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People Before Profit at Home Group

Posted 12 December 2019 by Lizzie Leigh

Joe Cook, executive director of development at social enterprise and charity, Home Group, tells us how it’s all about people before profit...

Joe Cook tells us how Home Group puts their money where their mouth is when it comes to building people’s independence and aspirations along with new homes. 

Joe, what does a typical day as executive director of development at Home Group look like for you?

There is no such thing as a typical day for me at Home Group – that’s what makes the position so interesting.

My responsibilities cover development; from land acquisition through to delivery both of outright sale and affordable housing, regeneration of our existing estates and sale of our new homes programme.

With an annual delivery programme of around 1,800 homes per year, with 800 of those for sale, my days are pretty full, and that’s before we look at future strategy and direction with my other executive directors and board members.

Home Group is a social enterprise and a charity, how do you think this sets you apart from other providers of social housing?

At Home Group, people are always put before profit. That’s what really sets us apart from other social housing providers. We’re on a mission not just to build homes, but people’s independence and aspirations too.

That’s a passion that hasn’t changed for over 80 years, after being set up in the 1930s to help people during the Great Depression. We’re also the only housing association that was formed by an Act of Parliament.

People will always be our main driver. It’s why we expanded our business to support customers with a range of care needs, including those with mental health challenges, learning disabilities and the elderly.

It’s also why, in 2018, we created our outright sales brand Persona, to help support Home Group’s core purpose; all profits from our new build sales go back into tackling the housing crisis and building homes for social and affordable rent.

This form of social responsibility has already proven a deciding factor for some house hunters, as more and more people rightly question the principles and values of brands they buy from. We can be confident Persona’s social credentials stand up.

Having an outright sales brand like Persona really does set us apart from other providers of social housing. As an organisation we have fully committed to it and already seen success; winning silver for Best House at 2018’s WhatHouse? Awards.

Home Group won the title of Landlord of the Year at the 2019 RESI Awards, what did that mean for you all?

Winning at the RESI Awards was fantastic recognition that we’re on the right path as a housing association, in what has been a truly challenging time for the housing sector.

The category was judged across several different areas, including financial performance, high-profile developments, innovations that set us apart, and tenant involvement.

It was our work with modern methods of construction (MMC) that I believe really gave us an edge. It’s an area we are continuing to investigate to help us deliver towards the housing crisis, embodied by our research project at Gateshead Innovation Village.

Here we are researching six different types of MMC and modular construction, both in terms of how houses are built and understanding what it’s like to live in them.

Home Group states that its mission is to 'build homes, independence and aspirations'. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

We’ve had a much closer look at what ‘home’ actually means to our customers, and thought broader about how, as a housing association, we’re in a position to influence areas that fall outside the traditional roles and responsibilities of social landlords.

Earlier this year we relaunched our Customer Promise following a three-month consultation, with more than 200 of our customers reviewing and refreshing our priorities to ensure they aligned with their own.

Another success has been our award-winning apprenticeships initiative. Over the last five years we have supported more than 400 apprentices, with 80% moving into long term employment within Home Group itself.

Annual intake has increased year-on-year and in 2019 we created another 120 apprenticeships, 70 of which were offered exclusively to Home Group customers. The roles range from level two up to degree and masters levels, meaning we have something to suit everyone’s ambitions.

There is much talk of a 'housing shortage crisis' in the media; is this an accurate portrayal from your perspective?

Yes it absolutely is a crisis. Working on the frontline of housing we see the real and often devastating impact of shortages; from homelessness to overcrowding and everything in between.

Research by Shelter showed that there are 1.2m younger families who can’t afford to buy, leaving many in expensive and often insecure privately rented accommodation.

This is no longer an issue that is exclusive to London and the South East either. Homeownership for younger people has plummeted across South

Yorkshire, the West Midland and Greater Manchester, with the latter falling from 53% in 1984 to just 26% today.

But the housing crisis isn’t as simple as just building more homes; they need to be the right type as well. The National Housing Federation estimate that 145,000 new homes each year need to be affordable, including for social rent, affordable rent and shared ownership.

Along with building new homes, you also provide other services - can you tell us about these?

Since launching in 2018, we now have ongoing developments in Essex and Hull, with more starting or in the pipeline for Cumbria, the North East and North Yorkshire.

Another big part of our organisation is New Models of Care. We have invested in this area in order to better integrate housing, health and care services across three distinct areas; mental health, learning disabilities and social care, including for elderly people.

With services from Newcastle down to Devon, we’re seeing the real benefits an integrated system can deliver; from better care and support for individuals, to saving the NHS millions of pounds.

One of the biggest successes so far has been through our mental health offer. By delivering housing with specialist care, we are enabling people to leave hospital, remain in their local communities and help transition them into further housing, such as taking on independent tenancies.

What incentives do you offer to buyers?

Depending on the development, we offer a varied amount of incentives for people who are looking to buy a home – whether they’re trying to get on the ladder for the first time or have bought before.

This ranges from the more well known, such as Help to Buy and Shared Ownership, through to our own bespoke products such as Deposit Builder, where Home Group customers can save while they rent and the price of their house remains frozen.

On some of our Persona homes we also offer assisted move, where we will pay all agent fees, and have recommended independent financial advisors to support our customers.

What are the schemes you're focusing on at the moment?

In terms of Persona, we’re focused on our ongoing projects and breaking ground on several more. Those already underway include Pompadour, our 179 home development in Chelmsford, Trinity Mere, 91 homes in Walton-on-the-Naze, and Meaux Rise, a 200 home development in Hull.

Find out more about living at Meaux Rise in Hull

We also have two new exciting Persona schemes about to get underway in the North of England, including a 345 home development in Harrogate and 110 houses in Wigton, Cumbria. Again in Cumbria, we have a scheme in Egremont that is being built entirely off-site using modular construction, which will create 26 brand new homes that will all be available for affordable rent.

Kitchener Barracks, in London, is another scheme being built using 100% modular. Here we are building 49 Shared Ownership apartments and 13 Shared Ownership houses, all set to be completed by the end of 2021.

We have lots of activity in Scotland too, including two iconic schemes in Glasgow. This includes the city’s Meat Market, which first opened in 1879 but closed in 1980, where we are delivering 240 new homes to go alongside community and commercial space.

We’re also restoring Holmlea Primary School, a 100 year old listed building which had sat unloved and unoccupied for years. Rather than demolishing we’re retaining the character of this community landmark and giving it a new life as affordable rented accommodation.

A final scheme to mention is our proposed work at South Seaham, where we have outline planning consent for a 1,500 home garden village - 1,000 of which will be delivered by Home Group.

The plan is for around 750 affordable houses to create starter homes for young people, the retired, and those in need of assisted living. In addition to this, we also aim to deliver 250 homes for open market sale through our Persona brand.

How do you ensure your homes are integrated successfully into the communities where you build?

Each Persona development we create is unique to suit the communities they will serve; from incorporating a clapboard design in Chelmsford to using local sandstone in Harrogate.

At our regeneration scheme at Douglas Bader Park in Barnet, residents voted on and overwhelmingly backed our plans to redevelop the 1970s estate.

Here we identified housing that no longer met the needs and expectations of the local community, so we are working closely with them to ensure the estate is fit-for-purpose for the modern day, including a like-for-like re-provision of the existing social and affordable rented homes.

Another example is our Aspiration Project that is currently being piloted in Scotland. We have funding available to support customer ideas within our developments that hope to make a difference to the people living in those communities.

This could include initiatives to enhance employability skills, improve health and wellbeing, encourage social interactions and address loneliness, or just simply to celebrate each community and the people that live in them.

What's coming next from Home Group in 2020?

The first thing we’re going to do is continue building. We’re on track to reach our goal of creating 10,000 new homes by 2022, including those we are building through Persona.

Sustainability will certainly be high on the agenda in 2020, and we plan to continue our work into modern methods of construction. Offsite construction can reduce up to 90% of waste generated, compared to traditional methods. You also need to take into account the carbon footprint of a building, as constructing a house offsite also means the total number of deliveries needing to be made is reduced by more than 80%.

We’re also looking closely at alternative heating solutions for the homes we create. The vast majority of new houses in the UK are being fitted with gas boilers – from 2025 that number will be zero, so we need to start acting on this now.

The Gateshead Innovation Village scheme is all electric, with four different heating strategies being analysed to review the balance of install, servicing, customer running costs and the impact of switching from natural gas, as electric tariff prices are more expensive.

Away from Gateshead, we are working on plans to provide a unique thermal heating infrastructure that could prove to be truly innovative within the housing sector.



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