Five years of investment provides a platform for growth

Coast & Country Housing - based in the borough of Redcar and Cleveland - celebrates its fifth birthday this July.

Coast & Country Housing - based in the borough of Redcar and Cleveland - celebrates its fifth birthday this July. The company was created to take over the ownership and management of Redcar and Cleveland council's housing stock, with the promise of attracting significant private funding to bring 11,600 homes up to modern-day standards and to enhance core services to provide a greater range of provision and better value for money.

So has the company delivered what it set out to do five years ago? Iain Sim, chief executive, believes that it has.

He says: "To date, over £120m has been spent on our homes, with a further £20m planned until the end of this year.

"During that time, we have been able to install windows to 5,874 homes, 5,288 kitchens, 5,479 bathrooms, 10,136 doors, 6,296 rewires and 793 new roofs, and have brought our `non-decency' - a national Government standard - down from over 80% to around 20%.

"But that is not all. As well as this huge investment, the company has also invested heavily in other service areas, such as setting up our 24/7 customer contact centre - which has now become our customer access hub - invested over £1m in our Homecall and assistive technology services, created an effective enforcement team to deal with complaints of anti-social behaviour, put in place environmental impact teams, and been able to achieve top-ranked performance for our empty homes management and gas servicing.

"This all culminated in a highly successful Audit Commission inspection, which recognised the company as a good two-star service, with promising prospects for improvement.

"The company has also just celebrated taking on its first six new homes following a successful partnership with Wimpey Homes, and has started on site to provide a further 73 homes at Allendale Road, Spencerbeck and East Meadows, Marske.

"These developments will comprise homes for rent, outright sale and shared ownership - a venture that will be underpinned by a new branding and approach."

Building on this strong foundation, Iain Sim is confident about the next five years and says that, while there are challenges ahead, the future is very exciting: "We've learned a lot in the first five years and haven't got everything right, but we need to learn more from that and recognise that we can make a real difference.

"As a business, our stock numbers are reducing, our tenants are becoming older and more vulnerable and the competition for scarce resources is becoming even sharper. To respond to this, the company is quite clear about what it's priorities are going forward.

"On the back of a brand refresh, it is the ideal time to make the bold step from delivery of promises to a more transformational agenda. The Regeneration and Development Agenda is huge but, already, master-planning exercises are under way which will help to transform some of the more problematic estates.

"The most noticeable progress can be seen on the Blayberry/Burnmoor estate in Redcar, where 220 properties will be demolished to make way for a new mixed tenure development.

"The company also owns other potential development sites which will contribute to transforming the housing offer in Redcar and Cleveland. It also means that we can increase the quality and number of homes we can provide at a reduced public subsidy level, a key factor in a very competitive market. This, coupled with a commitment to invest heavily in the environmental condition of estates over the next five years, shows we mean what we say.

"A key strand of the agenda will be to establish a subsidiary brand to market the shared ownership properties that will be a feature of most new developments.

"This allows first-time buyers an easier route into home ownership and the first six of these new homes will be available early next year.

"Providing on-going support and care to elderly and vulnerable residents is also seen as a priority area. Already, over 5,000 customers receive a 24-hour emergency call monitoring and warden response service through Homecall - the company's community alarm service.

"Homecall, for a small affordable weekly charge which for many is covered by subsidy, enables customers to stay at home living safely and independently with the reassurance that 24-hour emergency assistance is just a call away.

"The company is now developing and investing in Homecall, and embracing the availability of new assistive technologies designed to provide an even greater level of care and support for elderly and vulnerable customers and their families and carers.

"The new service, known as Telecare, involves placing a range of sensors around a home which monitor and detect a range of risks such as fire, flooding, carbon monoxide, high and low temperatures as well as personal risks such as falling, wandering, inactivity, burglary and bogus callers. These sensors are linked into Homecall to enable 24-hour monitoring to take place in our customer contact centre where trained customer advisors can respond to an emergency alert within seconds.

"A huge £1m investment programme in new, state-of-the-art systems and technology is underpinning the development of Telecare, allowing Coast & Country Housing to become the leading provider of this service in close partnership with Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council.

"To raise awareness and promote Telecare, a demonstration suite is available for organisations and agencies to come along and view Telecare in operation.

"Alternatively, we can make arrangements to visit prospective partners and carry out mobile demonstrations of Telecare in action.

"At the other end of the age group, the company works very closely with schools and young people through our Community Investment Team to help in getting pride back into our communities as places to live.

"Environmental improvement schemes, eco schemes, work placements, community pride funding and football tournament sponsorships are just an example of the kind of schemes in which we get involved. The company strongly believes that its agenda goes far beyond the provision of bricks and mortar alone and seeks to work in, and with, communities to create longer-term sustainability.

"The customer contact centre is a further area of new development and, while it delivers services for a number of external companies now, the capacity is there for expansion across a whole range of services.

"Perhaps one of the most challenging projects which is already under way has been modernisation of our in-house building services organisation. This has led to difficult decisions being taken about the scale of the workforce, but it has been balanced with the decision to invest very heavily in it - the aim being to create a property maintenance service unrivalled in the sector.

"At its core will be new technology supporting a `get it right first time' approach, a more effective supply chain, 100% appointments and a lean and mean, committed workforce that will be ready and able to compete for external contracts going forward.

"The launch of this new service will coincide with the delivery or our newly-branded vehicle fleet, which is a highly visible statement of our intent.

"We want to celebrate our first five years but we recognise that the next five years can be even better - something which we can all look forward to."

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