Combined, Housing Associations across Wales have a stock of over 150,000 homes, which illustrates just how significant these Registered Social Landlords are to the Welsh economy.
Spread across Wales the comprehensive nature of the work undertaken by Housing Associations is easy to overlook. They don’t just provide quality homes, they work in their communities through a range of programmes that include: engaging with schools, promoting wellbeing, along with providing advice and support on a variety of issues that impact on their residents.
They also work with a wide range of businesses including: the professional services needed to plan and design new developments, the building firms used to construct new homes, and a raft of service suppliers. This makes Housing Associations an important customer for businesses across Wales, and the sector is increasingly embracing The Can Do Toolkit where there is a clear focus on using spending power to provide long term benefits within respective communities. Here there are clear similarities with the Foundational Economy, an approach to using procurement to benefit the communities that is fully supported by the Welsh Government.
In common with businesses across Wales, Housing Associations have spent much of 2020 dealing with the impact of Covid19, and at the same time they have continued to work on plans for the future including:
- preparing for, and starting the process of retrofitting their housing stock
- planning for, and starting to build using an increased variety of Modern Methods of Construction to help speed-up the process of building cost effective, energy efficient homes
- working to find ways to provide housing for people who are homeless
- continuing to enhance their work in supporting their local communities
- embracing new practices to help mitigate the impact of climate change
- placing an increased emphasis on the value and wider benefits their spending power can have.
For Housing Associations this means that 2021 looks set to be a very dynamic year, and the aspirations for the sector are clearly set out in Home. This manifesto has been produced by Community Housing Cymru (CHC) that represents over 70 of the not-for-profit housing associations and community mutuals in Wales. I asked Chief Executive, Stuart Ropke to outline what he hopes the sector will be able to achieve in the coming year, and to explain how significant an opportunity this presents to the business community across Wales:
“The pandemic has highlighted the inequalities faced by people living in poor quality housing. Next years’ election gives us all an opportunity to define Wales’ path out of the challenges that the pandemic has posed, and its result has the potential to plot a course to prosperity and health for the next generation.
“Investing in a home that is adaptable, connected, warm and safe makes a massive difference to health outcomes and to the economy as a whole – generating thousands of jobs, reducing pressure on the NHS, and contributing to a collective ambition to reduce the emissions of Welsh housing.
“We are serious about using our unique position to grow prosperous, healthy and connected places. Now is the time to work together to make it happen.”
As Stuart has explained, we are increasingly seeing just how important it is to not just build houses, but instead to create homes that support the wellbeing of their residents, and at the same time are energy efficient to help ensure Wales can achieve a truly sustainable future.
From an operational perspective, Chief Executive for Melin Homes, Paula Kennedy and her team are responsible for over 4,000 homes located across Blaenau Gwent, Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Newport and Powys. Being one of Wales’ leading Housing Associations, Paula explains how she is seeing the sector changing and how this in itself is creating new opportunities:
“2020 has been a challenge, but housing associations have responded with a pragmatic sense of realism. We are now seeing organisations building in agility into their operating practices as a matter of course with the need for flexibility of service delivery paramount. The digitalisation of the sector started a long time ago, but it is now being embraced at pace as is the move towards blended working environments. The sector has always worked with the communities within which it operates and since the outbreak of COVID-19, communities have sprung into action. Neighbours are connecting and looking out for each other more than usual, informal and formal support and resilience groups in local areas have been established to support people in need, and the sector is looking to build on this with a move towards supporting communities to deliver their own solutions.
As well as responding to the here and now, the sector is still ever mindful of the need to continue to think longer term with a specific agenda about how it will decarbonise homes in a move towards sustainability and energy efficiency, and how this work can support the foundational economy. There is also the potential for the supply of housing more widely to be used as a catalyst for kickstarting the post-COVID economy and the sector is preparing itself to deliver this challenging opportunity by working in partnership with the public and private sector.
If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that there are always going to be some issues that we simply cannot foresee. We now know that COVID-19 has forced some of the biggest changes on the sector than we have ever had to respond to historically or are likely to have to deal with in the future. Whilst you can’t possibly prepare for every worst-case scenario, you should have confidence that your organisation is agile enough to cope with the unknown. I think the sector can be proud of not only how it has responded to the last 9 months, but how it has continued to look beyond the current working environment to support communities and individuals to thrive.”
Encouragingly, Paula has highlighted how, during the pandemic, communities have come together to provide essential local support, and this is an important reminder of just how valuable our communities are. In the coming years with an increased focus on the Foundational Economy we have an exceptional opportunity for communities across Wales to thrive. As with Stuart’s comments, Paula also highlighted the need to decarbonise the existing housing stock through a comprehensive programme of retrofit across Wales, this will create opportunities for businesses, and the new jobs that will be needed to undertake the work.
Not only does the Social Housing Sector in Wales play a critical role in providing people with good quality homes, it is also a key driver of our economy. As we head into 2021 there is significant determination within the Sector to: build more homes at scale, explore new ways of building homes that embrace Modern Methods of Construction, decarbonise existing stock, embrace the Foundational and Circular Economies and to further strengthen engagement with communities. This is a significant workload, however the Sector is highly organised and focussed to achieve these outcomes, and in so doing businesses, communities and individuals across Wales will all benefit.