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Join County Durham's housing conversation

Published: Monday 24 July 2023

Help Durham County Council shape a new plan to meet your housing needs, your community's needs and the needs of the county both now and in the future.

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believe housing’s new chief executive renews pledge to armed forces community

Published: Tuesday 4 July 2023

A housing association has reaffirmed its commitment to support the armed forces community following a change in leadership.

County Durham-based believe housing first signed up to the Armed Forces Covenant in 2020, pledging to treat military personnel, veterans, and their families with fairness and respect.

And Alan Smith, who became Chief Executive in April, recently put his name to it, ahead of Armed Forces Day, showing the organisation’s continued commitment to the Covenant as both an employer and a housing provider.

Alan said: “It works alongside everything else we do to be an inclusive organisation at every level, giving people opportunities to enhance their skillset, use their interests and experience and redirect them into communities after their service is complete.

“It really fits with our ‘life without barriers’ vision.”

believe housing holds the Employer Recognition Scheme silver award for exceeding its covenant pledges and providing exceptional support to the armed forces community and defence.

This includes supporting employees who serve in the reserve forces, offering extra holidays for mobilisation, and recognising the transferable skills and qualities that reservists and veterans can bring from their military career to its own workforce.

It also supports customers in the military community.

By part-funding the Armed Forces Outreach Service (AFOS), it supports a customer’s needs beyond their housing application. AFOS support can include help with benefits, employment, mental and physical health, family needs, and sourcing furniture or other household items.

Brigadier David Eccles, Regional Employer Engagement Director with The North of England Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association, said: “It is really important to us to have the support of any business, in this case a local one.

“We believe that people leaving the military today have something to offer employers - the ability to learn quickly, work as a team, show dedication.

“I’m sure believe housing is full of employees doing the same, but recognising the value of ex-servicepeople can help its recruitment process and show it is a welcoming employer.”

believe housing adds a splash of green to its fleet

Published: Tuesday 4 July 2023

A range of electric vans and cars has been added to believe housing’s fleet as it continues to find ways to reduce its carbon footprint.

The County Durham-based housing association, which manages more than 19,000 affordable homes, now has three Vauxhall Combo-e Life and 11 Vauxhall Vivaro-e vans and two Nissan Leaf cars in its fleet of 165 vehicles.

Last year believe housing moved from a flexi-lease arrangement to a sole contract vehicle hire company, Alphabet, and took the opportunity to downsize some of its vans and switch to 10 per cent of electric vehicles (EVs), which will increase in coming years.

The move was in line with believe housing’s environmental pledge to take significant steps to reduce its carbon footprint, which includes reducing fuel consumption.

Nik Turner, believe housing’s Executive Director Communities and Customer Services, said: “We are committed to reducing our impact on the planet and with lots of our people on the road every day, looking after customers and their homes, it was important that we cut carbon emissions from our fleet.

“As we learn how best to use the EVs, we hope to increase the percentage of them within our fleet and go even further to minimise our caron footprint.

“Our electric vans are cost effective to run in the long term, saving us money to invest in homes and housing services, and they’re also quiet and easy to drive so we hope colleagues and customers will appreciate the move.”

To support the operation of EVs, extra charging points have been installed at believe housing’s offices in Seaham and Bishop Auckland.

And employees, such as trade operatives in the Property Repairs Team, are being encouraged to use the vehicles, with incentives such as the installation of EV charging points at home.

In 2021 believe housing achieved net zero for its business activities and became the first housing association to achieve the Carbon Neutral International Standard and United Nations Climate Neutral Now initiative participation.

It was named Green Business of the Year at the North East England Chamber Business Awards 2022.

believe housing helps 22-year-old land job as joiner

Published: Tuesday 4 July 2023

A YOUNG man’s dream career is back on track after believe housing helped him to land a job with one of its subcontractors.  

Nathan Daniels began training as a joiner when he left school and was working towards a level 3 qualification when his employer said they couldn’t keep him on.

He then found himself in and out of various insecure and uninspiring jobs, until believe housing stepped in. 

The County Durham-based housing association provides employability support for anyone living in one of its homes or waiting to become a tenant. 

Joanne Brown, Employability Coordinator, explains: “I was able to get Nathan some practical support and keep him motivated when he needed it. 

“The best part of my job is seeing someone like Nathan move forward, and in his case different parts of believe housing were able to come together to get him into the role he was after.” 

While Joanne was working with Nathan, believe housing’s Procurement and Assets Teams were talking to Sendrig Construction about a contract to make internal improvements, such as rewires, new kitchens or bathrooms, to more than 100 homes. 

As part of Sendrig’s social value commitment it planned to offer a paid work placement to a believe housing resident. But, because Nathan already had experience and a level 2 qualification, the company offered him a job and training instead. 

Joanne worked closely with Groundwork North East and Yorkshire to support Nathan, through the DurhamWorks project which helps young people in County Durham who are not in education, employment or training.

She says: “Joint appointments with Nathan kept him motivated and, together, we got him financial help to pay for tools, asbestos training, a safety certificate, and two weeks' travel costs before he received his first pay.

“That meant he was able to take the job and move into sustainable employment.”

The 22-year-old, from Peterlee, says: “The support I’ve had has been great, Joanne has been there whenever I’ve had a problem. 

“Just before my first interview I broke my foot playing football and thought that was the end of it, but she kept in touch with me and Sendrig so the opportunity was still there for me. 

“She came with me to my interview, helped me get what I needed so I could do the job and, more than that, she’s helped with my mental health by always being there to offer support. 

“I’m really grateful and loving the job.” 

Sendrig’s Senior Commercial Manager, Gary Dillon, said: “Sendrig was over the moon to help place Nathan on site. As part of our site team, we can help him continue his journey in construction.

“Our social value commitment is a priority for the business going forward. By engaging with local communities, we can help improve as many areas as possible.”

David Taylor, Assistant Director of Major Works at believe housing, said: “Working closely with our contractors and suppliers to maximise social value, and support our customers and communities, is important to believe housing.

“Bringing Sendrig and Nathan together was win-win, as our contractor was able to recruit an enthusiastic new team member and a tenant’s son got the job he was after.”

believe housing removes barriers to welcome first trainee board members

Published: Wednesday 26 April 2023

Five people with a range of life skills and experiences have started an exciting new development programme which could turn them into board members of the future.

County Durham-based believe housing recently welcomed the first cohort to its Board Trainee Programme, as it seeks to increase the diversity of non-executive directors across the housing and third sector.

The trainees have a wide range of professional backgrounds, from running a family business and a top job in a power station to charity leadership, consultancy work and a career with the police. 

And their variety of everyday experiences such as parenthood, community volunteering and life as a housing association tenant offer the diversity of thought believe housing hopes to bring to the talent pool of potential board members.

Judith Common is Chair of the Board at believe housing, which manages more than 18,000 affordable homes and provides a range of support for customers and communities.

She said: “We know believe housing and the wider housing sector needs greater diversity at all levels.

“Our vision at believe housing is ‘life without barriers’ so we're constantly looking at any barriers and what we need to do to remove them.

“We recognise that all too often applicants to non-executive positions are from similar walks of life, they’re typically board ready.

“So we created this programme to enable people with different lived experiences to bring fresh thoughts and ideas to boards, to really challenge the status quo. This programme aims to remove barriers that might be holding them back.

“We hope these first board trainees benefit from the opportunity to develop their skills, knowledge, experience, and confidence.

“And hopefully they go on to enrich boards of the future, whether that’s here at believe housing or another housing provider or charity, helping them to make the best decisions for people and communities in our region.”

The first five board trainees to join the two-year development scheme are Victoria Worrall, Amy Mooney, Lindsey Wood, Kirsty Hopkinson, and Jo Costello.

Amy runs her family’s heating business and learnt about believe housing while researching housing providers with a social and environmental conscience. 

She said: “I'm proud of my business today. It's not always been plain sailing but hard work, mixed with determination and a willingness to accept trial and error as part of the process, has always seen us through.

“I was born on a council estate, I didn't go to uni, and remember feeling confused when asked in a job interview what my dad did for work.

“I like that believe housing sees value in the individual and understands the advantages that people from different backgrounds could bring to a board."

As deputy manager at the Peterlee-based charity East Durham Trust, which supports communities to overcome economic and social decline, Lindsey already knows the third sector well and understands the issues facing people in the region.

She said: "Working in this community for over 13 years, I see the huge impact housing has on an individual's circumstances. If someone is out of work, or if their home isn't a safe and secure place to be, it is going to be more difficult to face other challenges in life. It isn't just about the home, it is about neighbourhoods, a community, how safe they feel.

“Working for a smaller organisation, I'm always looking for outside opportunities to develop. This programme is an opportunity to learn more about the housing sector, its structure, and how it works.

“I hope to bring a set of skills and expertise that benefits both.

“I've been a resident of East Durham all my life.

“It is time our area, the whole of the North East, gets what it deserves. The potential to have an influence is what I hope the programme gives me."

Kirsty was drawn to the programme by believe housing’s vision of ‘life without barriers’.

To become a HR manager in the nuclear industry she had to overcome company norms, which historically required decades of experience to become a senior leader. And as a volunteer with Girlguiding UK, she has helped provide social opportunities for young people outside of school.

Victoria’s job as a project manager for Durham police is centred around delivery of ICT projects and she always focuses on the communities and people who need those services.

She said: “I’m also a single parent to a nine-year-old daughter and came to see the value that believe housing brings to communities through a brilliant forest school and garden that they have helped fund.

“When I saw the board trainee programme advertised, I jumped at the chance to apply and potentially have a role in supporting local communities across Durham.

“I saw it as a chance to learn more about a really important sector, and work with an organisation that understands the value in diversity and the qualities that individuals can bring to the table outside of professional qualifications.

“I would never have thought a board position would be an option for me, so this is a great way to develop my skills and confidence and learn from some experienced and inspiring individuals.”

Jo is a believe housing customer and is passionate about improving the lives of marginalised people. Working as a freelance consultant she helps organisations with training, organisational reviews, and strategic development and has supported several small and medium sized women-led charities.