Despite a current Government emphasis on new-build, maintaining and improving the quality of existing housing stock remains a priority for Local Authorities. Inherently sustainable, working with existing building stock is core to what we do within the Building Consultancy team at AHR, having ‘re-lifed’ thousands of places over the years.
Andrew France reports.
There have been many shifts in the exact arrangements for maintenance work. The popularity of ALMOs has waned somewhat although many still exist, and of these, a good proportion have taken maintenance back in house for quality control purposes via DLOs (Direct Labour Organisations). Some Local Authorities have taken back complete control of their stock, whilst other LAs and ALMOs are creating hybrid arrangements. Whatever the scenario, the same key principles apply.
The basis of sensible asset management will always be a Stock Condition survey, unfortunately, they have not always been produced in a way that is helpful. If the survey provides insufficient or the wrong kind of information it can end up languishing in a drawer, whilst too much data where it is not required can become confusing. So the purpose of the survey needs to be clear - and clearly briefed to an appropriate team. For example, many have found that sample surveys on a rolling basis are more representative than periodic surveys of an entire portfolio, and this requires one type of very broad-brush survey with fairly low levels of detail. When focusing down onto certain assets or estates – the sort of work we undertake at AHR – a higher level of detail is needed in order to ascertain exactly what work is required.
The benefits of good quality surveys are multiple, allowing far more coherent integration of responsive repair, capital works and cyclical maintenance programmes and making it easier to ensure stock will meet the needs of current and future tenants. For planned non-urgent maintenance, bulking similar works is also more efficient and less intrusive.
Efficiency and efficiency savings can and should be made only in ways that support – and preferably improve - quality. Consistently using the same trusted local supplier is one, ensuring quality, accountability and added social value. Framework Agreements are another: with each call-off the consultant and client build a better working relationship, with the consultant coming to know residents’ needs inside out. For example through our work with one key client over many years and multiple projects, our understanding of the needs of their residents has deepened and this level of trust and knowledge improves both service and efficiency of resourcing.
It is also imperative that tenants’ aspirations are at the very heart of decision-making about improvements. We know this in theory – but not all consultations are equal and ‘engagement’ can be skin deep if we do not think carefully about communication needs. For example, it is essential to ensure that everybody – and not just the vocal minority – is heard. It is also important that communication methods are appropriate and may need to be very specifically tailored, for example if some residents have visual or other impairments, and active feedback should be strongly encouraged.
Improvements need not be disruptive and reactivity can be minimised. By understanding the stock portfolio, by planning ahead, and by ensuring we are improving in line with what residents are actually saying they want and need, ‘re-lifing’ can be a sustainable option that improves both the stock and residents’ daily lives.
Sheltered Housing Case Study
AHR has been commissioned as part of a team to deliver a Sheltered Housing Investment and Improvement Programme for an ALMO in London, including undertaking detailed condition surveys at various sites as well as development of options and designs for proposed improvement works.
The client wants to improve the communal areas at each of their properties and to ensure that their stock of sheltered housing accommodation for elderly residents complies with Decent Homes Standards. Their new service, reflected in the change of name to ‘Independent Living Service’, will also provide an enhanced housing management service to each of their 18 sheltered schemes, assisting residents to live independently, and promoting social activities.
Initially, AHR undertook comprehensive surveys in order to provide detailed overviews of the condition of the properties, including all common areas, with minimal disruption to the residents. Following completion we undertook a thorough consultation process with the tenants at each of the properties, presenting design options for the refurbishment works, with the use of visual aids such as sketches and photographs. Feedback was strongly encouraged from both the residents and the client, in order to be sure that our proposals would not only meet Decent Homes Standards but – crucially - meet the needs of the occupants.
AHR’s designs were carefully considered in order to ensure that they were suitable for all levels of mobility and that works to the communal areas would encourage socialising and activities, including gardening and a sensory garden. The proposals also incorporated step free, level surfaces in order to ensure that they would be accessible to all residents, as well as the provision of shaded areas and external seating and lighting.
This article was published in LABM Magazine 1st September 2017.