PhotoAbhiAgarwalAug2019 News

The launch of new neighbourhood officer roles and use of customer experience feedback were among the initiatives announced at Grampian Housing Association’s recent annual general meeting.

They form part of the Association’s journey of change to ensure services to tenants continue to be customer focussed and to drive customer satisfaction levels.

Dr Abhi Agarwal, who was re-elected as chairman, highlighted that the pandemic had provided useful learning for the Association about alternative ways of working.  This had resulted in development of Grampian’s digital approach from the perspective of tenants and customers.  More access to online services and services offering more choice and flexibility to tenants will be provided based on feedback that this is their preferred way forward.

Commenting on his re-election, Dr Agarwal said: “It has been a demanding yet rewarding second year as chairman.  We feel that we are emerging from the pandemic and that a “new normal” is perhaps beginning to win through. 

However, we are in no doubt that the last 18 months have badly affected many of our tenants and customers, their families and our communities.  We expect the impact will be long lasting so our challenge is to do better and more for those we are here to help.” 

Our charitable purpose to deliver affordable housing and excellent customer focussed services has never been more important.  I really appreciate the staff teams who have performed exceptionally well to help and support our tenants and customers despite the pandemic challenges.”

Members attending the meeting also heard about the Association’s successes in the launch of “These Homes”, a new digital lettings service for housing applicants; tackling the climate challenge and contributing to the Scottish Government’s emissions reductions targets by using renewable energy through installing solar PV with battery storage whilst supporting tenants to rise out of fuel poverty; help for tenants through its money advice, housing support and energy advice projects; major improvements to properties including installing new kitchens and bathrooms. 

Dr Agarwal added:  “The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government, announced earlier in September acknowledges the significant role of the social housing sector in the country’s recovery from Covid-19. 

“We are keen to support this and with the Association’s ongoing development programme its target for new build homes in the North-east has increased from 500 to 600 over the course of the next three years.”

Dr Abhi Agarwal is an associate professor in strategy with Edinburgh Napier University Business School.  Previously he was an MBA course leader at Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University where he continues in a visiting academic role.  Dr Agarwal is also a member of the Quality and Performance Committee of Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) Board.

Jim Cargill, has also been re-elected as Vice-Chair.  Mr Cargill is a provider of AI-based marine logistics optimisation software and a director of Calibre International Ltd, a business consultancy. 

Three new members, Alex Drummond, Ritchie Johnson and Bob Stewart, joined the Board. 

Commenting on the new appointments, Dr Abhi Agarwal said: “I welcome all new members to the Board.  Their diverse skill set strengthens the Board’s governance and strategic remit in the areas of housing, finance, funding, policy, project management, change management and risk.

“Their reasons for joining the Board resonate with making a difference to peoples’ lives, building communities and contributing to the provision of quality affordable housing in the North East of Scotland.” 

The retirement of Nora Radcliffe, the Association’s longest standing Board member with 9 years’ service was marked.   

 

16 members of the Association attended the AGM, which was held online again this year as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.

shares his views on #Scottish Housing Day about the #Climate Emergency

Think Globally … Act Locally

Every action and decision we take in our daily lives has consequences, even mundane everyday action such as how long we leave lights on in an empty room and the temperature we set our heating to how much waste we create and how dispose of it or recycle.

Think “globally, act locally" urges us to consider the impact of our actions and lifestyles on the health of the entire planet and encourages to take action and make lifestyle changes in own communities and cities.  Long before governments began enforcing environmental laws, communities have been coming together to protect habitats and the organisms that live within them.

Efforts to transition to a greener and healthier lifestyle should not but sometimes can threaten our poorest communities most, so sustainability has to address issues of inequalities too.

We have arrived (belatedly) at a juncture in our recent history that demands we act and we act quickly.  All around us Climate Change is the language, and our daily news no longer shies away from the realities of what Climate Change means anywhere in the world.  On our own doorstep Storm Frank arrived on Hogmanay 2016  and flooded the town of Ballater when the river Dee burst its banks.  More recently the New York subways flooded, Miami flooded regularly, while at the same time other parts of the United States burn out of control.  1 in 100 year events have already become 1 in 10 year events.

We are in the midst of unmitigated climate change, and the responses to these changes has to be more changes to our lives.  Net Zero, Zero Carbon, Decarbonisation now strike fear into us as we grapple with how we can remove fossil fuels and still have something of the life we wish to. 

But all this is, is another industrial revolution.  We evolved from coal powered steam engines that powered the movement of people and production of heat and goods, to oil and gas.  The renewable revolution in Scotland in particular has gathered so much pace that we are almost able to provide all our electricity through renewable sources.

The question perhaps though is not about the ability to remove fossil fuels, but how best to keep costs down for the end user.  Gas is cheap and reliable way to heat properties with, electricity not necessarily. 

So, how can we deliver a just transition from fossil fuels to renewables? 

Part of doing this is setting targets and setting the direction of travel which the Scottish Government has done.  Industry knows it then has to collaborate with public bodies to provide the solutions.  The hesitation to move to electric cars demonstrates the difficulties we will have in moving to electric heating solutions.  Higher upfront costs. Higher running costs (for electric heating unless offset with solar panels). Uncertainty, lets stick with what we know (not an option).

Costs of goods, such as heat pumps, will come down due to the simple economic of supply and demand.  As demand increases, costs come down.  Remember buying the first VHS video recorders for around £600 at the time?  Within years they had halved in price, and now obsolete as we stream our media.  All the while the same arguments were presented. They’ll not catch on, I have my three channels anyway.  Oh they are too expensive only for the few (as electric cars are at present). Now though pretty much forgotten and we moved on as new solutions came along.  The same will happen with electric cars as volumes increase and by the time driverless cars are a matter of common place, we will have forgotten the discourse surrounding the electric car.

Our heating solution may not be that simple, but for many when gas heating came along it was seen to be unsafe and dangerous, and many waited for others to take it on and watched from the side-lines.  Some people still hold that view. Gas will become more expensive and then phased out to a greater extent, and we will move to electric forms of heating of which there are a great number of options.  But I return to my question of a just transition and how not to penalise the customer for a world with less fossil fuels?

As a social landlord, committed to tackling fuel poverty whist providing the most energy efficient homes we have invested significant sums (£3million) over the past 5 years on bringing tenants homes up to a better energy efficiency. So for now, the methodical approach we have taken (and would encourage all householders to do so too), is to make sure a home is as well insulated as it possibly can be, so as to reduce the need for heating. 

New properties must be built to the highest standard.  If we can reduce demand for heating through retrofit or build that is the best starting point to thinking global and acting local. 

Alongside this the conventional thinking is where possible you would put solar panels and battery storage in as well.  The batteries play an important part in storing and releasing electricity as and when the tenant wants and also assisting the grid at peak demand times.  Through flexible tariffs used with the battery, the cost of electricity could be reduced to acceptable levels where tenants would not be penalised for moving to electricity.

The challenges are technical but more than anything they will be cultural.  A huge change in societal behaviour will be required, and these times are upon us. 

Over recent months, the Board and Executive of Grampian Housing Association have been considering the Association's governance structures as it begins to emerge from what has been a very challenging period of time for the Association and the housing sector at large.

As part of that exercise, the Board and the Association's Chief Executive, Neil Clapperton, have been discussing Neil's future aspirations and his wish to move to a new challenge for the remainder of his working life. It has now been agreed that this juncture in the Association's development is the right time for Neil to move on to that new challenge.

Neil has been with the Association for over 15 years and during this time contributed to the success and achievement of the Association and wider Group. The Board wishes Neil every best wish for the future and thanks him for his commitment to Grampian Housing Association during his time as Chief Executive.

KatieTaylorNETRALTphotoCatherine Coutts NETRALT Resized

At its recent Annual General Meeting, NETRALT (North East Tenants, Residents and Landlords Together) appointed Katie Taylor, Participation Lead at Grampian Housing Association (left) and Catherine Coutts, Tenant Participation Officer at Castlehill Housing Association (right) as new co-chairs.

Celebrating its milestone 10th anniversary this year, NETRALT is a nationally known award winning group of tenants, residents and landlords at the forefront of best practice in tenant participation in Scotland.  NETRALT is a community for sharing experiences and resources to enhance participation and engagement for its members as well as the wider community.

Catherine said:- “NETRALT’s tenant and resident members are its biggest asset.  Working with them is a privilege and leads to creative and meaningful engagement in housing across the North East.”

Katie paid tribute to outgoing chair Carol Hannaford, who was at NETRALT’s helm since its inception in 2011:- “Carol is a tenant participation pioneer whose reputation precedes her. I am thrilled that she endorsed us to follow in her footsteps.”

Highlights of NETRALT’s success over the last 10 years include scooping a TPAS Good Practice Award in the “Involving All – Youth Involvement” category for a collaborative radio show with young teenagers, the TIS “Most Inspiring Scrutiny Group” award for its innovative cross-landlord mystery shopping project and the TPAS “Tenant Participation Champion of the Year (Group)” award. 

NETRALT’s popular housing cafes providing information and advice on social housing and community issues have been replicated by many other organisations.  They are an opportunity for tenants and landlords alike to engage with each other and ultimately influence decisions relating to their homes and communities.

NETRALT’s members include Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Blackwood, Castlehill Housing Association, Hillcrest Homes, Grampian Housing Association, Langstane Housing Association and Moray Council.

Judi McLeod, Customer Service Officer shares her fundraising story:-

"After a year when vital cancer trials have been delayed, the Cancer Research UK annual Race for Life was more important than ever but by the time I saw the advert for this year’s 5km "Race for Life at Home" I thought I’d left it too late.  However, the fact that it was due to be run two weekends later gave me the incentive I needed as that would be a year exactly since I lost someone very dear to me to cancer.  I ran 5k along part of the Deeside Railway Line.

"I ran the race for two people in particular: Trish Kemsley and Alan McLeod, but there are many others I know, or have known, who have been blighted by cancer. Some are still with us but others have lost their brave fight.

"Trish was a Grampian Housing Association work colleague that I'd only known for the short time but who very quickly made a huge impact. Trish was one of those unique people who had a true gift of making you feel special, but she was the special one. As Covid took hold of the world, cancer took hold of Trish. She was one of the most positive, funniest, determined, inspirational people I have known. The updates and messages Trish sent while she was ill left me laughing out loud one minute and bawling my eyes out the next. Sadly our much loved colleague and friend to many recently lost her courageous fight. She will be missed.

"Alan was my ex-husband but we remained very close friends. He was the absolute best step dad to my two children and even after we separated I knew we could turn to him if I needed anything or just for a blether and catch up. Alan died from lung cancer exactly a year to the day I ran the race. I was fortunate to be with him at the end and will be eternally grateful to my step-family for allowing me that privilege.

"Alan had already gone and at the time of the race Trish was still fighting but struggling against the unforgiving disease. The least I could do was run a few kilometres to raise money for cancer research and hope that one day there will be a cure for this indiscriminate horrendous disease.

"In the two weeks in between setting up my Just Giving page and running the race the donations flooded in from friends, family and GHA colleagues. The response was overwhelming and humbling, particularly in relation to people who had their own cancer related stories.

"The final total raised for Cancer Research UK was a staggering £940 (my target was a tentative £200)!  Gobsmacked is an apt a word to describe my feelings towards the incredible generosity of all those who made a donation. Thank you."

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