By Chris Roberts, Head of Services - Affordable Housing & Homeless, Safe As Houses
From collaborating with Local Authorities, Care and Registered Providers, and Local Government Officials to Partners, Advisors, Investors, Builders, Property Sources and many more, at Safe As Houses, we take pride in establishing and maintaining a diverse range of essential relationships to provide person-focused sustainable homes.
During a recent conversation with a North-West based charity, there was one recurring theme that was being identified; whilst some parts of this market work together (very well in most cases), there are still pitfalls and areas where, if a collaborative approach were taken, more could be achieved with less. Therefore, when dealing with Local Authorities, this is always something we look to do. The most important part is maintaining standards and fulfilling our partners’ requirements.
In the responses to the Government’s “Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee on Exempt Accommodation”, there were comments from politicians, providers, charities, and the local community. Interestingly, from the local authorities’ point of view, their criticism of the current system is that a provider and property sourcer can acquire a property, sell it to a fund, and then open a service in the Local Authorities’ area without prior consultation, exploration of need and funding requirements.
Quite often, the only time that the Local Authority is aware of the service is either when the scheme is going through planning, or when the service opens its doors. Similarly, there are multiple responses whereby the neighbouring properties to a new service were not consulted, informed, and kept in the loop with what was happening in their area.
Reflecting on our colleague's and partners' previous negative experiences, the lack of communication with Local Authorities and the community can provide an unwelcome and hostile environment for those moving into the service, which can make settling into a new home very difficult. Therefore, does this undo all the efforts and work by those who are/were collaborating?
At Safe As Houses, we understand there has never been greater pressure on services, Local Authorities’ budgets and the people that we’re all trying to help. For this reason, it has never been more important to provide the right services, in the right areas with the right support.
The days of setting up services without Commissioner Support (or similar) must surely be numbered. We would welcome incoming regulations to ensure that the provisions in the sectors that we work in are the best they can be. Regulation will come, and this will provide a sea of change in how our sector provides its properties and procures its services; a change that we welcome and support.
We are increasingly being invited to work on proposals, schemes, and opportunities where there isn’t the need for just one service, but a multitude of services which meet the needs of the local community. The reason for this is that we work differently from many developers. To begin with, we establish and understand the sector's needs through our Research & Development team, and then work with the Local Authorities and Providers to provide the service that is needed.
This collaborative way of thinking and working allows us to explore larger, mixed-tenure sites. Not just for the homeless or for supported living, but to create a development which will benefit more than one group of people.
Throughout our project delivery, we hold multiple workshops with all stakeholders involved in the project to keep them updated, finalise decisions collectively, and ensure that everything is on track for each party. The one part of the workshops which is game-changing is that it allows every company who is involved in the development to bring their opinions, expertise, and requirements, to ensure that the homes we build meet the needs of everyone involved.
Again, from visiting existing provisions, we can identify that services have been developed with the input of one stakeholder only, and therefore this creates issues later down the line for other parties e.g. the need for certain upgrades to specifications or changes made to how a building is used.
Collaboration plays a key role in the Safe As Houses culture, too. Our colleagues are spread all around the UK, making a collaborative approach to project work a vital aspect of our success. The demand to work together has never been greater. For this reason, we structure our business strategically into Business Units to enable specialists to work in each market sector we work in. As a team, we are constantly challenged to think about how our decisions, opportunities and actions could influence and affect our colleagues, and how involving them and working with them can often bring better results for everyone.