Written from an interview with Steven Cranston,
Foundational Economy Lead at United Welsh Housing Association
As a housing association, we require a wide range of services, but not everyone knows what’s available.
We own a lot of housing stock, so the primary areas are planned and reactive maintenance services: planned is any work we know needs doing in the next five years; and reactive is any new work that needs dealing with immediately.
But people might now know that we also have a lot of smaller contracts available, including communications, stationary, clothing, design services and filmmaking. These are all important to the work of United Welsh.
Working with companies that share our values
One of our biggest contracts is for food services. We recently opened two developments, each which needed a restaurant providing up to 100 meals a day for seven days a week, 365 days a year.
When researching what kind of business we wanted to partner with, we visited some schemes in England and we weren’t impressed by what we found. Although some of the restaurants looked good, it was either frozen microwave meals or poor quality, old fashioned food. Some residents were actually malnourished – the food was there, but they didn’t want to eat it.
So we asked how we could do this differently. Who did we know that provides food services and shares our values?
We found a partner in Vision 21, a Cardiff-based social enterprise who provide a range of services around learning disabilities. We visited their Chief Executive Barry Shires at Sbectrwm, and he showed us around their kitchen. He explained how they approached food, the community feel of the venue, and we were impressed by what we saw.
Vision 21 are now the restaurant provider for both schemes, and it’s been a great opportunity to work with a social enterprise.
Creating a sustainable future
All housing associations in Wales are being set tough targets to de-carbonise our homes within a ten-year cycle. This means changing the insulation and potentially turning to renewable energy.
We have a partnership with all four housing associations in Blaenau Gwent (TaiCalon, United Welsh, Melin Homes and Link Cymru), so we’ve decided to run a pilot to retrofit our homes ready for the de-carbonisation deadline.
This is an exciting opportunity to build relationships with local businesses that either are already retrofitting homes, or interested in moving into this area in the future. We’re starting conversations now, and supporting businesses so they’re ready when contracts become available.
Piloting is absolute common sense, but we believe it doesn’t happen anywhere near enough. We’re identifying around 50 properties each, so about 200 across Blaenau Gwent, with a mixture of properties and locations. For example, we may choose homes built after 1990 with a cavity insulation, while others may choose flats built in the 60s, or pre-war terraced houses.
By working together with the different housing associations, local authority, and local businesses, we’re saving ourselves so much time and money! Usually, you’d just get stuck in and make expensive mistakes. This way, we can share our learning and all benefit.
And it’s not just the housing associations that will benefit. In ten years’ time, there will probably be more incentives for owner-occupiers and private landlords to de-carbonise their homes too. By working with local businesses now, we’re ensuring those companies and skills are here in Blaenau Gwent for the future.