New possibilities for local communities fueling growth at Yorkshire Housing
12th November 2020
In the new series ‘Inspiring Growth in Yorkshire’ Ward Hadaway and the Yorkshire Post, talk to those companies leading the way in the region.
The series conceived and commissioned by Ward Hadaway celebrates entrepreneurialism, shines a spotlight on business success, and uses those who have been there and done that to act as a guiding light. This week we talk to Yorkshire Housing’s Nick Atkin, alongside John Murray, executive partner and Head of Social Housing at Ward Hadaway.
“We are living through a revolutionary period our grandchildren will study,” says Nick, who hails from Doncaster.
What’s interesting is the part this pioneer of housing policy will play in shaping that history – as the social housing organisation he leads is at the forefront of transformative change, shaping the communities of the future. The pandemic has simply accelerated his plans for change.
“COVID-19 isn’t good from many perspectives and especially for those hit worst from a health and economic perspective,” he says pragmatically. “There are some positives though, not least in terms of how we can better support our communities, customers and employees, as well as reducing our impact on the environment. Now is an opportunity to shape the lives we want to lead and connect as families and communities.”
Nick is someone who is a forerunner when it comes to thinking outside the box. He’s operated ‘paperless’ for 17 years and has long advocated working flexibly.
“We’ve stuck rigidly with a 9am-5pm routine since the post-war era and that drove swathes of people into cities to work. Over time, people got sick of the commute, so they moved to the cities, where housing is expensive and small. Now many of us are working from home, that brings huge changes to our living arrangements – and our housing needs.”
It was always on the cards that Yorkshire Housing would build 8,000 new homes over the next 10 years, but the scope of that housing need has changed overnight.
“Now people are looking at their houses – which have suddenly become their workspaces – and they’re thinking, ‘this doesn’t work’. They need larger homes and gardens for their families. They don’t have to commute as frequently as in BC (Before Covid) times so where once city living negated travel, that’s no longer a consideration. So rural homes surrounded by green spaces are in demand and they offer a better quality of life.”
Likewise, Nick believes we’ll see big changes to high streets across the country. He continues; “The pandemic has accelerated the decline of the high street. We’ll soon see empty buildings where shops once were and that presents an opportunity. How can we support locally based people with community facilities – places they can go to interact for work and leisure. Spaces where colleagues – and non-colleagues can meet, socialise and work. They might even live on the high street, with shared communal areas for work.”
John Murray says that Yorkshire Housing represents a shift he sees first hand.
“The housing sector has its own unique challenges; a product in high demand and limited supply, but with methods of delivery of some services severely curtailed by lockdown, income loss for tenants due to coronavirus, and remedial action for rent arrears effectively suspended for six months.
“This has driven the need to innovate to find practical and legal solutions, to amend processes and procedures and to regularly re-evaluate risk. Home working has highlighted the importance of true and trusted relationships between employer and employee, and lawyer and client, as we support each other.”
Nick says Yorkshire Housing has used the crisis to think big and long-term. And that is fuelling growth.
“We’ve changed how we work and we’ve put in the technology required to facilitate that for colleagues. Offering more flexibility as to how and when they work – which helps the work/life blend, especially as we’re all increasingly taking on caring roles, not only for children but for parents and grandparents too.
“We’ve also looked at how we can better support our customers. Flexible working for our colleagues means we can offer more flexibility for our customers too. For example, if they need a repair carrying out, traditionally that would have happened on a weekday between 9am-5pm. Now we can offer many more options that suit a 21st century lifestyle.”
In conclusion, Nick says; “The pandemic has opened up a whole range of possibilities for how people live their lives and it’s long overdue. Like many others, Yorkshire Housing has a once in a generation opportunity to grasp this opportunity with both hands and shape the future of how we work and live.”
This article originally appears in The Yorkshire Post on 12 November 2020.