An ‘over-the-hedge’ fund is an investment worth making

Made to Measure?

The conversation about how we can best measure success in our community work, and more importantly, how we can avoid stifling success by focusing too much on measuring it, has been constant in recent weeks.

We are at the very beginning of this journey in Coastal and it was really helpful, at the TPAS Cymru conference a week or so ago, to speak with tenants and landlords about our progress. What was most heartening when putting together the presentation, was that the practical examples of how we are using Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) had driven out some of the theory I had planned to talk about. No bad thing.

In June, when Cormac Russell came to Coastal, we spoke about measuring success by asking “how many of your neighbours do you now know?”. Immediately I was mindful that this may be perceived as a negligible measure of success by some – perhaps our Management team, or our Board of trustees or other colleagues – but the concept has stuck with me for several weeks since. And this week in my personal life, it’s significance finally landed.

In March 2017 my partner and I moved to our current house. The day we moved in, whilst my father in law and I were carrying a tumble dryer, my next door neighbour (Chris) walked past. We had worked together back in 2004 and I realised there was a familiar face close by.

Suns out, strimmers out

Fast forward 16 months and I’m ashamed to say that’s probably where my network (in my street) remained.

That is, until the sun came out.

My next door neighbour (on the other side) was in his front garden mowing his lawn one evening when I returned home from work. We spoke for about about 10 minutes about how the grass was growing faster than he could cut it and about how, that day, he had caught the bus 3 miles to Argos and purchased a strimmer. When he returned home, the cable had been frayed. When he phoned the shop the assistant told him he would have to return it. Back he went, on the bus, only to be told there were no more in stock. He would have to purchase the more expensive model. Reluctantly, he agreed and returned home on the bus. When he arrived, he set up the machine and plugged it in and, feeling majestic, he took aim at the hedge. And with the very first action he cut straight through the lead.

When we both stopped laughing, we agreed that when he needed access to my property to cut the other side of the hedge, he should invite himself and not need my consent.

He lives with his 90 year old mother and on Monday the week before she was attempting to put her bins out unsuccessfully, so I gave her some help in his absence. He thanked me for this during our chat.

Darkness on the hedge of town

On Saturday, I was in my front garden attempting to battle with my 12 foot hedge. Chris told me that the previous occupant had been trying to cultivate it to stop footballs coming over. Realistically, i think he was trying to interfere with the flight path overhead, such was its height.

Whilst dripping in sweat and losing my battle against the almighty shrub, a neighbour walked past from 4 doors up. He introduced himself and we spoke about my futile efforts. At the time he was chasing the rag and bone man, wanting to get rid of an old bike belonging to his youngest son. His son was now 12 – my daughter is 11 – and we chewed the fat about the trials and tribulations of the transition to comprehensive school.

An hour later his wife came down to speak to me. We spoke about a gang of men we had seen it the street earlier in the week and the criminal activity that had been witnessed. We agreed that we would each become more vigilant in the street and I would speak to the PCSO about a more regular patrol. We would also keep each other up to date if any matters progressed.

Later that afternoon, I was reflecting on what had happened, and realised the similarity with a question in Nurture Development’s ‘Good Life Conversation’

“What do you care about enough to join others in doing?”

In this instance, neighbours came together to discuss positive change in their area against a backdrop of an unfortunate situation that we did not invite or welcome. The welfare of our children and the reputation of our community, uppermost in our priorities.

Turning back to our community work, and my earlier statement – success measured by the number of neighbours we know is perhaps a negligible exercise – I’m now minded to staunchly defend it. Residents of Coastal Housing Extra Care scheme, Ty Twyn Teg will no doubt take the same stance, having spent 6 months getting to know their community, welcoming them in with open arms.

35 of us made pledges in Coastal recently to take these conversations forward and we have some exciting stuff planned over the Summer to see how far those chats have travelled.

I now have considerably more currency with my neighbours because of the conversations of the last week, than I did previously. From here, who knows where we will be in 12 months time?

And it all started with a garden hedge. Perhaps tearing down hedges (or walls for that matter), will encourage more conversations and allow us to come together more frequently.

Let’s hope.

Oh, “how did you get on with the hedge?”, I hear you ask.

Hedge 0, Ross Williams 1


Let the doubt be spoken out!

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd” – Voltaire

As World Cup Fever consumes the nation, doubts start to come to the surface in all 4 corners of the UK for very different reasons. In England, many people have their reservations about the distance their newly invigorated (?) national team can progress in the tournament before the inevitable dramatic exit, usually to Germany, usually on penalties.

In other home nations, we all hold separate doubts about how quickly our countries are able to shake the disappointment of the recent qualifying campaign and hit an early stride in the quest for Euro 2020 qualification.

This week in Coastal Housing we welcomed Cormac Russell to speak to staff about Asset Based Community Development.

After attending a 2 day course with Cormac in Croydon back in February, discussions quickly progressed about bringing one of the leading speakers on ABCD to Swansea.

Rightly or wrongly, I imposed pressure on myself for the 2 days to go well and be viewed as successful. So this was a big moment for me. But let’s be honest, it was totally out of my control. People will get what they give.

In Coastal, we are keen users of ‘Systems Thinking’, only recently revising our ‘void and lettings’ process, along with many others in recent years, and designing systems around the things that matter to our tenants. We also have huge regard for the maintenance and repairing of relationships, and achieve this through our commitment to Restorative Practice.

I suppose one doubt I had, after around 3 months in Coastal, was whether there was simply enough capacity for colleagues to be using each of these approaches. In short, was ABCD going to be ‘another thing to learn’, and not be received as I would have liked?

But, there have been many positive signs in my first 9 months. Over 130 colleagues attended sessions we ran offering ‘An Introduction to ABCD’, and naturally, conversations from this have progressed.

What I’ve realised since Christmas is that I’d possibly seen each of these approaches exclusively. I know others had too as they have been humble enough to admit that to me. The truth is there’s a time and a place for each. It isn’t one or the other. They all form part of a toolkit for staff to dip into and use when the time is right.

The Community Asset Team, and our Extra Care colleagues particularly, have embraced ABCD and their results have been plentiful, albeit not always successful. In recognising the potential rewards, team members have continually picked themselves up when things haven’t gone to plan, and they’ve gone again…. and again. As a manager, you cannot ask your team for more.

You only have to follow @ryan_harris1 and @charlinabevanj on Twitter to see the great work that has gone on in Ty Twyn Teg, our Extra Care scheme in Neath.

TTT pic

Recent 100th birthday celebrations at Ty Twyn Teg

Their efforts to welcome the people in with both hands repeatedly pay dividends and ‘community’ has indeed become a verb, rather than a noun. In being humble enough to recognise we have previously been occupying space that would be far better owned by the community, our fortunes have improved.

On Day 2 of our time with Cormac, when joined by the highly experience Chris Shinnock, we were invited to openly speak about resistance (internally and externally) and our doubts, particularly those in relation to ABCD in Coastal.

I found this exercise extremely valuable.

One Housing officer doubted what could be achieved if agencies and communities weren’t on the same page.

One thing was for certain though. When we lay ourselves *vulnerable* to ‘let the doubt be spoken out’, we immediately show that we don’t have all the answers. I took great solace from the fact we did this only the week before in our Morriston project, with community members in the room.

*If you haven’t yet listened to the wonderful Brene Brown’s TedTalk on ‘The Power of Vulnerability” I recommend you go now….. just as soon as you’re finished reading 🙂  *

The vulnerability we are willing to show also readdresses the power balance in any relationship. Communities inevitably look to institutions to set the tone and identify the path, and when that doesn’t achieve its successes, it can hinder the buy-in from that community.

“You don’t know what you’re doing”.

Sometimes ‘institutions’ don’t know. But because they haven’t felt able to show this to communities, they have paid the price.

Friday, in letting our doubts be spoken out, this culminated in various people in the room pledging to take things forward themselves as a result of the doubts they had. Others were invited to stand behind that person if, indeed, they shared the same doubts.

This was a truly powerful exercise and summed up beautifully by Support Worker Katy Phillips (@Katy_Coastal) who said ‘when I spoke up and said what I had doubted and what I would now do, others came and stood behind me and I immediately felt stronger. I took that as a symbol that I had their support and that makes it easier to face the problem’.


On Thursday Morning, one of Cormac’s first questions to the group was “How much risk are you prepared to take over the next 2 days?”. This comment from Katy was proof if proof were needed, that she had indeed taken a risk to be vulnerable, and that had garnered a response from those who shared the same doubt.

Let’s be honest (in itself not always easy), we all have doubts. We have doubts in our personal lives and in our professional lives. I agree with the notion that doubt will kill more dreams than failure ever will.

Professionally I’ve had more in the last 9 months than I care to remember. They’ve not stopped us achieving some good things.

Now I know they won’t stop us achieving great things in the future either.


What is the purpose of Anonymity – ‘the cloak of a coward’?

A few weeks ago, myself and several members of my team were attending an event in Neath, hosted by Port Talbot Afan and Women’s Aid, and attended by a plethora of partners who provide a range of services ranging from mental health support to assistance for those who are victim of domestic abuse.

At the event I sent out a tweet – a standard attempt to promote our attendance – and more importantly, the purpose of our attendance.


Coastal Housing’s attendance at this event was influenced by the strong Employability and Skills links that we have built over the years – with huge credit to the work of Rob Morgans – but also, because tenants told us in several events held over the Christmas period, that our biggest priority should be our ‘offer’ to tenants.

             “I didn’t know you could help me get back to work”

             “But you’re just my landlord”

             “You can help me learn how to use my tablet? I didn’t know that.”

 As a ‘systems thinking’ organisation, Coastal designs its services around ‘what matters’ to tenants. So, why were we there? Tenants told us we had more work to do.

The event was a great success, and just 7 months in to post, it was a great opportunity to develop stronger relations with those partners who benefit so many people in the South West Wales area.

Into the Weekend

The working week came to a close and that evening, my partner and I travelled to Bristol to watch an idol of mine, Frank Turner, at the sad expense of a friend who suffers with MS and was unable to attend due to illness. We were just walking to the venue when, in response to the post above from earlier in the day, the following tweet came through, from earlier in the day.


Now, anonymous Twitter accounts are ten a penny, but there is something in there which shows something a little more closer to home. And, given I bloody care about the work of my team and that of my organisation, I wanted to be present and considered in my response.

So, there are a few points to make.

Firstly, I am well aware where my wage is funded from but it’s always nice to have a reminder from someone who has such little courage of their convictions they feel they have to hide behind their all-too-easily-gained anonymity, hardly the voice I would want speaking for the working classes.

Secondly, it’s very easy to not get carried away with how wonderful we are, because we aren’t. We have lots to do to be better (some of this is outlined below). We can provide a better service and we can better evidence the difference we make. And this brings me to the final point.

Where is the evidence that ‘most tenants would prefer the lower rents’ at the expense of these additional services which I am lucky enough to manage? That assumption would fly in the face of the comments tenants gave us back in December – “we want to know more about what can offer”. If it’s simply a personal view, it’s a pretty short sighted viewpoint to take, when many organsiations across the UK are able to demonstrate the difference these roles have made by helping people gain employment, volunteer, training opportunities, increase wellbeing, reduce isolation in communities, become more digitally included. I could go on.

“Show me numbers”

There’s a fantastic line in The West Wing, when a young Jed Bartlet is being lobbied for equal pay for women by his father’s secretary Mrs Landingham. He says “If you want to convince me of something, show me numbers”. So for what it’s worth, here’s my ‘numbers’.

In the month of April alone, 32% of the tenants who were *introduced* to our Digital Inclusion Coordinator did so for reasons relating to Universal Credit. The ‘lower rents’ mentioned in the tweet above would ultimately mean that this support would not exist and people would have to fend for themselves. I think anyone advocating that ‘Working Class Lives Matter’ would agree that’s not the preferred route. Full service has now rolled out in Neath Port Talbot and Swansea and the impact of this is starting to be seen with arrears growing rapidly, but we are thankful we have lessons to learn from so many others who have mitigated the effects of welfare reform.

*It reads ‘introduced’ not ‘referred’. We have only recently adopted this softer language, used widely by the fantastic team of Local Area Coordinators in Swansea, and a continuation of our commitment to Asset Based Community Development. A ‘referral’ would imply 1. There is something ‘wrong’ with you, and 2. The referrer has the power to fix that. Both wrong.*

Purpose! Purpose! Purpose!

So, back to the tweet. I’ve spent a few weeks pondering Why we do what we do? What is the purpose of what we do, and how do we justify our existence?

We’ve had open discussions of this nature in the Community Asset Team, about how we better demonstrate our effectiveness and increase our accountability to our tenants. You’ll notice that reads ‘tenants’, NOT ‘anonymous Twitter accounts’.

Each role within my team is there to support our 4 area Housing teams and to help sustain each of the 5,500 tenancies we have.

  • Digital Inclusion – Enabling those in Coastal communities to enhance digital skills and connectivity to community life
  • Health and Wellbeing – Raising awareness of the resources that can improve wellbeing and support healthy communities
  • Employability and Skills – Provides the advice and guidance to connect citizens with the right opportunities for better work and training

There are other roles within the team (Community Asset Coach and Home Adaptations) where this work still needs to be done.

We are currently developing a set of measures for each post that will enable us to demonstrate our effectiveness (or not) in achieving our purpose.

And in 12 months’ time when my team are either able or unable to demonstrate the fruits of their labour, I will be standing side by side with them, and owning either the successes or failures, likely a mixture of both. When sharing that work with others at conferences across the sector, or on social media, I’ll be frank and honest. I know what I want that ownership to say about me. I know how I want my team to be inspired by someone who owns their mistakes as well as their successes.

One last thing…

Below is just some of the other exciting work we have on-going in the team, none of which would exist if we operated in the world suggested above by #WORKINGCLASSLIVESMATTER :

  • We’ve recently held a hugely successful Pop Up Business School in Swansea, in partnership with City and County of Swansea and Pobl Group. This event gives support and practical advice to the next generation of Business Leaders. It is currently the highest attended event in the UK this year, and the 6th highest ever.

The Swansea Pop Up Business School, in partnership with Swansea Council, Coastal Housing and Pobl Group

  • A Foundational Economy project is shortly due to commence in Morriston, but some of the introductory conversations with businesses have been incredibly positive. Our aim is to provide support and guidance to businesses in relation to ‘what matters’ to them, to understand what gets in the way of success and understand what support they would benefit from. This will hopefully foster an increased sense of agency in leading change.
  • In Aberavon, we are working closely with a group of passionate local people to identify the priorities for Aberavon. This can only be achieved by talking to the community and not deciding this for them, in their absence. We are hoping this will take us into schools and potentially result in some inter-generational work with one of our Extra Care schemes on Aberavon beachfront.
  • In that particular Extra Care scheme we are looking at how we take forward a project with a community artist, and create an identity amongst our tenants that embraces the skills, gifts and passions they have, sharing them with the wider community.
  • This week, along with one of our community housing officers, I’ll be meeting with Dewis Housing, who provide housing to young people, to see if we can get some young people on board to talk about how they love where they live.

In closing, I’ll just say that the tweet above caused me to revisit our purpose. So, thank you because it’s shown my team and I that we are on the right track, with lots left to do.

Standing on the sidelines and slating those with good intentions is easy. THIS is the difficult stuff.

“Getting comfortable, being uncomfortable!” #daretofail

Getting Comfortable, Being Uncomfortable

A person who I have great respect for once told me to try to learn being ‘comfortable, being uncomfortable’. It may sound silly and even total nonsense to some people but it is a tool I have to put to good use too regularly to ignore.

I commenced my role in Coastal Housing in September 2017. I knew I would have to get good at this very early.

Comfort Zone

Let me explain.

I’d been through a recruitment process which pushed me outside of my comfort zone repeatedly. Inevitably, as many applicant’s do, I set myself the target of knowing everything about the organisation by the time the post closed. Then, when I was successfully shortlisted, I strove to ensure I know  more (if that’s even possible) by the time of my interview. You can see how this inevitably leads to failure.

We can’t know everything. None of us do. This is what makes us human.

In my previous role this was expected of me. And to a certain degree, it was possible. But it was ultimately going to fail, because I was expected to always know the answer. The culture demanded this. This expectation is unsustainable and dishonest when it comes from a source that also doesn’t know everything.

Now, I’m a part of a culture that acknowledges humility, a value I think I have increasingly placed above any other; a culture that acknowledges my imperfections (of which there are too many to list); and a culture that acknowledges that none of us – from the very bottom to the very top of our organisation – has all the answers.

My first 6 months in Coastal has disappeared and throughout I have been allowed to dare to fail. My team are also given full licence to do likewise. Rightly so, my team members will turn to me for direction. And if I am unsure I will say “I don’t know”.

To me, it has always seemed like a perfectly valid answer though I acknowledge there have been times I haven’t been true to myself and I’ve not said it often enough. Whether that is because I believed should have known the answer (hey ho, I’m human) or whether I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t in control.

It’s a funny thing, control. ‘In control’ of what?

The questions we have as individuals, as teams, as a society even, are the things that bind us together. It’s the answers that divide us.


Let’s take Brexit, for example (stay with me).

Back in the Summer of 2016 the country was mobilised (72.2% turnout) by a fundamental question about our future. Those who thought they knew the answer stepped up, to any microphone willing to listen, and said THEY had the answers. Two years on, those answers continue to drive a wedge between our political spectrum and polarise us a people, especially when those who stepped up fail to acknowledge they actually ‘didn’t know’. And we’re back to humility again.

And your point is…?

…That there is power in the answer ‘I don’t know’. This can start a journey of discovery where colleagues, teams and communities take ownership and find answers together.

“Will [this] work?”

“I don’t know. Shall we find out?” or “If it doesn’t, at least we’ll learn”

Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Show others it’s O.K. to not have all the answers. Because if we’re honest, none of us have them. Learning starts at the edge of our comfort zone and special things happen with questions, with possibilities, with daring to fail.

And one thing’s for sure. We all fail 100% of the time at the things we don’t try.


Community Asset Coach – The bits the JD doesn’t tell you…..

Community Asset Coach – The bits the JD doesn’t tell you….

Where are we now?

The Team at a weekly CATch up meeting

This is such an exciting time to join us in a brand new role for Coastal Housing. I took up the post of Community Asset Team Manager in September 2017. This prompted the beginning of our journey towards embedding Asset Based Community Development across the organisation. We are still in the planning stages for much of what we plan to take forward but we have several exciting projects in the pipeline which are really starting to take shape.

These plans will move us into new territory, where our communities are in total control of their future and we only play the role they want us to play. Our commitment to Restorative Practice ensures we are doing ‘with’ communities, not doing ‘to’ them.

The Team

You will be joining the Community Asset Team and I’m extremely fortunate to lead such a passionate group of talented and enthusiastic people who are responsible for various functions that support the sustainment of tenancies and the development of Coastal Communities.

The team consists of our Employability and Skills officer, who provides the advice and guidance that connects tenants with the right opportunities for better work and training.

Claire Watkins (Targeted Recruitment and Training Officer), Katy Morris (Home Adaptations Officer) and Rob Morgans (Employability and Skills Officer), following a successful Prince’s Trust (Wales) event in October 2017

Additionally, our Health and Wellbeing Manager raises awareness of the available resources that can improve wellbeing and support healthy communities. She also provides line management to 2 Extra Care schemes in Neath and Port Talbot. We are at an exciting planning stage of using asset based approaches to connect these schemes to the communities where they are located, reducing loneliness and isolation and connecting people to others around them.

Digital inclusion has never been more important with the introduction of Universal Credit now rolled out in Neath, Port Talbot and Swansea. Our Digital Inclusion coordinator enables community access that improves digital skills and enhances citizens connectivity to community life.

Finally, we have a Home Adaptations team which provides support to tenants to allow them to live in their homes for longer and our ADAPT project, which we host on behalf of a group of partners, provides the right accommodation to tenants who have additional needs in order to live independently.

Are you the final piece?

Oh, and there’s one more post. That’s the Community Asset Coach. Is that you?

Does working alongside a team of highly knowledgeable and highly skilled housing officers to develop the operational delivery of asset based community development sound like a role you’d enjoy?

Are you able to look past what’s wrong in communities and help them to build on what’s already strong?

Could you work closely with our Housing and Development colleagues to promote cooperative housing across Coastal Communities?

Are you able to ensure ‘what matters’ to tenants is drawn into our service delivery by facilitating our ‘Coastal Conversations’ with tenants, drawing on good practice across the sector?


Will our ‘Coastal Conversations’ benefit from your leadership?

You will be given the autonomy to be creative and innovative in helping communities shape their own solutions to their own problems. You will help to capture the stories of individuals and communities whilst working alongside partners such as local area coordinators, police and colleges, amongst others.

If this challenge is for you, we would love to hear from you. Come and join us and help our communities identify and mobilise, their own assets and tell their own stories.



You’re either with us, or against us!

I write a blog every now and then for various reasons. Mainly, because I love writing. I’m not very good at it, and I always think I can be, and want to be, better than I am.

So imagine you were good at writing. Imagine you had not only ‘qualified’ in this vocation but that you were fortunate enough to hold a position of influence in a national newspaper where you could influence others by being really good at it.

Well this blog entry is a little bit different.

This is a direct retort at today’s (Tuesday 23rd January, 2018) Daily Star front page headline. The Headline reads ‘Stressed Ant’s Telly Awards Meltdown’.  The article is written by Peter Dyke.


The following statement, Mr Dyke is specifically for you.

I am savvy enough to understand that headlines like this sell papers. But just because you can print a headline like this, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. I’m sure a publication such as yours is under immense pressure to do in large quantities, and in doing so, scrape the barrel of whatever stories you can for the purposes of simply selling copies.

I don’t read your paper. I never will. You (The Daily Star) have never inspired me, until today. Today, unbelievably, you have.

You have inspired me to write to you and defend someone I have never met. You have inspired me to challenge your article, which does much more than just attack a very famous celebrity who is going through a difficult time in an immensely successful career. Your article, whether you believe it or not, attacks everyone who may be going through the same thing.

Mr McPartlin is going through an event that is singlehandedly THE most stressful event I have gone through in my life. I can’t imagine my life being splashed across a front page in the name of entertainment in that way. I say that just so that you know I am speaking from experience.

Do you feel that you have to write articles of this nature to get ahead in your career? That can’t leave you with a sense of pride at the end of a working day.

Do you feel under pressure that if you didn’t strive for the kind of headline and scoop that you have achieved today, your job would be on the line? Surely that doesn’t give you job satisfaction.

Do you feel obligated because this is the nature of the industry you work in and the publication you work for? Does that make you wish you had chosen another path?

Personally, if you were my son, my brother, my father I would be unapologetically ashamed of you!

When you use a person’s struggle with mental health as ‘news’ and ‘entertainment’, you display such low levels of compassion that it is difficult to understand where you would draw the line, if at all.

Would you read an article on your brother, son or father and feel this pride with which your writing exudes? Or would you convulse with a sickening contempt for those that printed such utter garbage?

As a journalist in a major tabloid you will need no telling that life can sometimes be extremely tough. And ‘tough’ is relative. When those struggles become, or even seem, too much to cope with, we would hope that those around us reach out for help. We create such a society by understanding mental health and being tolerant of its many complexities and constraints.

Your headline does nothing to engineer this. But it does sell papers.

So for what it’s worth Mr Dyke I have some advice. Please do with it as you want.

I’m sure deep down you are a far nicer person than this headline and the story depicts you as being.

If you feel that you need to act in this way due to the nature of the industry you are in or the pressure placed on you by your ‘superiors’, or even because you think someone who is rich and famous is ‘fair game’ and doesn’t suffer to any meaningful level, then you should do something else with your life.

When you go to bed tonight you should look yourself in the mirror and ask whether this article contributes to a better understanding and tolerance of mental health or whether it made it more difficult for the 1 in 4 of us that suffers in a similar way. We both know the answer to this.

Look around you at the very next 3 colleagues in your line of sight. One of them, or indeed yourself, will suffer in the same way. You’ll want the world to embrace you, even though you’ll also want it to get the hell away from you. You’ll push it away when, at the same time, you’ll want nothing more than for it to call your bluff and pull you close.

I hope you never suffer in a similar way as those 1 in 4, or Mr McPartlin. And if you do, I hope people treat you far better than how you’ve treated them today.

My grandmother said to me once that I should ‘never be afraid to stand up for what I think is right, even if I’m the only one standing’. Well, I’m not the only one standing. There are millions of us around the world who stand by those who suffer with mental health. Millions of people who understand that your star doesn’t shine any brighter when you dim someone else’s.

Be better.

You’re either with us or against us!

#TogetherStronger – Housing, Development and Communities – The value of Co-operative Housing


#TogetherStronger – Housing, Development and Communities – The value of Cooperative Housing

I’ve written this article in response to Mark Smith’s (Wales Co-operative Centre) blog ‘Network proves that houses become homes in Co-op’ . Far from being a blatant attempt to gate-crash what is now a widely known hashtag (in Wales anyway), this article aims to show that unity is required on many fronts to face the various challenges and potential rewards posed by the Co-operative Housing model.

I too was in attendance at the Wales Co-operative Network event in November of 2017 in Carmarthenshire, the first in my new role of Community Asset Team Manager in Coastal Housing Group.

The meeting was attended by a small amount of officers like myself who work in various roles in Housing and the third sector across Wales. More interestingly, the majority of the attendees were community members who were in attendance either to speak about their own communities or hear from others in attendance and take their own ideas back to their own organisations, or both.

Anyone who sits in endless meetings will know how refreshing it is to be a part of a discussion where people speak from the heart rather than a spreadsheet or Key Performance Indicators (no offence to any Finance people reading).

Heart of ‘Old Oak’

The event was a fascinating insight into one particular co-operative in Carmarthenshire called ‘Old Oak Housing Co-operative’

‘Old Oak’ was formed in 2014, PRIOR to the development being built. Through regular housing management sessions, training opportunities with their landlord (Pobl) and the Wales Co-operative Centre, they have fostered a democratic spirit and elected a Board for the co-operative, who oversee any decisions and agree on expenditure.

The attendees were a truly inspirational group of people who were clearly passionate about their community and their homes. They held an extremely mature and respectful relationship with their landlord and were solution-focused in their outlook to any issues they may be presented with.


Open Up Your Door

Following a quick visit to a vinyl shop in Carmarthen – the wonderfully named ‘Tangled Parrot’ – I drove back home pondering the various considerations I had and how these could be progressed within Coastal:

  • How do we start a conversation that dovetails the role of Housing Management with Development in Coastal so as to engineer a similar scenario whereby residents are able to take steps to be a part of a community long before they move into a scheme?
  • How do we achieve an aim of growing our co-operatives by being passive and responding to demand?
  • Could we promote the co-operative model far more and give people an informed choice?



The ‘Design for life’ approach to new build – wider doors, adjustable ceilings, etc – inevitably leads to a place where people can potentially stay in their homes, longer into their lives. This enhanced period of independent living results in communities being less transient and more stable. A stable community can engineer a much more positive relationship with the landlord(s) that own housing stock there. A better relationship with the landlord potentially leads to properties being treated much more favourably by those who inhabit them, resulting in greater budgets due to decreases in expenditure bringing properties back to a lettable standard, with lower rent arrears and far less ASB than a community which is ever-changing and therefore resource intensive.

Housing win. Development win.

Welcome though the announcement was, It is worth mentioning that even where some landlords have got this right and have spent so much time responding to predicted legislative changes, their hard work has been rendered futile overnight – i.e a Co-operative in Rhyl which is building all 1-bed properties, in response to the LHA requirements.


Co-operative Housing and Asset Based Community Development

Co-operative Housing sits atop 6 founding principles

  • Self – help
  • Self – responsibility
  • Democracy
  • Equality
  • Equity
  • Solidarity

There is much to be held in parallel with the principles of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). As outlined by Nurture Development, ‘ABCD’ emphasises the ‘community’ in driving forward the needs of the community. Not institutions. And starts with the very things that exist to make that community unique, and not it’s deficiencies that make it needy. Its passions, its talents, its assets.

When there is so much that is ‘strong’ in co-operative housing communities, why does the funding landscape require us to highlight what is ‘wrong’ to such a dangerous level that it can often rip away belief and make active citizenship retreat?

How do we know it works?

Resilience in cooperative communities is apparent from the get go. From my earliest conversations in Coastal, I have heard stories of the tenants of our cooperatives helping each other on various activities (maintenance, filling in Housing benefit forms, etc). One group bought a mower and a strimmer to save money on their service charges. Why not? This was also evident from ‘Old Oak’. There is distinctive maturity in a relationship that tenants know landlords are there to ‘do with’ or do by’ but not ‘do for’.

Agreeing a set of community principles long before the ribbon has been cut on the development is a credible aspiration and a proven valued commodity by landlord and co-operative alike. To see wider integration, from communities not only identifying gaps in provision, but responding to that gap themselves.

Cormac Russell mentions that ‘the challenge for institutions along the way is to work out how we let go of our power, power that wasn’t ours in the first place and move from a ‘leader’ to ‘enabler’.

This sits perfectly with the Wales Co-operative Centre’s vision that “co-operative housing can provide an innovative, affordable and alternative model for home ownership in Wales”

What more can we do?

There is absolutely more work to be done in Coastal, with giving our existing Co-operatives an increased identity, such a section of the website, access to training, etc

Whilst co-operatives can often be a major challenge for the working practices of organisations, very barely will the sky fall down, and at the edge of our comfort zones is where most learning is done. Tenants hear time and time again that they have to be adaptable to change (LHA, Universal Credit, etc). What about us? Shouldn’t associations and institutions lead by example?

If we start these relationships from a position of trust we reach new heights in the maturity of the dialogue between housing management and the tenant base, which can lead to communities pulling on staff only when they need to and being largely self-reliant. One resident of Old Oak stated in the meeting that as a result of living in a cooperative, “I’m not lonely anymore”. Surely that is what we are aiming for?

This firmly underpins the Asset Based relationships we are now trying to foster in Coastal Housing and leaves an exciting 2018 ahead for us, where we will all surely face challenges. Challenges that, if overcome, would leave us with a far greater comfort zone, stronger housing cooperatives and sustainable communities.

I’ll settle for that.