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Branchline WM The Chartered Institute of Housing Newsletter of the West Midlands Region » Issue 10, 2011

Welcome from our new branch chair Looking though the content of this newsletter makes me feel very proud to be part of a movement that cares, is innovative and able to respond so positively in such difficult times is a great privilege. One of the more common, emerging themes across the Midlands is that registered providers are actively promoting job vacancies to the communities they serve and to young people who are suffering disproportionately through the current rise in unemployment. We have members employing apprentices and creating training centres. Other providers are building new homes and refurbishing existing homes to ensure ever rising energy bills are kept to a minimum – and for people on a low income this is a real, tangible benefit. We are also continuing to develop new homes across the region’s towns and cities, as well as in rural areas. And please forgive me for mentioning one of the issues close to my heart – Gypsies and Travellers. We’ve all seen recently how the mainstream media all too often focuses on problems, rather than solutions. Fortunately my experience in housing shows me when people work together, in good faith, then most problems can be overcome. One of the projects being undertaken by Rooftop Housing Group (where I am Director of Housing and Communities) is at Wythall, on the north Worcestershire, Birmingham boundary. Here, we took over the management of a site which has been home to

Gypsy and Traveller families over the past 45 years and, having secured a grant from the Homes and Communities Agency, we are well underway with a project to refurbish the existing 18 units and provide five new units. The families at this site live their lives in peace and have been very understanding of the construction work taking place. They have also been very receptive to the unusual, and yet modern accommodation we are providing by way of pre-fabricated ‘pods’. They have been a joy to work with – as have the local authority, Bromsgrove, and other partners. It’s a very small example, and one I can’t really do justice to here, but I use it to highlight the fact that though all of us regularly work in challenging situations I’ve no doubt that we get things right far more often than we get things wrong. So many members continue to invest in community services that reduce isolation and provide positive activities for people from wide ranging backgrounds and we should be proud of what we have achieved. I’m sure that if anyone wants to learn more on how the contributors have made a difference, they will welcome you contacting them. The news articles are included to share good practice and the biggest compliment is to take ideas, learn and implement in a way that suits your customers and then share again. In the next issue we look forward to your contribution showing how you are meeting needs of those in housing need in Midlands. Juliana Crowe Branch Chair



Chair’s Opening


Membership Update


Focus on training and employability


Severnside welcome new apprentices


News from around the region


New eco friendly homes help locals stay in the village they love


Regional awards success


The CIH West Midlands Regional Committee

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Membership update

Give yourself the edge: register for apex express today Full membership of CIH could be just one step away During 2011 over 400 members have progressed their CIH membership and have ungraded to fully qualified members. APEX Express is the final step to Corporate membership (MCIH)*. It provides a route to MCIH that requires candidates to attend a one day training course and complete a personal development plan. The training day will provide you with an opportunity to discuss the housing profession and the role of CIH with a group of fellow housing professionals. If you completed a qualification prior to 2008 which is recognised for the academic elements of the professional but have not achieved the CIH practice

requirements, APEX could be what you need to upgrade your membership to full Corporate membership*. You must hold at least a Professional Diploma in Housing (at undergraduate or postgraduate level) to apply for the programme. Applicants who successfully complete the requirements for APEX Express will also receive a free upgrade to Corporate Membership for the remainder of 2011. *In January 2012, the two new grades of membership, CIH Member and CIH Chartered Member, will be introduced. All existing corporate members will become CIH Chartered Members and be able to use the designation CIH Chartered Member or CIHCM after their name and the approved logo shown here:

Join the growing number of fully qualified members and register online today at apexevents.htm or contact customer. if you are unsure about your eligibility for APEX express or have any further questions.



New blended learning arrangements Studying housing qualifications in the West Midlands in the future With the closure of the housing courses at Birmingham City University, what options are there for housing practitioners wanting to obtain Corporate Membership (Chartered from January 2012) and employers wanting to support their staff through to professional membership? The nearest universities offering undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at level 5 and above are the University of West of

England, De Montfort, Salford, Sheffield Hallam and Universities in London. For more information go to the CIH website, Education, Routes to MCIH services/education/index.php Alternatively students can study via distance or blended learning with the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Distance Learning Team. Programmes are available at both undergraduate, level 4 and above, and postgraduate, level 7. For further information contact the Distance Learning Team on Tel: 02476 851789 or email them at More information will be provided in future newsletters.

Update from Birmingham City University The closure of the housing programmes at the University will take place gradually over the next two to three years to enable current students to complete their programmes of study. Henryk Adamczuk, Veronica Coatham, and Anne Hill have returned to the university on a part-time basis to join Andrew Dixon in delivering the existing programmes during the current academic year 2011-12. They can be contacted by: e-mail: veronica.coatham@ and suzanne@suzannelazarus. com (Suzanne Lazarus left the University in the summer to work independently).

Minister meets TCHG apprentices Several apprentices from The Community Housing Group were introduced to the Secretary of State for Works and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith at a National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) event, hosted by Worcester City MP Robin Walker, at Worcester Guildhall this week. Mr Duncan Smith spoke to new and existing apprentices and was interested to hear their views on the benefits of the training programme. The event brought the Counties “100 Apprenticeships in 100 Days” campaign to a close and celebrated the achievement of well over 100 employers recruiting new apprentices within Worcestershire. 2

“We were extremely pleased to part of this campaign and are very proud at contributing to its success. As Apprenticeship Ambassadors for the Wyre Forest, we have been happy to share our experience as an employer with other organisations to encourage them to develop apprenticeship programmes” said Ian Hancock, CHG Property Services’ Director of Asset Management “During the campaign, we recruited four new apprentices to the Group and they have settled in extremely well. We are particularly pleased to welcome Laura Jones to Oakleaf Grounds Services and hope that she will inspire other young women to consider a trade in horticulture”

Ian Duncan Smith chats to apprentices, TCHG’s Ian Hancock Director of Asset Management and Marina Banner, Executive Director of Vestia Community Trust (part of TCHG

Focus on training and employability

Stafford MP praises community resource centre A centre helping Stafford people to find employment and training has been praised by a local MP during a visit on Thursday, August 25. Since it was launched in May 2008 the Community Resource Centre has benefited hundreds of local people by offering free IT facilities and playing host to a number of customer events and training sessions. Jeremy Lefroy MP met with customer volunteers, work placement students and staff working at Stafford and Rural Homes’ Community Resource Centre at Greyfriars. “The event was a chance to show Mr Lefroy how SARH is working hard to offer a range of work experience, apprenticeships, voluntary work, industrial placements and free learning for local people across the borough,” said Karen Armitage, Chief Executive of Stafford and Rural Homes.

Jeremy Lefroy MP meets with SARH chief executive Karen Armitage and volunteers, staff and partner organisations working at the Community Resource Centre.

Aspire Group Continues Growth with New Training Centre A new £500,000 training centre in Newcastle-Under-Lyme is set to create around 100 more apprenticeships every year after PM Training won planning permission for the scheme... The Aspire Group - which consists of Aspire Housing and the Realise Foundation charity, as well as PM Training and Indigo Training — last month announced that it had secured £28m to acquire new businesses, build 300 more properties and improve its existing housing stock. The social enterprise training provider — part of the Aspire Group - will now turn part of the existing Aspire Housing depot in Brick Kiln Lane, Chesterton, into a modern training centre. Work is due to start in June and the new facility is expected to open its doors in September.

The centre will feature workshops, training areas, classrooms and offices and will help young people develop essential skills in the construction and housing sectors. PM Training’s existing base in College Road, Shelton, will continue to provide training and apprenticeship courses in areas such as engineering, business administration and construction. The redevelopment project is being carried out thanks to up to £275,000 of European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) money. When complete, around 30 PM Training staff will work at the site — up to 10 of which could be newly created jobs. The Aspire Group recently acquired Indigo Training, which has training sites in Stafford and Leek, while PM Training’s

existing base will remain in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent. Will Nixon added: “The addition of a Newcastle-Under-Lyme centre, on top of our sites in the other three local authority areas of North Staffordshire, will enable us to tackle unemployment even more effectively. PM Training aims to tackle unemployment among young people by offering those with no qualifications an alternative route into employment. The Brick Kiln Lane facility will enable around 150 more young people to train every year, about 100 of whom are expected to take up apprenticeships.

New task group will help job hunters Residents in Penkside are being offered a helping hand to step onto the careers ladder. A new employment opportunities task group has been set up to help job hunters gain the skills, needed to impress employers. The task group is setting up a jobs club that will provide courses on CV writing, interview skills, effective job searching, presentation skills and basic IT

over the next six months. The task group is a partnership of Stafford and Rural Homes, Stafford Works, Stafford Borough Council, Staffordshire and District Voluntary Services, Staffordshire County Council’s Library Service and Job Centre Plus. The task group is one of four set up under the Penkside Project, which is about finding out what the community needs and wants in the area. The Penkside

Project is made up of community members and various agencies including Stafford Borough Council (SBC), Stafford and Rural Homes (SARH), Staffordshire County Council (SCC), Staffordshire District Voluntary Services (SDVS), South Staffordshire Primary Care Trust (PCT), and Jobcentre Plus. For more information about the task group please contact Chris Plant at SARH on 0800 111 4554. 3

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G F Tomlinson’s investment in Skills for the Future Two apprentices from G F Tomlinson Birmingham Ltd are amongst the latest recruits to join the ever growing and successful team of Technical Trainees. Ceri Harper and Ashleigh Pickering both joined Tomlinson’s as Apprentices over 18 months ago. Initially the girls undertook a Customer Service Apprenticeship; it was evident throughout their training, that they had the skills to progress further. When the Technical Trainee vacancies arose they both jumped at the opportunity, to showcase what they were capable of. Both girls embarked on their new careers on 3rd October 2011. Ashleigh commented, “After completing my apprenticeship at G F Tomlinson Birmingham Ltd, I understood the importance of good customer service and how the role had enabled me to flourish personally. Moving onto the

Technical Trainee Programme I now have the opportunity to not only further those skills but to gain many more, which will help further my career within the company.” All the trainees will spend 3 years within the various departments within Tomlinson’s, to gain a perspective of all the disciplines involved within a construction business and how their contributions and skills directly influence its overall success. During their final year, they will decide what role is most suitable for them. Then for a further year, they will specialize in that role for example, site management, quantity surveying or procurement. At the end of the four years of training, they will be able to work in their chosen field. They will have become invaluable Tomlinson staff, professionally qualified and successfully delivering our contracts.

Ceri Harper, Technical Trainee

SARH connects with customers online Stafford and Rural Homes is reaching out to its customers through the web by joining social networking site Twitter. Customers will be able to follow tweets about SARH news and events, and a new blog has also gone live that will focus on the work of the Community Involvement Team. Community Involvement Manager Chris Plant said: “we decided to move with the times and go online, the blog will

make us more accessible for customers and we will be updating it every month with photos and news.” Customers will be able to leave messages and comments for the team to respond to. Customers can follow SARH on Twitter at @Stafford_Homes, and visit the blog at www.sarhcustomerparticipation.blogspot. com or go to and follow the link. To view videos from SARH visit

Midland Heart Venture Project Experiencing homelessness is not something to wish on anyone but the Venture Project aims to show that it can be an opportunity to learn new skills, to help other people, and to move on in your own life. That’s the principle upon which our Inclusion Service has launched the Project, which offers 6 volunteer support worker places. Volunteer Support Workers spend two days a week gaining hands on, operational work experience. Each is paired up with an experienced Support Worker and is following a training plan. After six months they will have had the opportunity to build a substantial portfolio of evidence – enough, it is hoped, to turn the experience into the start of a career. The volunteers have recently ‘been there’,


and can provide a great example and advice to our customers in this role. On starting with the Venture Project, customer Emily Grice said: “I’m feeling quite nervous. I’m excited about getting started but worried the residents won’t take me seriously! I’m looking forward to learning about being a Support Worker and meeting new people.” Debbie Hart, Team Leader where Emily has been working said: “Emily works so well with the customers; she’s become one of the team, is eager to learn, and always ready to take on new challenges”. Duane Derry, has now been working as a Volunteer Support Worker for two months. Duane said: “My intention was to see what it was like ‘from the other side of the fence’. After a few months

I’m really enjoying the experience and it’s something I’d love to carry on full time”. Steve Philpott, Places of Change Programme Manager said: “It’s a test of our values, that by investing in our customers we can harness their strengths, improve our services and change people’s lives. I hope that the principles of the Venture Project are ones we can develop further in our business”. We have already had some real successes with 4 out of 6 securing full time employment and another 6 to be recruited in November.

Focus on training and employability

Severnside welcome new apprentices Three local young people have taken their first steps on the career ladder with apprenticeships and work experience placements at Severnside Housing. Severnside has welcomed the opportunity to train and develop young people by working with current members of staff to help them gain the skills and confidence they will need to be successful in their future and providing an insight into a real working environment. The apprentices were chosen from a large number of applicants and have a variety of previous work and educational experience, but all three aim to use their time with Severnside to gain valuable work experience and improve their career prospects. Molly Cowperthwaite, aged 16, has recently completed her GCSE’s and found her apprenticeship through Connexions. Whilst with Severnside for 12 months, she will be based in the Legal departments, dealing with complaints, enquiries, insurance and other legal issues. Stuart McNab is 19 and graduated from Shrewsbury Sixth Form

in 2010. He has joined Severnside on a 12 month business apprenticeship, over the twelve months he will have attachments to several different departments, getting an overview of how the social housing provider operates. Stuart is also a football coach for the Shrewsbury Up & Comers under 9’s team and volunteers with the Salvation Army. Adam Pahal, aged 24, graduated from Keele University in 2009 before spending a year working abroad. He has joined the Severnside Marketing & Communications department on an eight week work

placement through Job Centre Plus. Adam also volunteers at the Hive Music and Media Centre in Shrewsbury, where he organises live music events for young people. Sue Barker, Head of Human Resources said: “Severnside is delighted to be able to offer opportunities to young people in the form of apprenticeships and work placements. These generate considerable benefits, both for the individual and for the employer, and they are an excellent way of training, developing and skilling people for the future.”

Building skills as well as homes Shropshire landlord The Wrekin Housing Trust is making sure that it is more than just homes being built on one of its development sites in Telford. Working closely with regeneration specialists Frank Haslam Milan (FHM), the Trust has not only involved the local community in the new development to provide 59 new homes, but is making sure that young people have the chance to build new skills as a result of getting involved. The Trust and FHM have engaged with

local schools and community groups, delivering educational talks on construction and tours of the site where the development is underway. An art competition was held, the results of which are displayed at the site, and they have opened up a street naming competition to local schools. FHM employ six local apprentices on site and the Trust is continuing its successful apprenticeship scheme by giving three of its apprentices the chance to work on site alongside skilled craftspeople learning all aspects of construction, in particular carpentry and brickwork. Two further apprentices will

be working on the development later in the year once they have completed the necessary qualifications. All three apprentices are the sons of Trust tenants. The Dothill redevelopment will include homes for rent and for sale through HomeBuy direct, the Government scheme that allows customers to borrow towards the cost of the property and buy the rest at a later date. The Wrekin Housing Trust’s plans to provide 1,000 new homes over the next four years was given a boost recently after securing £6.5million grant funding through the Government’s new Affordable Homes Programme.


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A revolutionary revamp for whg homes More than £3million is being spent on landmark Humphries House and neighbouring Severn House, Brownhills, both of which are owned and managed by leading landlord whg. The pioneering Midlands’ housing provider whg, has strengthened its partnership with Aldridge-based Wates Construction and British Gas to introduce the very latest in heating technology to the blocks by fitting highly energyefficient biomass boilers that burn wood pellets, a clean and natural fuel. Residents will be able to individually change the temperature within their own flat using a wall-mounted unit that can be controlled like a central heating boiler. The system will also provide instant hot water. Whg Group Chief Executive Gary Fulford said: “Work to Humphries and Severn Houses is not only significant in terms of investment but exciting as

we are introducing cutting-edge green technology. whg is at the fore of the retrofit revolution”. The combination of better insulation and the new heating

system will lower the carbon footprint of Humphries and Severn Houses, and ensure energy bills for residents are less than with standard heating systems.

Scoring ‘Goalz’ in Wolverhampton An innovative project in Wolverhampton has helped over 50 local youngsters stay on the right track. Organised by Wolves Community Trust and funded by Wolverhampton Homes and the Football Foundation, the ‘Goalz’ project was set up to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour in Bilston. Goalz has also been recognised for its positive impact on the local community at the Wolves Community Trust’s annual reception and has received support from West Midlands Police, youth workers and other local community groups.


Aimed at 10 to 16 year olds from the Lunt area, the project organises a variety of football sessions and educational workshops on issues such as health, drugs and alcohol abuse. Brett, aged 17 from the Lunt, joined the army but had to leave due to health reasons. Since then he has been attending the Goalz sessions and is currently working towards an FA Level 1 Coaching Certificate “I’ve always loved football so being involved with Wolverhampton Wanderers is amazing. I have made new friends and have definitely become much better at football.”

Mark Henderson, Director of Housing at Wolverhampton Homes, said: “Projects like this are vital to keep young people engaged with their communities and help them build skills for a bright future.” Sessions are held at the Goals Facility on Darlaston Lane in Bilston, every Friday at 7pm - 9pm. For more information contact Jennifer Mildenhall, Kickz and Community Engagement Officer at Wolves Community Trust, on: 01902 828311 or jennymildenhall@

News from around the region

New eco friendly homes help locals stay in the village they love A Northamptonshire village is celebrating the completion of a muchneeded development of six affordable new homes. Villagers in Hannington were joined by land owners Mr and Mrs Clarke, Allan Burridge, chairman of Hannington Parish Council, and representatives from Northamptonshire Rural Housing Association (NRHA) to mark the official launch of the development, off Lime Trees Close. A total of four houses and one bungalow for rent and one house for shared ownership, will provide affordable homes for people who all have a strong connection to the village.

Plans for the new homes were drawn up after Hannington Parish Council recognised that there was a shortage of affordable housing within the village, following the completion of their parish plan. A housing needs survey identified the need for an additional six properties and planning permission for these homes to be built was granted in March 2010. The new homes have all been built to level 4 of the code for sustainable homes and benefit from energy-saving heating systems which will significantly reduce fuel consumption and help cut tenants’ energy bills. Innovative features include Air Source

Heat Pumps which pump air from outside into the house at the required temperature, under-floor heating on the ground floor and thermostats in every room. The scheme has been part funded by the Homes and Communities Agency, and NHRA worked with a number of partners, including East Midlands Housing Association, artchitects Morton Wykes Kramer, Ridge and Partners, JPP Consulting and Denman and Sons builders, to bring it to fruition. For further information please contact Mark Thomas, of Word Association, on 01455 614 333 or

Cutting ribbon at new development in Hannington


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Movie star opens Ashbrook Park in Church Stretton An exiting new development of purpose-built retirement homes in Church Stretton has been officially opened by star of stage and screen, Honor Blackman. The former Bond girl and Avengers actress cut the ribbon on 19 flats and 19 bungalows at the £7.5m Ashbrook Park development on the edge of town which boasts stunning views over an area of outstanding natural beauty. Among the first people to move into the new scheme, which is already 70% occupied, were 21 former residents of the nearby Windsor Place sheltered housing scheme, which the new scheme was designed to replace. They will now enjoy high quality accommodation which benefits from eco-friendly technology, low maintenance features and has been built with sustainability and security in mind. The scheme has been jointly funded

by the Homes and Communities Agency and South Shropshire Housing Association who developed the site and will be managing the new homes. Valuable contributions from Shropshire Council and Church Stretton Town Council also facilitated this ground breaking new scheme. The new homes comprise of a mix of rented and shared ownership properties where the former Windsor Place residents have been involved in design and also kept updated via monthly progress meetings. They are also preparing a time capsule which will buried on the site in the coming weeks. Key features include fully maintained gardens, wheelchair and scooter access, Sun rooms, Scooter charging, Solar panels, Wet rooms, high security doors and windows, a warden call facility, communal lounge and kitchen and the schemes own wetland area for the enjoyment of new residents. Secure by

Design accreditation, for the safety of residents has also been achieved. Honor Blackman said ‘This is a fantastic modern development in a beautiful setting that has been built with a great amount of thought to the resident’s requirements’. Seven of the bungalows on the site are available under the HomeBuy scheme, which is a brand name for a Government scheme promoting the sale of shared ownership properties. It is designed to provide the opportunity for people to purchase property when they can not afford to do so on the open market, and would ideally suit someone with limited funds. It allows them to buy a share, usually between 25 and 75 per cent, and then pay rent for the remaining share; the bigger the share they buy the less rent they pay. Properties are being marketed by local Estate Agent Micheal Burton.

Honor Blackman and Paul Sutton, Managing Director of SSHA


News from around the region

Resounding success! The ProPoints scheme, which launched in May 2010, is the first of its kind in the country. Customers earn points for each month that they keep to the terms of their tenancy agreement – for example by ensuring that their rent account is always clear and their gas servicing is up to date. Unlike most other reward schemes, customers can exchange their points for vouchers to spend on the high street. Over 13,000 customers are enrolled in the scheme, with well over 60% of those earning points each month. ProPoints has had a positive effect in reducing current rent arrears figures of approximately half a million pounds and has reduced transaction costs by transferring customers over to Direct Debit. Customers can spend their vouchers in over 20,000 stores ranging from national chains to local community transport charities, offering real incentive and choice to those signed up to the scheme. The aim is to build up the supplier base to support local economies and smaller retailers who may be feeling the pinch in the current financial climate. The scheme is a joint venture with Netherlands based company ProLiving, who work with a number of housing providers across Europe. Chief Executive, Reggie Wolff said ‘We are excited about entering the UK market, working in partnership with Orbit Heart of England. We are delighted with the success of the

scheme and the demonstrable successes in such a short period of time. With the flexibility of our product, providing all of the back office support for the scheme, we have a ready made, affordable scheme suitable for any housing provider who wants to reward any kind of positive customer behaviour, such as paying in a timely manner, getting involved in resident activities or even being part of the big society agenda in giving power to local people to make a positive impact in their communities. Lee Steele, Head of Income Management said “We are absolutely delighted with the scheme, which has rewarded positive customer behaviour and positively change the behaviour of almost 3000 customers in such a short period of time. “The scheme has seen a large number of residents take an active interest in their rent account, and many are contacting us without prompt, asking what they need to pay to get the maximum number of points. As well as some larger payments, we have also seen a dramatic drop of over 1000 residents owing smaller amounts up to £100. Similarly we have seen those customers who owe money for just part of the month because they choose to pay their rent monthly in arrears have also changed their behaviour to always keep their account clear.” ‘Given the drastic changes to welfare and tenure reform in the UK, there has never been a better time to work with residents to meet the conditions of their tenancy and contribute positively to their communities’.

Beverley hands over the baton After relaunching and editing the magazine since January 2007, our previous Branchline Editor, Beverley Woodhead, has handed over the baton to Sarah Smith. Beverley tied the knot in October and is now to be known as Beverley Ashton, with a new email address: beverley. We’ve heard about “all in a day’s work”, but having your official wedding photo taken outside your employer’s premises takes some beating! Beverley assures us it was just a quick side step on the walk from Newport Guildhall to the Hotel at which the reception took place...

Good Neighbour community scheme launched A £35,000 grant courtesy of whg will pave the way for a good Neighbour network across Walsall, to support elderly and vulnerable people in the community. whg has granted the cash to Walsall voluntary organisation Old Hall People’s Partnership (OHPP) to extend its Good Neighbour scheme across the borough. The grant will help OHPP to expand existing schemes, such as its Spadework garden maintenance service, the Pass It On furniture recycling project and financial advice service.

New campaigns, as part of the Good Neighbour scheme, will include volunteers regularly calling elderly, housebound and vulnerable residents to check if they need any assistance, the expansion of OHPP’s services, recruitment of local volunteers and the organisation of community events. whg made the grant from its Local Neighbourhood Fund, set up in 2009 to support groups and projects which benefit communities across the borough. Denise Birkett, Principal Officer at Old Hall People’s Partnership, said: “We are

delighted to win this funding and are grateful to whg for all its support. This grant will help us expand our services and offer them to the wider community, allowing us to help even more people across Walsall.” People interested in working with OHPP or who would like to find out more about services provided can call 01922 474684 or 616165.


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Apprentice takes top honours from college A trainee electrician for a leading Shropshire social housing provider has been named Apprentice of the Year by his college tutors thanks to his effort and commitment. Michael Monteith of Craven Arms, is an apprentice with Total Response Limited, the property maintenance arm of Shropshire Housing Group. As well as working with, and learning from, his mentors at TRL, Michael attends day release at Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology, where he has been picked-out as the star performer among the first year apprentices on his course. Shropshire Housing Group is enthusiastic about supporting young people in joining its skilled workforce through apprenticeships. The group aims to support up to four apprenticeships at any one time with places for an electrician, a gas engineer, a carpenter and an IT specialist, allowing them to do the academic part of their training at the institution which suits them. Martin Holland, chief executive of Shropshire Housing Group, said: “We are very pleased for Michael. He has obviously worked hard and with enthusiasm. He is a fine example of how a young person can take on an apprenticeship and run with it to create their path, to a hopefully long and successful professional career. It is important that businesses support apprenticeships, not least because it is one way of keeping the skills of Shropshire’s young people within Shropshire’s workforce.” Michael’s tutor, Chris Hamer, said: “Michael’s general attitude to learning is excellent. He started the course late but his commitment and effort meant he caught up in no time.” At work, Michael is mentored by TRL technician, Dale Vass, who added: “He is a focused, quick learner and always uses his initiative.”

Top performing apprentice, Michael Monteith, with the plaque he received from Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology.

Regional awards success The Community Housing Group Celebrate Gold Status Kidderminster based, The Community Housing Group has recently been awarded the coveted Gold status following their recent Investors in People assessment (IIP). This puts them in the top 1% of IIP accredited organisations across the UK. Investors in People is a national organisation which sets out recognised standards for employers to help improve business performance. The Gold award is only given to those organisations that


are able to demonstrate a degree of excellence in the way they develop and support their staff. TCHG are committed to continuous improvement and the development of their employees and have held the IIP status continuously since 2000. To achieve Gold status, they had to meet a total of 165 different standards out of a possible 196 but exceeded this amount by meeting 182. The standards cover a wide mix of areas, including team working, innovation in learning and development, and continuous

improvement. Keith Schofield, Group Chairman said “We consider this award a great benefit to the business as it enables us to attract the best job applicants and contributes to our Corporate Social Responsibility strategy” Ray Brookes, Group Chief Executive said “We are absolutely thrilled to receive the Gold standard. It is a fantastic achievement and a testament to the hard work and commitment of everyone in the Group to deliver first class customer services”

Regional awards success

The Bridge Group named top midlands public sector PR agency Housing communications specialist agency, The Bridge Group is the top-ranked public sector public relations (PR) consultancy based in the midlands for the third year running.

Each year, PR Week publishes a league table of the top 25 public sector consultancies. In the latest rankings, The Bridge Group, which is based in Coventry, has climbed one place to number eight – achieving the fourthhighest placing outside London and gaining the top spot in the midlands. The Bridge Group, which recently merged with digital and design agency VU Creative, works predominantly with

housing sector, local authority and not-for-profit clients across the country. Managing director Nicola Winn said: “There’s no doubting that this has been a challenging year for the public sector. With the emphasis on value for money, it’s vital that agencies continue to focus on business-critical activity for clients, whilst optimising the use of digital technology”.

whg’s contact centre revealed as one of the best There may be hundreds of call centres across the country but whg’s Customer Contact Centre has beaten off stiff competition to be named one of the nation’s best. The centre was announced as the 33rd best centre in the UK for customer service at a glittering ceremony in London. Its Customer Contact Centre, established in 2008, received 200 mystery shopping calls over a two month period with questions ranging from simple enquiries to complex scenarios. The team of 23 colleagues working at the Customer Contact Centre handles 4,000 incoming customer enquiries each week and is responsible for 500 outbound calls.

The Top 50 Call Centres for the Customer Service poll, rates the service offered by UK companies and provides a benchmark, so contact centre’s can measure themselves against what the public thinks a good calling experience should be. It is compiled in conjunction with GfK Mystery Shopping and it was the first year whg has entered the league table. whg will now receive a report detailing how they compare with other national contact centre’s and the chance to visit those that came in the top 10. Helen Roberts, whg’s Customer Services Manager, said: “We were over the moon to do so well in our first year of entering and will now look at how

we can improve customer service even further to aim for a top 10 place next time. We thought it would be beneficial for us to see how we compare to organisations outside the housing sector and with contact centre’s of varying sizes and were delighted with how we did. Colleagues weren’t aware that the mystery shopping calls were taking place so it really is proof of the excellent service provided to customers time after time.” An 0300 number, was launched in 2008, with whg being the first business of its kind to do so, meaning customers always pay a local call rate, even from a mobile phone or when abroad to increase accessibility.

whg Customer Contact Centre colleague Russell Mumford


Issue 10: Autumn 2011

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Next issue – contributions welcome We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this issue of the West Midland’s newsletter ‘Branchline WM’. If you have any comments or ideas about the newsletter, we’d love to hear from you. We’re especially keen to receive any information that we could include as articles for the next issue. Please send your ideas and any suggestions to any of the committee officers, Jayne Anderson (CIH Support Coordinator) at or to Sarah Smith (Co-ordinating Editior) at

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The Chartered Institute of Housing Chartered Institute of Housing Newsletter of the West Midlands region Published by the Chartered Institute of Housing Newsletter of the West Midlands branch Chartered Institute of Housing Octavia House Westwood Way Coventry CV4 8JP


The CIH West Midlands Regional Committee Chair

Juliana Crowe Rooftop Housing Group

Vice Chair

Chris Pinson-Bradley Heantun Housing Association Ltd

Immediate Past Chair & Secretary

Morag Bailey The Wrekin Housing Trust


Nick Parker The Community Housing Group Ltd

CIH President & Committee Member

Helen Collins Bromford Housing Group

Committee Member

Darshan Singh Matharoo DSM Consulting & CIH Council Rep

Council Member

Yvonne Leishman Community Housing Group (National Representative) & Regional Housing Partnership Representative

Events Organiser

Bernadette Sweeney GF Tomlinson Birmingham Ltd

Membership Officer

Nirmal Samrai Meres & Mosses Housing Association

Education & Training Officer

Veronica Coatham Birmingham City University School of Social Sciences

Student Representative

Thomas Mountford Cannock Chase District Council

Policy Officer

Helen Scurr HS Housing Consultancy

Communications Officer

Sarah Smith Wates Living Space

Equality & Diversity Officer

Natasha Wiliams

Committee Member

Karen Armitage Stafford & Rural Homes

Committee Member

Deborah Jinks Tenant Services Authority

Committee Member

Jason Holder Bromford Group

Committee Member

Judith Rowe Midland Heart Ltd

Committee Member

Paul Forsythe Severnside

Branchline WM - Issue 10, 2011.  

The Chartered Institute of Housing Newsletter of the West Midlands Region. Issue 10, 2011

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