Inventing our future

David Cowans

By David Cowans, Chief Executive of Places for People

We were delighted to be named Residential Company of the Year at the Estates Gazette awards in September. This accolade underlines the importance of innovating and diversifying to continually help improve housing delivery, and meet the different needs of local communities.

The judges highlighted that "when George Osborne made sweeping changes to the finances of housing associations in 2015, few would have expected that within two years a property management company with its roots in social housing would be named Residential Company of the Year". Our success however, isn't just a result of what we've achieved within that timeframe, but a long-term strategy that has seen us continually adapt and evolve to meet the aspirations of our customers within a challenging environment.

Anticipating the challenges that lay ahead as a result of changing government policies and an undersupply of housing, we decided to change our business model more than 15 years ago. We knew we had to innovate, think differently, try new things and become far more commercial to bring about significant change and respond to the ever changing marketplace while retaining our social purpose.

As a result, we sought to break the mould of the traditional housing association and change forever the way that places are built and managed. In 2001, we became the first housing association to build homes for private sale to finance social building. We have since grown into a national placemaking organisation comprising 21 different but complementary businesses, which collectively manages more than 153,000 homes.

Crucially, this model enables us to provide a wide range of tenure options to meet the needs and aspirations of our customers at different stages of their lives - from social housing and affordable starter homes for first-time buyers through to family houses and retirement villages. It has also allowed us to diversify into new areas and create innovative strategies to address issues affecting both our customers and business. These have included setting up Places for Children in 2005 to address a lack of childcare in several of our communities and which we later sold to a dedicated childcare operator. We also established an energy supply company, which enabled us to pass on significant financial savings to more than 30,000 customers in its first year.

Currently, our diverse operations include managing 116 leisure facilities, offering public sector procurement frameworks and a range of consumer financial products. We are also a significant housebuilder and provider of individual care and support.

Furthermore, our diversification has fuelled company growth, increased our income streams, and opened up new opportunities to help build at scale. These have included new partnerships with public and private sector organisations, which are set to develop great places and transform communities in the most sustainable way, with 15,000 new homes planned in the coming years.

This desire to innovate isn't about moving the social housing sector away from our social values, but delivering them more effectively. By being open to change, we can ensure that nobody is locked out of the housing market, that we can deliver the homes we desperately need, and that we are well prepared for the challenges we face both now and in the future.

27 October 2016