July 20, 2024

Wythenshawe Community Housing Group (WCHG) – Overcoming the odds

While the social housing sector in the UK has been beset by numerous hurdles in recent years, for its part Wythenshawe Community Housing Group has not only overcome these various obstacles but has also continued to make strong inroads into building new homes.

“We’re fully committed to making the necessary changes relating to the Building Safety Act and making our homes safer for customers, such as introducing sprinklers, alarm systems, fire doors, electrical upgrades and cladding,” explains Paul Butterworth, Executive Director of Assets. “It has presented a number of challenges but thankfully we have a great team here and a wealth of experience to draw upon.”

With over 20 years working in the social housing sector under his belt, Mr Butterworth has plenty of experience himself. The combination of this knowledge and the strong supply chain WCHG has developed, has been a key factor in the progress it has made. “Since the implementation of our most recent corporate plan, launched in 2023, we have been striving to improve the quality of our existing property estate, which currently numbers nearly 14,000 homes. At the same time, we’ve been moving forward with our plan to build 200 new homes a year. On top of this, we are progressing with the safety improvements to our ten tower blocks that are required to improve the safety of homes following the Grenfell tragedy. This has resulted in an additional £20m investment outside our original business plan. In order to tick all these boxes, a strong portfolio of suppliers and partners has been vital.

“It’s not been plain sailing by any stretch of the imagination, particularly as all our suppliers and contractors have been at the mercy of the materials and product shortages, as well as the resulting rise in prices. Fire doors in particular have been especially difficult to source in the timeframe we have required them in. The key to overcoming this issue has been the continual dialogue we have had with our partners and the open and frank conversations we’ve conducted with them. Genuinely working in partnership on a programme that’s actually achievable, rather than just being aspirational, has been crucial to not letting down partners and customers.”

This emphasis on meeting its purpose & strategic objectives to deliver the standard of service it is committed to providing has been a keystone of WCHG’s approach, particularly when it comes to keeping its residents fully informed.

“Engaging with customers and getting them onboard has also been key, because there’s no point bringing contractors together if they’re not able to access the properties to carry out the improvements,” says Mr Butterworth. “Keeping residents fully informed and engaged about our plans and priorities is imperative, so we’ve ensured there’s clear lines of communication at all times, with customers holding us to account”.

“Equally important has been the quality of our own people. We’ve got excellent site team leaders and contract managers, so we work hard to ensure that we retain them and their experience within the team.

“All of the maintenance and day-to-day servicing is carried out in-house by our employed colleagues, whilst all the major component renewals are delivered by our supply partners. We’re currently investing around £45m annually on the upkeep & improvements to our existing stock.”

With regards to its new build programme, developing 200 new properties a year is quite a step up from the volumes WCHG was building previously. This has required a completely new supply chain to run alongside the partners it had for maintaining its stock. “Putting this together has been a challenge. The most successful contractors have been those that understand the challenges, but which also align to our corporate social values, looking at initiatives such as apprenticeships, colleague training and development, and local employment opportunities.”

To assist in the development of its new housing plans, WCHG has partnered with JV North, a consortium of RPs. This arrangement has worked well in pushing the programme forward and making the most of the supply chain infrastructure it has built up.

With such a strong network behind it, both internally and externally, WCHG is well positioned to tackle both the existing challenges it is currently facing and those that are just around the corner.

“Looking forward, we’re gearing ourselves up to meet the rafts of legislation that will be coming through in the months and years ahead, which will undoubtedly put additional pressure on the social housing sector,” concludes Mr Butterworth. “As a result, there’s a significant amount of work to be done in a variety of areas, from safety through to sustainability and how we consider the impact of the latest Decent Homes standard review consultation. The challenges will therefore continue, but we remain completely committed to raising standards across all our homes.”

Thankfully with the infrastructure and supply chain it has to hand, WCHG certainly couldn’t be better prepared when it comes to meeting these targets and delivering an ever-improving service for its customers.