Courier – Business Magazine
22 August 2023
Julie Cosgrove, CEO of Caledonia Housing Association
As a social housing provider, our focus is always our tenants. We prioritise supporting our tenants during the most challenging economic pressures and work hard to manage our costs efficiently to develop new homes, maximise investment in our existing housing stock and deliver the services our tenants want, while continuing to keep rents affordable. This, in turn, creates strong and vibrant communities.
Our new five-year strategic plan, launched in April this year, detailed the priorities in continuing to improve our services to over 5,500 tenants and deliver a factoring service to over 2,300 homeowners, in addition to investment in new and existing homes. Our commitments include the provision of quality, energy efficient homes, cost-of-living support services, reducing carbon emissions and investing in digital and innovation to improve efficiencies and services to tenants.
Undoubtedly, the external environment presents challenges to increasing the supply of new homes. Costs and supply of materials, rising inflation and interest rates have adversely impacted housing supply. However, the strength and capacity of Caledonia Housing Association has been developed over the years through strong financial and treasury management, investing in the skills and capabilities of staff to manage large and complex development programmes and developing collaborative and productive partnerships with key stakeholders. Accordingly, we remain well positioned to deliver a significant new build programme and plan to build in excess of 600 homes over the next five years.
We are currently investing over £24m in new affordable housing in Dundee through a number of important development and regeneration projects, including:
In July, we launched our new Climate and Sustainability Strategy. It’s an ambitious and progressive strategy which sets out how we aim to tackle climate change and meet the Scottish Government’s net-zero target by 2045. Sustainability is core and central to our business strategy and is integral to how we operate on a day-to-day basis. It involves improving the energy efficiency and decarbonisation of homes, introducing new working practices that reduce our carbon footprint and adopting sustainable procurement practices. We are already seeing a difference. Between 2019 and 2022 we reduced our carbon footprint by 13%.
The cost-of-living crisis is one of our most critical areas and required that we readapted how we deliver and prioritise services to provide the support our tenants need. Many of our tenants face exceptionally difficult day-to-day challenges. It is our role to step up and support them. In November 2022, we established a formal partnership with Scarf, a UK-wide energy advice service, and immediately put together a programme of events and access to services so our tenants could receive advice on how to save money and keep homes warm, reduce energy bills and access financial support. We saw an instant reaction, with tenants swapping old style pre-payment meters for Smart meters, issuing heating vouchers, assisting tenants with resolving bills and writing off significant sums of energy debt with their supplier.
Since then we have provided over 2,600 pieces of advice and an estimated £39,000 worth of annual energy savings and in excess of £3,000 in energy financial payments have been made to tenants. We were delighted to recently receive £40,000 from the Social Housing Fuel Support Fund to expand the reach and scale of our energy advice and support programme.
The Caledonia workforce is key to providing the cost of living support that tenants need. Staff have worked incredibly hard in the past year to provide the advice, information and support that helps tenants in difficult times. To provide the best customer support, we recognise we need to attract, retain and develop the best people. Accordingly, significant effort is invested in ensuring the Caledonia workforce has the tools and skills to do their job well. Caledonia has been externally recognised as “a great place to work” and this is vitally important, as our people are critical to the success of our business strategy.
At Caledonia we firmly believe in the importance of integrating a business mind with our social purpose. Strong business values enable us to deliver the right services today, while being positioned to meet future need. Over the next five years our focus will remain on providing the best customer experience, delivering a wide ranging and sustainable programme of building and refurbishment of new and existing homes and developing strong and vibrant communities.