CStirrat

Grampian Housing Association and its subsidiaries have concluded a successful recruitment process with Craig Stirrat being announced as the new chief executive officer of the Grampian Group (comprising Grampian Housing Association, Let’s Choose Leasing and TLC Housing Maintenance).

Craig, who has been Grampian Housing Association’s chief operating officer since 2018, will step up into his new role at the beginning of April 2022.

Abhi Agarwal, chair said: “Craig’s appointment as CEO is testament to the great talent we have within the Grampian Group.

“We conducted a rigorous recruitment process during January and February and were delighted by the response from many high calibre candidates.”

Having joined Grampian Housing Association in 2014, as director of business development, Craig has considerable knowledge and experience across many aspects of social housing and social care. He was previously head of service with Aberdeen City Council, director of of a national body and more recently a director with Fife Housing Group.

Commenting on his appointment Craig Stirrat said: “I am delighted and honoured to be entrusted to the position of CEO of the Grampian Group.

“It is my job to ensure that our tenants, customers and the communities we serve as well as the talented people in the Grampian Group remain at the forefront of our business and I look forward to continuing to drive the Group to deliver excellent customer focussed services and value for money affordable homes.

“At a time when many households are facing the challenges of an increased cost of living, I will aim to ensure that tenants feel they are being listened to and that we do what we say we are going to do to help them, for instance by improving the quality and energy efficiency of homes including through renewable energy and assisting with access to fuel support funds to tackle fuel poverty.

“As a charity with a strong moral compass and values underpinning this, the challenge to do better and more for those we are here to help has never been more important.”

Craig’s appointment comes at an important time for the Grampian Group as it moves forward in 2022 to launch the “Grampian Deal”, a customer first initiative being developed in liaison with tenants to deliver great service, great results and great value for money.

Services have already been redesigned through the creation of the role of Neighbourhood Officer. With smaller areas, staff are able to get to know tenants better and services can be tailored to the needs of tenants or neighbourhoods based on their feedback.

A new approach to digital services is being implemented for those who wish to access services in this way.

It is people who make an organisaiton and the Grampian Group is committed to being a great employer through continued investment in learning and development and sector leading initiatives around wellbeing.

Grampian is the largest housing provider based in the North East of Scotland, serving over 3,600 social rent and mid market rent households, along with over 1,000 factored owners and almost 500 sharing owners throughout Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray. It has a substantial development programme of new build homes and is committed to adding 600 properties to its portfolio by 2024 to play its part in addressing significant unmet housing need in the area.

Five local charities, chosen by tenants of Grampian Housing Association, are set to receive donations through the annual distribution of £1,500 from its charitable fund.

Tenants in Aberdeen voted for Mental Health Aberdeen while in Aberdeenshire, tenants voted for the Forget Me Not Club and Aberdeenshire North Foodbank.  In Moray, Logan’s Fund and Moray Food Plus topped the poll.

Sandra MacIntyre, communications lead at Grampian Housing Association, said: “Tenants were really enthusiastic about supporting these charities and we would like to thank them for participating. 

“The importance of mental health and wellbeing has been brought to the fore as a result of Covid-19 so this is an appropriate way to play our part in raising awareness, promoting understanding of mental health and ensuring help is there when people need it.   

“Many of the Association’s tenants benefit from the services provided by foodbanks throughout the year so it is great to be able to support their work in this way.

“It’s the first time we’ve asked tenants to get involved in voting for their favourite charities and we were keen to acknowledge the work of charities which mean something personally to our tenants so this year it’s children’s cancer charity, Logan’s Fund and the Forget Me Not Club which supports people with dementia, their carers and families.”

A spokesperson at Mental Health Aberdeen said: “We would like to thank you for your thoughtfulness as we couldn't provide the service we do without generous donations from kind people like yourself.”

Mental Health Aberdeen provides support services, counselling and advice to children and adults and is dedicated to improving mental wellbeing.

Food poverty is on the increase.  Reasons for this are varied but include changes in personal circumstances, illness, welfare reform, low income and unexpected bills.  Last year alone, Aberdeenshire North Foodbank supported over 3,500 households and offers help beyond emergency food parcels.  Moray Food Plus also provides a variety of services to those experiencing or at risk of food poverty.  In addition, the charity works with partners to reduce the amount of local food waste taking surplus food and redistributing it amongst the community.

These charitable donations form part of Grampian Housing Association’s corporate social responsibility commitment and its wider role as a community anchor organisation to support

the third sector and voluntary activity in the communities it serves.

This commitment compliments the range of tenancy sustainment services which the Association provides itself to help tenants get the most out of living in their homes including projects such as SMART (money advice), ASSIST (housing support) and energy advice.  The work of these projects recently gained national recognition when the Association’s “Supporting Tenants” initiative was shortlisted in the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland awards in the Excellence in Health and Wellbeing Category. 

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.

An eventful final quarter of 2021 is being marked at Grampian Housing Association following shortlisting success for three nationally recognised housing awards.

At the SURF (Scotland’s Regeneration Forum) awards ceremony in December the Association was a finalist in the Best Practice in Community Regeneration category for its regeneration of the former primary school at Abergeldie School in Ballater, Aberdeenshire.  The rural housing development sympathetically combines retention of old buildings with modern new build and comprises 24 properties, a mix of flats and family homes.    

In late November, the Association’s tenancy sustainment services and customer response unit were shortlisted for two CIH Scotland Excellence in Housing Awards in the health and wellbeing and customer service categories respectively.

Sandra MacIntyre, communications lead at Grampian Housing Association said:- “We are so pleased to have been in the running for these awards and to have the opportunity to put the invaluable work being carried out by Grampian in the North East of Scotland back on the map.

“Ultimately the collective action of our teams means that our tenants are winners both in terms of the commitment demonstrated by staff in having their needs at the centre of what they do and the high quality of services in place to support them.  

“Congratulations to other shortlisted entries and the winners.”

Recently, the development at Abergeldie Road was officially opened by HRH The Prince Charles Duke of Rothesay.  Tenants will be moving into their new homes early in 2022.  Community engagement was integral in this project to deliver affordable housing to meet the housing needs of local people.   

The CIH award for excellence in the health and wellbeing category recognised the work of the housing support, money advice and energy advice projects.  Staff ensured the wellbeing of tenants was prioritised through the challenging times of Covid-19.  In addition, a range of new services were introduced to support tenants adversely affected by the pandemic including an energy crisis fund, tenant hardship fund and wellbeing calls.

In support of the submission a tenant commented: “Over the years I don’t know what I’d have done, or who I could have turned to if I didn’t have the help of my support worker who has been amazing.”

In the CIH Scotland Excellence in Customer Service category it was the Association’s “committed to customer service” initiative which caught the attention of the judges.

Frontline staff continued to provide telephone advice and support throughout lockdown.  As a self-organising team there are numerous examples of how they were able take into account the needs of individual customers and go the extra mile to improve their service delivery experience.  In addition, the team were involved in implementing a new telephone system, a new digital lettings service, These Homes, and CX-Feedback, customer experience software.  

Recognition in the awards demonstrates Grampian’s commitment to going beyond being a traditional social landlord by not only providing high quality affordable housing but supporting tenants to get the most out of living in their homes and creating communities where people want to live. 

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. 

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