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Making a big difference to customers’ lives

Neighbourhoods director Jan Goode explains how people are at the heart of the neighbourhoods directorate.

Managing 12,000 homes, we are more than a landlord because we are driven by a social purpose.
We set out to transform lives, build communities and provide the services our customers need. In 2018/19, we focused on three key themes to help us achieve those objectives.

Involving and empowering our customers

We are passionate about providing excellent homes and the best possible support for customers, families and communities. We’re doing this by listening carefully to our tenants.

Ensuring that customers’ voices are heard at board level, our Let’s Talk model of customer engagement helps us to understand the concerns and aspirations of tenants and recognise how we can improve our services as a result of their feedback.

In addition to our regular STAR services where thousands of customers share their views over the course of the year, more than 120 involved customers regularly work more closely with us to shape our services. In 2018/19 the customer panel and the virtual panel contributed to the development of key policies, service standards and communications transforming the services we provide.

Feedback in action

Customers told us that they wanted faster repairs. We listened. Changes we made in 2018/19 mean that all emergency repairs are now attended inside four hours. Urgent repairs are carried out within four days and the average waiting time for repairs has fallen from nine days to four. The rapid response triage service – introduced as a result of feedback in the last STAR survey – has helped satisfaction with our repairs service rise to 97%.

Customer-led change was also behind the award of a new contract to Phoenix Gas Servicing Ltd. The company is now responsible for all our gas servicing and safety checks. In 2018/19 our customers became some of the first in the country to benefit from ground-breaking technology protecting families against the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, when Phoenix Gas Services began installing gas safety tags in every home.

Customers making a difference

Having been a customer since 1998, David Spruce is part of our scrutiny panel. In 2018/19 panel members volunteered 247.5 hours of their time. Eleven actions were implemented as a direct result of their recommendations.

Interviewed in our customer magazine, David shared his insight into the involvement that panel members have in the way that we’re run.

“The first surprise, for me, was how open and accessible everyone is. When we work on a project we ask for a lot of information and evidence. We met the people involved at every level and talk to other customers.

“Our report and recommendations go to the board. When something’s wrong or needs improving, we say so. We’re looking at areas of the service that are really important to us and I know that we are listened to. As customers, we can make a difference.

“We’ve got a very good relationship with the board. They treat us as though we are part of the business and I suppose, in a way, we are.”

Underlining the success of our drive to empower our customers, David was one of three panel members attending a customer engagement conference where they shared with other organisations how well our customer voice model works in Housing Plus Group. I was also very proud that Housing Plus Group was recognised in two categories of the Tenant Participation Advisory Service (TPAS) national awards.

Customers have been front and centre in one of the most far-reaching decisions we have taken as an organisation. During 2018/19 every customer was consulted about our proposed merger with Stafford and Rural Homes. Hundreds took the opportunity to share their views, informing the decision that will shape our organisation in the future.

Communities that work

As well as providing excellent homes and services, we have a social purpose that sets us apart. We are committed to supporting people into learning, volunteering and work so that they can sustain their tenancies, improve their lives and make a fantastic contribution to the communities in which we live.

Our Digital Dens offer internet access, vocational courses and employment support. In 2018/19 more than 3,600 people visited the Digital Dens. In Shrewsbury, our learning programme was re-launched with a fantastic community fun day where I certainly won’t forget my attempt to ride the bucking bronco!

Our BBO teams in Staffordshire and Shropshire support people furthest from work, while our involvement with The Prince’s Trust has led to young people starting their own business, beginning university studies and gaining leadership roles in the workplace. A homework club offers time, space and resources to help primary school children improve their study skills, while dedicated IT workshops for older learners resulted in an enthusiastic group of silver surfers who were filmed by the BBC.

In 2018/19 we met some wonderful people whose lives had been changed by the support we provided.

Luke Carswell

Luke was addicted to drugs. He got into trouble and became homeless. He had a big incentive to get his life back on track, though, because he wanted to play a bigger part in the life of his little girl.

Things started to change when Luke moved back to the neighbourhood where he grew up, living in one of our flats, above the Digital Den.

“I went out each day and collected litter. Then I began tidying the edges of the paths for some of the old folk, like my granddad used to do. It made me feel as though I was doing something useful, being productive.”

Luke’s good turns didn’t go unnoticed by the team at the Digital Den.

They encouraged him to turn his hobby into a business, providing the facilities at the Den to carry out online research and pointing him towards sources of funding to purchase the equipment and materials he needed to get started.

In August 2018 Luke took the plunge into self-employment.

“I feel so much better about myself. I’m becoming someone my daughter can respect.”

Ken Jervis

After twelve years with the same employer, Ken, 61, found himself out of work soon after having a stroke. Ken, who grew up in Wellington in Shropshire, also suffers from depression.

Ken’s life changed when he walked into one of the Digital Dens, opened through an innovative partnership between Severnside Housing and Community Interest Company Social Telecoms.

“Once I’d learned how to use a computer the people at the Digital Den started to show me how I could use it to help me find work. We went online together and found a vacancy. It feels good to be back in work, having a purpose and a reason to get out of the house.”

Sophie O’Callaghan

On the day that Prince Charles turned 70, a radio broadcast focused on the life-changing success of The Prince’s Trust.

The reporters interviewed Sophie O’Callaghan, who is one of more than 150 young people who have taken part in the Prince’s Trust Team programme delivered by City of Wolverhampton College and supported by Severnside.

Sophie joined the development programme having first received support from our Building Better Opportunities (BBO) team. She also benefited from a work placement in our customer services centre.

“I’m more confident now. I made new friends, improved my skills and I feel more able to achieve my goals.”

Maintaining our income

Rent levels are set by the government. It is our responsibility to collect as much of that as possible, so that we can continue to build new housing, invest in our existing homes and provide vital support for local communities.

We set a target of no more than 2.5% rent arrears at the end of the year. This was ambitious given the many challenges faced by our customers – including welfare reform and Universal Credit.

I’m delighted to say that our arrears amounted to just 1.72% in 2018/19. This was helped by the fantastic work of our employment and money advice team, who received 418 referrals across Staffordshire and Shropshire, achieving money savings for customers amounting to almost £2million.

Looking forward, we are making it easier for customers to pay their rent by introducing secure, convenient and accessible online services.