Ballater 2

The Old School - Aberdeenshire Council

Our ambitious Old School regeneration project at Abergeldie Road, Ballater has won the Building communities for the future category and was also commended in the Conservation and building adaptation category in the Aberdeenshire Architectural and Landscape Design Awards 2023.

Designed by Ian Rodger Architects and owned by Grampian Housing Association (GHA), the housing development provides 24 properties for social rent (a mix of one, two and three bedroom flats and two and four bedroom family houses).

The design team also comprised McCue & Porter, quantity surveyor, Ramsay & Chalmers, structural engineer and Gordon Mitchell Contractors, builder.

Significantly, the development brought a building at risk back into use. It sympathetically combines retention of old buildings with new build through the use of modern materials. The quality of the refurbishment is extremely high. Real slates, traditional harling and lime mortar have all been used while window openings and the style of timber windows in keeping with the age of the building have all been retained. In addition, modern extensions and annexe buildings were removed to return the school to its original design.

Ian Rodger said: “We are overjoyed to have been recognised in those two categories.

“Well done to Grampian Housing Association, to have been proud enough of the finished scheme to put it forward for the award.”

The judges commented:- “The development is well thought out and provides a variety of properties within the former school buildings as well as the creation of new properties on the site. Through the positioning of the dwellings and the use of communal greenspaces, a welcoming and successful community has been created.

“Large buildings such as this are becoming obsolete, new uses need to be found for them to stop their deterioration and eventual loss. The Old School is a good example of how they can be reused and shows that it can be successfully achieved.”

Craig Stirrat, chief executive of Grampian Housing Association said:- “From the outset of the project there was a keen desire to provide well designed, high amenity and attractive housing so my thanks to Ian Rodger Architects for helping us to deliver on this.

“The development demonstrates how a considered layout, incorporating landscaping and green open spaces, can create balanced communities as well as deliver on housing need.

“In terms of wider regeneration benefits, the building was saved from decay which was important for local residents.”

The site of Grampian’s regeneration project in Ballater was identified in the Local Plan for affordable housing given the huge shortage in this rural area. It means more people have the rare opportunity to stay in the village which is their local area.

The building was disused, listed and situated within the Ballater Conservation Area. Through the introduction of flats and family homes, the site contributes to the wider community, including employment opportunities, supporting the local economy, protection of the local primary school and is a good example of a 20-minute neighbourhood.

The development attracted Scottish Government funding of £1,791,984 while Grampian contributed £2,338,907 through capital borrowing. Aberdeenshire Council Top Up Grant amounted to £198,000. The contract value was £3,464,710. The project also qualified for RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) funding of £282k over 20 years.

Grampian worked with Aberdeenshire Council to establish a Local Lettings Plan to ensure local people benefitted from the new homes. The ground floor accommodation is aimed at the ageing population in Ballater and young single people who could not otherwise afford to move out of their parents’ homes. There are also adapted properties with level access showers. In particular, the Association is supporting a local family who has a child with disabilities by providing accessible housing.

Ballater is Grampian’s first development to trial Switchee, a Smart asset management tool which ties into our wider sustainability strategy by monitoring the building’s health and optimising energy use. Lowering bills and reducing energy consumption makes it good for both tenants and the environment. In an effort to ensure building regulations were met and the carbon footprint of the new development was mitigated, ground source heat pumps have been installed to provide heating and hot water to the new properties. This also future-proofs the properties from a reliance on fossil fuels.

It was a double win for Grampian Housing Association at this year's Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland Awards Cermony.  Our new Heat and Eat initiative was announced the winner of the Excellence in Health and Wellbeing category.  There was also success for the Association's Chief Executive who won the Lifetime Achievement Award.  

The Heat and Eat initiative was launched earlier this year to address soaring energy bills and the cost of living crisis which is severely affecting many of the our tenants. With funding of £166,000 from the Scottish Government’s Social Housing Fuel Support Fund energy top-up payments of £245 were awarded to over 600 tenants.

An additional £20,000 was secured from The National Lottery Community Fund. This enabled slow cookers, air fryers, heated throws, winter duvets and warm clothing to be supplied to tenants. Fresh food packs were also distributed in partnership with CFINE (Community Food Initiatives in North East Scotland), a local organisation tackling poverty.

Rachel Byiers, Support Services Manager at Grampian said:- “We recognise the financial stress many of our tenants are experiencing and the tough choices they sometimes have to make between eating and heating.

"Through our money advice, housing support and energy advice projects we will continue to support our tenants in any way we can. We want to encourage our tenants to speak to us if they require any assistance. Thank you to our tenancy sustainment team for the work they do to support our tenants.

“By addressing the practical needs of tenants, Grampian is helping to reduce the anxiety associated with debt and fuel poverty which in turn helps to improve the health and wellbeing of tenants.”

The CIH Scotland Housing Awards recognise the creativity, passion and innovation of housing organisations and individuals across the sector. This year’s awards received over a hundred nominations across 19 categories.  The Association's zero emission heating project at Mackenzie Gardens, Turriff was shortlisted in the Net Zero in Housing category.  Margaret Waddell, former Business Improvement Manager was also shortlisted for the in the Lifetime Achievement which was won by Craig Stirrat, Grampian's Chief Executive.

Grampian Housing Association has appointed three new board members at our recent annual general meeting.

Freya Lees, Charlotte Torrance and Nikola Will were elected along with Dave Thomson, who had filled a casual vacancy during the year.

Feya is a housing consultant and former chair of Kingdom Housing Association; Charlotte is a local solicitor at Anderson Bain; Nikola works with the Citizens Advice Bureau and brings a tenant perspective from Aberdeenshire Council.  Along Dave, Housing Manager at Aberdeenshire Council the new Board Members bring a wealth of knowledge and experience.

Dr Abhi Agarwal, who was re-elected Chairman said of the new Board Members:

“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, law, asset management, policy and strategy.”

Commenting on his re-election, Abhi said:

“It has been another demanding yet rewarding year as chairman. Grampian is very much committed to doing what is right, to being the best it can be and to continue to deliver much needed housing and services to the communities we serve.

“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 in the post pandemic world where we face the challenges of the cost of living and energy crises.”

Dr 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. He 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. He is a provider of AI-based marine logistics optimisation software and a director of Calibre International Ltd, a business consultancy.

171023 New Board Members

Our Chief Executive, Craig Stirrat, won the Lifetime Achievement award in housing at the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland (CIHS) annual awards ceremony.  It was awarded in recognition of the lasting impact he has made on the housing sector having gone the extra mile during his career.

In accepting the award, Craig Stirrat said:- “To be honoured by my peers in the CIH is truly humbling and I appreciate the warmth and support from friends and colleagues, in particular my thanks to Board members and colleagues at Grampian Housing Association.

“Having held various housing management, strategic planning and asset management positions with Aberdeen City Council, Fife Housing Group and now Grampian, I am passionate and committed to driving positive change in the sector and leading colleagues to put tenants at the heart of service delivery.”

Craig was promoted to chief executive of Grampian in 2022 having joined in 2014 as director of business development when he re-established the development programme, increasing Grampian’s provision of new homes for social and mid-market rent from 3,300 to 3,800 and still growing.

While at Aberdeen City Council, Craig introduced its first anti-social behaviour helpline and mediation service; developed the scale of its homeless service and supported the establishment of Aberdeen Foyer, a local charity addressing youth homelessness and unemployment. He also improved collaboration with NHS Grampian around improved delayed discharges.

Craig has become an ambassador for housing in Scotland. He served for over 10 years on the CIH Scotland Board and is a former chair of the branch. He has also served on the UK HouseMark Board and the Scottish Advisory Board as well as on the Board of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.

Abhi Agarwal, chair of Grampian Housing Association said:- “I am delighted that Craig Stirrat has won the Lifetime Achievement award in recognition of his services to the housing sector.

“I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate Craig’s 40 years in housing. This recognition is a great day for social housing. I am proud and humbled to be the chair of Grampian and having the opportunity to work with Craig.”

Margaret Waddell, former Business Improvement Lead was also shortlisted for the Lifetime Achievement award.

ACarleOn Scottish Housing Day Alexander Carle, Director of Asset Management, Grampian Housing Association, explains how, with training and relevant qualifications, he and his team are proactively responding to one of the biggest challenges facing the housing sector – condensation and dampness.

The findings of the 2019 Scottish House Condition Survey (all tenures) report revealed that levels of damp and condensation were similar to those seen in 2018: 91% of properties were free from any damp or condensation. When we conducted our own sample stock condition survey in 2021, our surveyors found no discernible levels of dampness and mould.

Dampness and mould – so do we have a major issue?

Arguably the issue of condensation and mould has gone from a routine reactive repair and infrequently reported issue to a major issue for all landlords to address. The tragic death of toddler Awaab Ishak and the subsequent coroner’s report, which found damp and mould in his home contributed to his death demonstrates the importance of landlords dealing effectively with damp and mould and the potential consequences of not doing so.

At the end of 2021, the Housing Ombudsman in England published a report, Spotlight on Damp and Mould Social, calling on landlords to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to damp and mould. The Report argued that: 

Addressing damp and mould needs to be a higher priority for landlords …. with a change in culture from reactive to proactive in order to improve the experience of residents.”

This was quickly followed by the Scottish Housing Regulator issuing a letter of advice to all social landlords calling on them to:-

“consider the systems they have in place to ensure their tenants’ homes are not affected by mould and dampness and that they have appropriate, proactive systems to identify and deal with any reported cases of mould and damp timeously and effectively.”

Whilst we consider we have not been complacent as a landlord over the issues of dampness and mould, given the adverse media coverage in England we considered it was appropriate to give priority to the issue and review our response to ensure it was more proactive.

We have long understood the problems of condensation and therefore as a precautionary measure all our homes are fitted with extractor systems in kitchens and bathrooms that are on a trickle operation with humidistats to remove moisture to mitigate the need for our tenants to solely take actions.

As part of our commitment to continually improve our offer to tenants, we have developed The Grampian Deal, our new customer experience initiative.  We took the advice of the Scottish Housing Regulator to be an integral part of delivering the initiative and earlier this year we carried out a review of our systems and priorities for dealing with dampness, condensation and mould and have implemented the following changes:

  • Developed a new policy and procedure which includes a mandatory post inspection to check the issue has been resolved after any advice/remedial works.
  • Our investment strategy for delivering EESSH2 now also considers tackling fuel poverty to mitigate against potential unintended consequences around damp and mould due to lack of heating and ventilation.
  • We have reviewed our information, communication and support provided to tenants to ensure that these are effective in helping tenants to try avoid condensation and mould in their homes.
  • We have completed an awareness raising course delivered by an independent specialist to ensure that all staff understand the causes and risks, have the ability to recognise and knowledge on how to report early signs of damp and mould.
  • We have undertaken a review of skills gaps to ensure our technical staff, TLC (in-house maintenance subsidiary) and contractors have appropriate expertise to properly diagnose and respond to reports of damp and mould.
  • We have secured £18,000 from the Social Housing Fuel Support Fund to train and upskill frontline staff. 24 colleagues are enrolled on the City and Guilds Energy Awareness course while 10 colleagues are enrolled on a level 2 Vocational Related Qualification in understanding and preventing damp and mould in housing, equipping them to support tenants during the colder winter period.
  • We have changed our current approach to reporting and recording a dampness issue and we are now more confident that it is sufficiently accurate and robust to ensure a more effective and fully auditable response.
  • Under the umbrella of The Grampian Deal we have implemented more effective internal communication between our teams and departments, and ensure that one individual or team has overall responsibility for ensuring complaints or reports are resolved, with clear compensation and redress guidance.
  • As part of our wider commitment to tenants, all staff have undergone refresher training on customer care to ensure they treat tenants reporting damp and mould with respect and empathy.
  • We are in the process of rolling out digital sensors into tenants’ homes which will not only help us provide a more proactive and preventative maintenance service, which can identify amongst other things, higher moisture levels in a home that can lead to mould.
  • To establish a baseline of the true extent of the dampness and mould experienced by our tenants we surveyed over 4,000 tenants (in our social and mid-market properties) in August under the banner of “treating damp while the sun shines” in an effort to resolve issues before the colder weather. We have already had a 37% survey response rate, highlighting the priority placed on damp by our tenants.
  • To date 544 tenants have indicated presence of mould or they have experienced it in the past and in reply our customer response team have responded to each tenant seeking more detail.

The results of our survey so far suggest that 16.2% of our homes have had or are having issues with damp and mould which needs investigated. This is higher than the Social Housing Regulator’s estimate of 6.2% and higher than the 9% estimated in the Scottish House condition survey (2019).

By investing in our staff development, training and qualifications, we do feel more confident that our proactive response to date will help to tackle this scourge of housing and provide a more efficient and effective response to our tenants.

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