This case study is part of Place Spotlight, which supports local areas in successful place making by taking each of the each of the eight components of great places and provides criteria for good, great and exemplary performance. Walterton & Elgin Community Homes demonstrates what place making means in practice and provides a good example of performance under the Housing component.
Find out more about Place Spotlight and how it can help you make great places.
When it comes to managing housing, a committed and empowered community can make all the difference. Walterton and Elgin Community Homes (WECH) was set up as a resident-controlled registered housing association in 1992. Since then, WECH has maintained and improved the 640 homes it currently owns and manages to a very high standard, has maintained and improved its community-led governance structures, and recently achieved a 94 per cent satisfaction rating with residents.
Westminster City Council contains some of the most expensive homes in the UK and some of the country’s most deprived areas. The Walterton and Elgin estates in north Paddington were, by the 1980s, severely deprived. When the council sought to sell off the estates to private developers in 1985, residents organised the Walterton and Elgin Action Group to argue for a different future for the area.
The Action Group used the available powers of the 1988 Housing Act, which offered council tenants the opportunity to opt to change their existing landlord. As WECH, it put together a business plan and a proposal to take over managing the estate from the council if the properties were transferred at no cost and with funding for repairs. The estate was eventually transferred to the tenants, following a ballot, with £17.5m from the council to carry out repairs and a further £3.5m from the Housing Corporation for further improvements.
Through its governance structures, professional approach to business planning, and management, WECH now maintains low rents, high standards and provides a variety of services to its community of residents. It remains resident controlled and as times have changed, has sought new means of engaging residents in the future of the estates.
WECH demonstrates good practice in housing and the built environment, and links to a number of the other elements of great places:
WECH has since thrived. It started out with just two staff – a coordinator and an administrator – and now employs 14 people, and manages its own affairs. It is overseen by a Board which has 20 members, 14 of whom are elected residents, and the remainder are included for their specific experience and skills. All residents are eligible to become members of WECH. The wider pool of residents is engaged through community events and activities that are organised by a social committee.
WECH has built on its housing experience to deliver a wider range of services to local residents that address the day-to-day needs and longer-term aspirations of local people. Key projects include:
A police in residence scheme
A range of activities for children and young people including a youth club and ‘play makers’ scheme
A Summer Activities Scheme, which gives young residents the opportunity to get involved in range of schemes
A range of national and local businesses have also been engaged in corporate volunteering activities.
WECH now has ambitious plans for the future. Plans are being implemented to receive a further transfer of homes from Westminster City Council, build additional homes for social and key worker renting and a more centrally located and improved community centre providing meeting, office and nursery space.
WECH has been identified by the Home Office as one of its ‘Guide Neighbourhoods’ – an example of good practice in housing. Watford Council and numerous housing associations have learned valuable lessons in how to move housing over to resident control.
WECH took over the estates in 1992. At that time a third of the properties were unoccupied and had been boarded up by the council in preparation for their ‘barter scheme’. WECH transformed the housing by replacing the empty tower blocks with well-planned low-rise buildings and refurbished the period housing which is now beautifully presented and maintained.
It provides 640 homes, the majority let at affordable rents, and is negotiating with the council to take over a further 84 Victorian houses in the Walterton area which were omitted from the original transfer in 1992.
WECH combines an organisational structure that embraces resident control and community ownership with efficient management. Its success is clearly apparent by the approval ratings of the residents in the 2007 survey, with 94 per cent saying they were satisfied with the overall service and over 92 per cent satisfied with the staff efficiency and helpfulness.
The transformation of the area has also had an impact on community health. In 2000 the World Health Organisation said the WECH was among the top three most successful projects in the world for empowering people and improving their health.
WECH has become a successful social enterprise, too, and has grown to degree that it can support the wider community. Some residents refer to the WECH as like a “family”, saying the improved accommodation and support offered has changed their lives. Social events and supporting initiatives offered by WECH to improve the quality of life in what was a run-down part of Westminster have included:
A form filling service and help for tenants with debt counselling
A police-in-residence scheme
Christmas parties for older people
A community centre and youth club
A summer festival
All these activities are seen by WECH as strengthening the community and encouraging the further participation of the residents in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Get staff out and about. For a resident-led regeneration programme to work, staff need to be out and about, visiting and building relationships with the people living in the community. Residents should be involved as much as possible and organisers must remain as accessible as possible. Social events can work as a good foundation for building tenant participation in running the association and making connections between households and the staff and Board.
Financial responsibility is important. While holding rents at a level which compares favourably with those of other social housing landlords in the area, WECH has taken the difficult decision of raising rents above inflation to make adequate provision for future costs.
Build the skills of all residents to get involved. The management board needs to represent the tenants, so if tenants wish to be on the board but lack skills necessary to participate, then they need to be provided with training. The skillset required for a project of this kind embraces all of the generic skills that some participants already possessed, such as analytical skills or teamwork. Other necessary skills, however, needed to be passed on. WECH has set up an induction programme for residents elected to the board to ensure they are up-to-speed with the financial and business plan side of the project. This is to ensure they are comfortable with the operational management of the WECH.
Bring in additional skills and expertise. The skills of elected resident board members are supplemented by the active recruitment to the board of non-residents with skills and experience in housing management, finance and human resources management. It is prudent to make sure those running the project have, or have the provision to, gather such skills.
Don’t lose heart and keep firmly focused on the end goal. The success of the project was down to the continued commitment of the individuals working together as a community. In the end it was the power of the community as much as the individuals within it that saw WECH triumph.
Evaluate and get feedback from the ground. Evaluation of the project is ongoing in the three-yearly satisfaction surveys conducted by the project. The data from these surveys are published in WECH’s annual reports. Other opportunities for anecdotal evaluation were created – for example, when the audit commission made its inspection, the project organisers made space for a forum where residents could speak freely about how they felt to live in such a housing project and what difference it had made to their lives.
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