Work has started on three separate sites across the West Midlands to build more than 430 homes.
We are working with Vistry Partnerships on the three developments and, once complete, they will provide more than 240 affordable homes across the West Midlands.
The three developments include:
Churchfields in Kidderminster – work has started on 246 homes. 100 of these will be outright sale for our Signature brand and 146 will be affordable homes. These will be made up of 11 social rent, 84 affordable rent and 51 shared ownership. An old warehouse from 1902 will also be converted into one bedroom and two-bedroom flats at the 17-acre site.
York Road in Birmingham – work is underway on 88 affordable homes at the site in Hall Green, opposite the former greyhound stadium – 22 of these will be shared ownership and 66 will be affordable rent. The brownfield site is a former UTC Aerospace System facility – the Birmingham base of the US aerospace and defence company. The homes will be built with timber frames as an alternative construction method.
Ridge Hill in Dudley – 82 homes will be built on the former hospital site in Wordsley which first opened in the late 1970s. It will be made up of 13 social rent, 12 affordable rent, nine shared ownership and 48 outright sale homes.
Our Executive Director of Development Nick Byrne said: “We’re pleased to be working with Vistry Partnerships again and that work has started on all three of these sites across the West Midlands to provide more than 430 homes.
“Each site will feature a considerable amount of affordable housing which will help with the housing demand in the area.
“We’re looking forward to seeing these sites develop over the coming months.”
Vistry Partnership’s Divisional Managing Director, James Warrington, said: “It’s fantastic to see work underway on these three new developments with Citizen which are going to provide hundreds of affordable homes across the West Midlands and transform some previously redundant brownfield sites in the process.
“Each of these developments offers something unique, and when combined, they will be a major boost to the region’s housing, giving local people a great opportunity to get on the property ladder.”
Overall, we are working with Vistry Partnerships to build more than 1,000 homes together, with a further 600 properties already under development at the former Lea Castle hospital in Kidderminster.
Whatever we choose to call them, the people who live in our homes consider themselves customers and expect a service comparable with the other businesses they use. We must meet these expectations.
For too long in housing we have treated the people who use our services differently.
Over the years I have been part of many conference sessions and debates which centre around whether the people who live in our homes are tenants, residents or customers. But is there really any value in asking this question?
Even though as housing associations we are rightly proud of the impact we have in our communities – although we provide unique services and it’s true that our product is often one of need rather than choice – everyone who accesses our services is a customer and their experience must reflect this.
Most importantly, the experience of our customers must meet their expectations. When other sectors are constantly driving experience forward in new and innovative ways, the challenge for us is to keep up.
Because our customers will, understandably, not give us wiggle room. If they get a seamless experience with the likes of Amazon or ASOS, then that is what they will expect from us – and there’s no reason why we can’t provide it.
The longer we see ourselves as different, the greater the risk that we fail to recognise the need to meet this standard. To make sure that the interactions our customers have with us are the best they can be.
At Citizen we recognised we needed to do much better. Although the scarce feedback we were receiving from customers showed our teams were doing work which our customers valued, we didn’t have anywhere near enough intelligence, and on customer experience it was clear that we needed to raise our game significantly.
To guide this, we wanted a detailed understanding of what was working and what was not in the eyes of our customers. We first commissioned a research organisation to survey thousands of customers to get a detailed sense of how they rated our service and what their perception of us was.
Over the past two years we have set about transforming our customer experience in response to this intelligence.
This has included the creation of a Citizen First training programme, which has seen every member of staff in our organisation receive focused customer service training.
We have just recruited a new customer committee, using an innovative recruitment campaign to attract a diverse pool of customers who will shape our services through online interaction.
We’ve also rebranded and transformed our website and customer portal and, crucially, introduced a new customer experience platform used by the likes of Sky to give us real-time feedback. This has transformed our understanding of our customers and allowed us to be more responsive than ever.
The new platform means we can assess customer satisfaction and sentiment in real time and deal with issues immediately. We now receive 5,000 pieces of immediate individual feedback directly related to services that customers have received every month.
This means we know much more about that we are doing well and where we can improve. It adds a new layer of accountability among our teams and motivates them to provide the best service they can – joining the dots between individual contribution and customer satisfaction.
This feedback has already allowed us to make often small but impactful changes to the way we provide services and we can already see the result in our satisfaction scores, which are now regularly around 4.5 out of 5 – another tool we can use to motivate colleagues to continue to provide a great service.
Our objective to improve our customer offer is far from complete – in fact, for any organisation it is never complete.
The challenge for us, and for all housing organisations, is meeting the increasingly high expectations that our customers have for the experience they receive. And that applies whether they are receiving round-the-clock care or a simple repair transaction.
Tenant, resident, leaseholder or any other person who receives our services, there’s no doubt at all that they are customers and that’s how we need to treat them.
Lourdes Sharpe, Director of Customer Services, Citizen
This year we are going to improve our apprenticeship scheme.
The new programme will encourage the progression of more young people to support talent development and succession planning in our organisation.
We are committed to recruiting 12 new apprentices in 2021/2022 and 12 in 2022/2023. This means we’ll have over 30 apprentices at Citizen over the next two years.
Our apprenticeship scheme is an important part of our objective in our 2020-23 business strategy to become an employer of choice.
Apprenticeships are paid trainee roles which combine hands on work with training and relevant qualifications, and each apprentice must carry out structured and meaningful work within their role and spend at least 20% of their work time on off-the-job training.
This means they can work towards achieving an approved apprenticeship qualification.
The individual apprenticeships last between 12 months and five years depending on the role.
Currently we have six apprentices – four within the Maintenance Operations directorate and two within the Finance directorate.
Our Director of People Matt Posaner said: “This year we’re planning to increase our apprenticeship programme and offer more apprenticeships across the organisation.
“We’ve always provided a higher number of apprenticeships in the past, mainly within our maintenance and housing functions, and it has been very successful with several of those apprentices now working with us at managerial level.
“We’ve also previously won several regional and national apprenticeship awards for the scheme so it would be good to get it running again at a higher level.”
We’re aiming to provide apprenticeships across the business in Maintenance, Housing, Customer Services, Care and Support, Asset Management and Safety, Transformation, Treasury, Assurance and Procurement, IT, HR, Communications and our Executive Leadership PA team.
A new Citizen-led webinar will share best practice in Communications and PR.
Comms Clinic will be a regular, live, interactive, hour-long webinar which brings in guest speakers with a focus on a different communications topic each time.
It is being advertised to everyone who works in the communications sector and more than 40 professionals have already signed up for the first Comms Clinic on 3 March – which will focus on internal communications.
Steve Hayes, our Head of Communications, who will host the new webinar, said: “We’ve done a huge amount of work to improve the communications function at Citizen and this puts us in a great position to be able to share best practice.
“Being a thought leader in our sector and region is one of our strategic objectives. There is huge value to Citizen in providing an informal place where fellow professionals can share best practice, network and take away practical ideas that they can implement in their organisations.
“My hope is that we can use Comms Clinic as a pilot for what could become a bigger programme of webinars that would cover a range of topics. We have so many great people in our organisation that I think this could be a great way for us to put ourselves on the map.
“The response to Comms Clinic has been quite amazing. We launched it last week and already have 40 professionals signed up to our first clinic on 3 March – including people from fellow housing organisations, local authorities, police forces, water companies and agencies.”
Did you know that Citizen is a Coventry City of Culture 2021 Club Member?
Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture starts in May 2021. For a whole year, Coventry will celebrate the city with events, music, dance, theatre, and large-scale spectacle.
We join 140 companies across Coventry as a 2021 Club Member by donating £10,000 to the project over the last four years.
Our Head of Communications Steve Hayes said: “It’s fantastic that we’re a 2021 Club Member for Coventry City of Culture this year.
“As the largest landlord in Coventry we should definitely be showing our support for this important project.
“As well as being a 2021 Club Member and all the benefits that brings for us in terms of brand association we are also hoping to work with Coventry City of Culture’s Corporate Development Team to develop an idea for Citizen which will enable us to put our own mark on the project.
“I’m really looking forward to supporting Coventry City of Culture this year. It’s a really exciting time for Coventry!”
Nicole Malatesta, Corporate Development Manager at Coventry City of Culture Trust, added: “Coventry won the UK City of Culture title for many reasons. This includes the backing of a wide range of local and regional companies such as Citizen.
“The 2021 Club are instrumental to our ambitious plans for Coventry’s year in the spotlight, enabling us to engage national audiences, attract new visitors, and empower every Coventry resident to reap the benefits of cultural participation.
“Thank you Citizen for all our support. Funding from our 2021 Club Members will allow us to stage events which will be enjoyed by all – and demonstrate the depth of artistic talent within our area. I can’t wait to see it all start to come to life in May!”
Previous Cities of Culture have experienced a major boost in tourism and have also benefited from an increase in investors opening new businesses.
We are building a new retirement living block in Coventry after plans were recently approved by planners.
The Ebbw Vale development in Cheylesmore, Coventry will provide 30 one-bedroom flats. It will replace our existing retirement living accommodation at Eric Inott House, as well as the previous building that was at the site – an over 55’s development of 16 flats – which was demolished a few years ago.
The new three storey development will provide the over 55s with modern day homes and the complex will also be all-electric.
It will have photovoltaic panels on the roof which will contribute towards the running costs of communal lighting and reduce the service charges for our customers.
Our Executive Director of Development Nick Byrne said: “We’re really pleased to start work on this scheme which will provide modern housing for the over 55s.
“The development is part of a programme of works to replace our existing elderly person accommodation, specifically Eric Inott House, and the accommodation previously at the site, with modern day homes.
“The development will provide a facility that will serve the needs of residents for years to come allowing them to remain in the community which they are part of.
“We have worked hard with our Retirement Living team and Asset Management team to formulate the design and specification of the building – it’s been a fantastic cross team effort.”
Work on the development is set to start in May 2021 and the development is expected to be completed by December 2022.
Kevin Rodgers, our Chief Executive, said: “We’re delighted to able to launch the Citizen Local Fund.
“If ever there was a time that people in our communities need support for their wellbeing it is now.
“We know that there will be lots of individuals and groups out there in our communities who are being creative and supporting people through the pandemic and we hope this fund can support them.
“Moving forward we want the Citizen Local Fund to support the wider work people are doing to help people in our communities. The fund is there for a range of projects – big or small. We’re keen to support anyone or any group that needs some support to help others.”
Applications for the first round of funding close on Friday, 19 February.
We have committed to a new collaboration with the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and five other housing associations which will boost affordable housing.
A memorandum of understanding has been signed between each of the organisations to develop a business case for driving affordable housing developments, economic activity and housing policy objects.
The priorities of the partnership will be:
More affordable homes built in the region
A broader range, mix and supply of available homes
Addressing market failure to unlock dormant sites
Maximising construction on brownfield land
A collaborative regional approach – maximising local expertise, assets, networks and partnerships
Our Chief Executive and Chair of the West Midlands Housing Association Partnership (WMHAP), Kevin Rodgers, said: “Collectively, we welcome the commitment from the WMCA to build the essential new affordable homes the region needs.
“All of the members of the WMHAP are committed to working together to making this new vision a reality and see the signing of the memorandum of understanding as a significant step in an exciting partnership.”
Other housing associations involved in the memorandum of understanding include Midland Heart, Bromford, Accord and whg.
Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, Andy Street, said: “This ground-breaking new partnership brings the WMCA together with the combined expertise and resources of five of the largest housing associations within the WMHAP with the aim of providing even more affordable homes for the people of the West Midlands.
“Our region has led the way on housebuilding with record numbers in recent years, but our focus now is on how we build even more homes that are truly affordable. Alongside our new definition of affordability, which links to income rather than the market rate, this partnership will help do exactly that.”
Another key priority for the collaboration will be the pioneering of inclusive growth objectives, including access to open space, the use of sustainable construction methods, good quality design and a distinct sense of place with local shops and services and the provision of education and skills training.
Cllr Mike Bird, leader of Walsall Council and WMCA portfolio holder for housing and land, added: “This coalition is central to our mission to utilise our stock of brownfield land to deliver inclusive growth and affordable homes.
“A key goal is to establish the region as the national leader in unlocking challenging brownfield sites, especially along key transport corridors and using them to create vibrant new communities that offer good quality, affordable homes for local people.
“By injecting new life into derelict sites, we can help protect our Green Belt and drive an economic recovery that benefits all our communities.”
The next stage for the collaboration is to work up the detailed business case for the Affordable Housing Collaborative Development Vehicle’s establishment.
We have created a new animation which highlights our crucial fire safety advice for customers living in our high-rise blocks.
Customers will start to receive our fire safety guidance which includes a QR code linking to a new animation this week.
The animation and advice are voiced over and translated into seven different languages to reflect the diverse make-up of our customers living in the blocks.
The guidance, which we consulted West Midlands Fire Service on, will arrive in a high-quality personalised sleeve so our customers can easily keep it to hand.
Paul Baker, our Director of Asset Management and Safety, said: “Fire safety is a hugely important part of our work.
“As we look to the future and the implementation of the Building Safety Act it is important that we do all we can to make sure customers in our blocks know what to do in the event of a fire. This is simply the right and responsible thing for us to do.
“These buildings carry no greater risk of a fire, but there are things people who live in them need to know that are specific to this type of building. This includes the importance of staying in your home if the fire is somewhere else in the building and other crucial guidance.
“This campaign is a great way for us to get across that message in a highly visual and easy-to-understand way.”
Peter Gill, our Director of Housing, added: “This is a crucial piece of work for us.
“We want to do everything we can to protect our customers. When we spoke to some of our customers after fires in 2020, it was apparent that not all of them were clear on what they should do.
“This is a proactive approach to get ahead of the game and do all that we can to make sure customers know what to do if there is a fire in their building to stay safe. It also includes guidance on important prevention measures.”