Responding to change

Ark Housing’s Chief Executive Tony Ruddy, reflects on the dynamics of change which has encircled the housing association sector in recent times.

 

Having a period of stability and routine during which we were able to gather our thoughts and plan to revitalise our organisations, seem to be a distant memory for many of us; or at least for those of us still around who remember the days when change was something we talked about during the ‘water cooler’ moments but we didn’t have to worry too much as change never really happened or if it did, it was at such a glacial pace, it largely went unnoticed.

How times have changed. We are now the victims of success and technological advances are at a pace far beyond our comprehension all those years ago. The disruptive nature of new technologies to our general way of working and delivery of services across the whole range of responsibilities has had a profound impact on the way we now need to structure our businesses.

There have been other changes as well.

The growth of consumer empowerment, the need to offer greater choice, increasing public demand for transparency and accountability from those who serve the wider public not just the private and corporate sector, but the political, community and voluntary sectors as well. A more and rightly so demanding public will ensure that the momentum for change in our service delivery continues at pace.

Coupled with the ever changing demands reflected by government’s desire to reduce the national deficit, rolling back on the support available from the welfare state through the welfare reform programme and the clear preference for home ownership as the tenure of choice above all else, we are presented with challenges which will fundamentally undermine many of the previously held constructs upon which we have operated for many years.

While the need and demand for our services continues to grow, with clear indications of difficulties with housing supply on a national as well as local level, the reality is that the focus of central government is to move away from welfare and support to enabling and self-reliance. This fundamental shift is having severe repercussions for us all.

The Housing Association sector has much to be proud of as we continue to respond to the housing and support needs of our vulnerable customers through the delivery of care and support services; the provision of newly built homes; investments in stock improvements, maintenance and repairs; the acquisition and improvement of Northern Ireland Housing Executive properties; investing in wider community services including offering training and employment opportunities. For all of us, this represents a basic human right and provides a cause well worth defending.

Despite a 61per cent reduction in the number of Housing Associations (to 22 in 2016) pressure is likely to continue for further consolidation of the sector through merger and group arrangements. The sector is slowly changing from one of richness in diversity to the predominance of a small number of larger organisations. Although it may be argued that this situation was influenced by the implementation of a robust and conformance focused regulatory regime, the business reasons for this change are easy to understand with suggested benefits including the increased scale of operations offering the potential for efficiency savings, improved use of resources and better value for money. It now remains for the expectations raised during this period of ‘merger mania’ to be delivered.

However, there still remains a huge potential for the smaller, culturally diverse and community based Housing Associations whose operational basis while not on such a grand scale can nevertheless both individually and jointly, make a significant impact on their communities and client groups far in excess of their stock size. Responsive to local needs, with a real community focus there is a clear opportunity to make a more significant impact on the pressing issues of increasing demand and lack of housing supply.

Sometimes it feels like change is the only constant we have remaining within the voluntary housing sector.

The need for change however cannot be ignored; we need to recognise the benefits and opportunities which present themselves through new partnerships and collaborative working. The potential for joint venture arrangements can bring real savings, efficiencies and opportunities for us all and shared working offers the potential for adding value to our operational cost basis as well as to deliver greater administrative efficiencies and improved service delivery for our tenants and service users.

Ark Housing has changed and continues to adapt in response to the new challenges which emerge. Our governance arrangements have been modernised and streamlined; following the recruitment of new board members with a wide range of skills, knowledge and experiences we have developed a new and more challenging business strategy. We have invested in our senior management and leadership capacity and continue to recruit and invest in all our employees.

A new business focus has evolved but one in which the customer remains firmly on centre stage.

Other changes have included the establishment of a Private Trading Company to support the provision of a wider range of services to complement our new build programme with the potential to offer low cost homeownership and equity share, while the creation of a new customer services team will enable the restructuring of our housing management and maintenance services so that a seamless and more efficient service can be delivered to our tenants.

We will continue to invest in the development skills of our staff and seek opportunities to work collaboratively with our colleagues and others in the sector. This is an exciting time for us all. Change can be disruptive and unsettling but it can also be positive and inspiring. At Ark Housing we are looking forward to a new period of challenge and change as the Social Housing Reform Programme (SHDP) takes shape.

We are keen to work with colleagues and to create new partnerships and collaborative working arrangements. We are determined to make our contribution to improving the health and well being of our communities and to respond to the new opportunities for investment and support in our communities.

Through leading change, managing growth and delivering excellence, we will be able to fulfil the promises of our mission: “In partnership, to meet housing need, strengthening communities and enhancing social justice.”

 

Ark Housing Association

Hawthorne Office Park

37A Stockman’s Way

Belfast, BT9 7ET

Tel: 028 9075 2310

Email: info@arkhousing.co.uk

 

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