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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

In the spotlight – Grand Union Housing Group


CIH regional manager Rebecca Clarke and Grand Union Housing Group had the pleasure of hosting a day out with the CIH Hong Kong delegation last month visiting various development schemes in the Eastern region.

Last month I had the pleasure of hosting a delegation who had come all the way from Hong Kong to see what they could learn and indeed share with us. Did you know 42% of Hong Kong housing stock is classed as social housing? The average property size is 35sq foot with up to six people living in that space, often in dense, high rise structures, yet their ASB and complaints rate is next to nothing. This is definitely worth reading up on if you haven’t before.

Anyway, back to why they were visiting the UK. The delegation was keen to come to the Eastern region and see what our developments and services looked like here. Hosted by Grand Union CEO Aileen Evans and group director of operations Phil Hardy, we began the day visiting Flowers House. Flowers House is a new development that specialising in housing dementia sufferers in a state of the art, supported living scheme. The development is run in partnership with the local council and all staff are Dementia Friends.

In one of the only schemes of it’s kind, residents have their own flats, helping them keep independence, but still having support on hand when they need it. All flats have technology and design that helps dementia sufferers maintain a normal life as best they can, despite their disease. Plugs and appliances that switch off automatically in case people forget to turn them off themselves when cooking, windows that operate on sensors and wet rooms, which have two doors, so residents can always see the bathroom from any point in their flat. The commnunal areas were buzzing with residents enjoying the surroundings especially on the Tovertafel table (google this it’s amazing), in the memory room and in the garden. The Hong Kong delegation were amazed at the design and space available, as well as the services on offer – they have nothing like this available as social housing in Hong Kong, so this was seen as truly innovative and we couldn’t agree more.

We then hopped back on the minibus and headed off to a scheme ran in partnership with the MacIntyre Charity. A specialised scheme designed for adults with severe learning difficulties and disabilities, the project not only offers residents somewhere to live, but also offers a range of extra activities and services in the main hub. Whether it be swimming, playing guitar, art classes, jigsaws or time in the garden, the MacIntyre charity offers residents freedom of choice, to do what they want to with their spare time. The scheme also has it’s own Great Holme café, which is co-ran by residents, providing them with a route into work. The café actually put lunch on for us and what a treat it was. We couldn’t have the Hong Kong delegation go without some more famous British cuisine now could we? This scheme is yet another example of how partnership working can really help deliver more for everyone. Is social housing for everyone? Ask Aileen and Grand Union and you would hear a resounding yes. We don’t provide ‘units’ we provide homes and that has to mean different things for different people. The two schemes we visited fit this perfectly and really lead the way when it comes to this thinking.

We finished the day off by stopping off at the Robert Bloomfield Academy (school) in Shefford. A significant percentage of students at the school are tenants of Grand Union and other local providers. Shefford’s Mayor was keen to tackle some of the rising ASB complaints and offer more support and opportunities to young people living in and around Shefford. What happened next? You guessed it another example of how housing providers can work in true partnership. Grand Union fund a position in Shefford and within the school to deliver youth services. This could be anything from an after school club through to a bus parking up in Shefford for people to hop on and off, giving them something to do and a safe space to come and speak to staff. There is nothing more frustrating for us as housing professionals than when we can work with other agencies to do more to save us time and money. By engaging in work like this we can drive down issues like ASB at the source, by sharing more information and offering a better all-round service for residents.

A massive thank you to Grand Union for having us, the Eastern region seems to be unique in the way that so many providers continue to invest and support more specialist forms of housing. However, in such a highly pressurised climate financially, where we asked to do more with less, these services will continue to be challenged and in some cases, moved away from. It is crucial that we continue to innovate and look to position ourselves as housing professionals in order to work with other agencies to deliver better results now and into the future.

Rebecca Clarke represents CIH within the Eastern region, London and the South East.

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