opportunity.

It hasn’t been your average 9-5 office work experience, photocopying and filing papers for other people, or constantly sat in front of a screen. My flatmate, after seeing me in my giant koala onesie arguing with an insurance broker on the phone for the third consecutive morning whilst he headed out to his tech company in his dry-cleaned suit, eventually asked me “what do you actually do?”. I still haven’t been able to answer his question properly.

Every single day has surprised me. From different estates, clients and colleagues with a range of backgrounds and expertise, the last six months have been unbelievably varied. Whilst my fellow graduates have spent their time training to be teachers or heading straight into the fiery world of international banking, I have been visiting people’s homes and neighbourhoods, and hearing residents’ stories. I have loved being part of these communities, even if it has just been temporarily.

I have seen more of London in the last six months, than in the other 3 years I spent at university here. Not only have I seen more of the different areas of London, but I have also been able to spend time with the diverse multi-cultural communities that make up this huge metropolis. My biggest take-away from this experience is that community is at the heart of housing and should be at the heart of planning, design and of course, regeneration, which has become such a dirty word in recent times, as these communities have often been systematically excluded or removed from this process.

I am fortunate to be finishing this placement with an even bigger passion for community work, housing, urban design and planning. I am so grateful to Source Partnership for supporting me in this exciting but daunting early stage of my career. I believe that anyone who works in design, architecture or planning or just cares about the world and the people who live in it should consider working in housing. To work in this sector is to be a part of something bigger than yourself, something exciting, and something fundamental to our well-being.

A Long Time Coming

In the blink of an eye (well to be honest 20 odd years since the demolition of the original tower blocks Barkway  and Sandridge Courts) a new housing development has risen on the western horizon of Clissold Park. Known locally as Kings Crescent Estate and to recent incomers as Clissold Quarter, this marks the half-way stage of the regeneration first proposed by Hackney Council back in the 1990s.

My first involvement at Kings Crescent was as the consultant helping the residents association to set up a tenant management organisation in 1998. Quite quickly, once the regeneration began, the core of dedicated activists found themselves drawn into a process to improve homes on their estate. Resident Representatives selected a developer RSL partner thinking that it would all be sorted by the new millennium but it was not to be. Further demolitions (Westmill Court and Codicott Terrace, part of Weston Court and Lemsford Court) followed and the tenants from these homes were decanted into the retained blocks with a right to return to a new-build home. One tenant was unlucky enough to be decanted three times and several moved twice as proposals changed.

There were various incarnations of the regeneration, with the first phase being the delivery of new homes on the Barkway Court site in 2002. The Decent Homes programme was delivered to the retained blocks between 2009 and 2012.  Around  this time, the Council decided to become  the lead developer for its regeneration programme and in 2013 a masterplan for the new-build and enhanced refurbishment works was agreed.

Hence, what has happened since 2013 seems – to residents – to be incredibly quick, compared to what went before. As the Council welcomes new residents into the community,  Resident Representatives remind the landlord that it’s only halfway through!

The tenants management organisation was put on hold in 2009 despite an overwhelming Yes Vote from the community, as the core of Representatives took on more of the tasks relating to regeneration and for a while I observed from a distance before returning as independent tenants and leaseholders advisor alongside HRS consultants in 2013 . When the lead advisor retired in 2015 Source Partnership was appointed to carry the baton.

When I started in the Estate in 1998, I stated that this was my last project I would finish before starting a family, a good job I didn’t wait. My son has now started sixth form and the remaining activists from 1998 feel like my family.

New Homes Nightmares…..

One of the things we hear from residents who are facing the demolition of their existing social housing is the fear that  a new build  home will not are not as well built as their old home. It takes a lot to allay this fear including and many visits to new build schemes.

I was saddened to  read the article by John Harris in the Guardian on 11th April  about Housing Associations facing a storm of complaints about new homes. There has been a lot of articles both in the press and on the news about the Orchard Village scheme, which has got to the point where the housing association (Clarion) is buying back new build properties. I was also aware about the problems with Solomons Passage as one of my friends (a tenant) has been decanted so they can knock down the building that is 7 years old. This article implies that the problem may be wider.

So what is going wrong?

Working on large schemes I always say to residents and officers that a contractor will only be as good as the contract management applied to them. Lets be clear, developers and builders are in this to make money, whilst they do think about their reputations their primary focus is to make a profit. It requires good contract management  by the client i.e. the housing provider to ensure that corners are not cut and that specifications are kept to. Quality control, checking, checking and independent testing are key.

We have seen an increase in building by social housing providers  and this has not been matched by an increase in the right staff within Housing Associations and Councils who oversee new build from cradle to grave. At least one association I have worked with has seen their new build properties increase from just over 100 units in 5 years to nearer 5000 over the next 5 years. Whilst the teams overseeing the work have increased, its not proportionate and  more crucially  emphasis has had to be placed on slowly developing skill in house which is  a very steep learning curve. All too often the focus is on design rather than good structural quality. Nice pretty apartments with lovely work surfaces  may sell but are they liveable and sustainable, apparently  not in some cases.

It is crucial that good technical advice is sourced BUT over reliance on external technical consultants is part of the problem. On the schemes mentioned where were the Clerk of Works and the Employers Agent?

Going forward  there are a few options for social housing providers  to think about balancing:

  • Building up internal technical expertise not just  project management and design
  • Earlier involvement by those teams that pick up problems – the repairs and major works teams
  • Accepting you don’t have the skills and passing the risk on to someone who specialises in building and will ensure they don’t carry a large defects cost
  • Stop trying to be everything you do not necessarily have the skills to build on a large scale and manage social housing- something may have to give
  • A good clerk of works is worth their weight in copper piping but the spec they inspect against must be right in the first place

Above all else, learn from your mistakes! A lot of landlords would not get away with this if they were working in the open market.