Orwell Housing Association has remained strong during 2021 and continues to grow despite the challenge that the ongoing pandemic and subsequent financial volatility has brought to the economy during the year.
Whilst 2021 has evolved into a year where we have learned to live with Covid-19, the impact of the ongoing pandemic has affected the organisation both from a financial and operational point of view. Orwell has worked hard to minimise the effect on services and customers and despite the challenges we have faced this year, customer and employee satisfaction has remained high throughout the year.
The delivery of the growth objectives of developing more homes and growing the Care and Support service slowed during 2021, however we opened our first Next Steps project in Lowestoft, providing an intensive support service for people who are homeless, in partnership with East Suffolk District Council.
Whilst a relatively low number of new homes were completed in the year (37 units) the pace of the development programme increased and will result in a number of new homes being added to the housing stock in 2022. This will include 130 Extra Care flats in Walton on the Naze and Harwich which are being leased from Funding Affordable Homes and will be the Associations first lease agreement with funding provided by long-term investors.
We continue to be an investment partner with Homes England and are in contract to deliver the Affordable Homes Programme 2021-26. We also remain the lead partner for the e² development consortium which now includes Ipswich Borough Council and East Suffolk Council. A grant of £1.8m for the delivery of 37 homes has been secured to date, and the Consortium has a pipeline of around 500 units for delivery over the next two years.
Our Development Team works to deliver on average 100 new affordable homes for Orwell each year and continues to provide project management and sales and marketing services outside the Affordable Homes Programme for clients such as Equinox Enterprises Limited, the private sector development company set up by Great Yarmouth Borough Council, and for East Suffolk Council.
Throughout the year, Covid-19 has continued to affect many of our services. The requirement for frequent testing, use of PPE, enhanced infection control measures and employee absences due to the virus and self-isolation has affected our Care and Support services. The services have continued to perform and achieved their budgeted surplus at the end of the year keeping customers safe and happy throughout this challenging time. All of the services overseen by the Care Quality Commission, continue to achieve an overall rating of Good.
Both staff sickness and the need to self-isolate has affected our repairs service, reducing the capacity of the team. This has resulted in appointments taking longer than usual. However, regular and timely communication with customers has meant that satisfaction with the service has remained good throughout 2021 despite these difficulties.
Property improvements have continued at pace during the year, with 80 kitchens, 60 bathrooms and 6 heating systems replaced. However, the programme was temporarily paused because of the poor performance of an external contractor, delays in material deliveries and price rises. We have added all outstanding work to the 2022 programme and we remain fully compliant across gas and electrical safety checks, asbestos monitoring, legionella testing and fire risk assessments.
We are commitment to working towards achieving Investors in People Gold which shows the value and importance that is placed on being a great employer. Confirmation of the success of the Association’s efforts was received with the Sunday Times Best Companies survey in 2021 rating of being in the top 25 Housing Associations in the country and the top 75 companies for employee engagement in the Eastern Region.
During the year, two new Board members were successfully recruited, both who have lived experience of being a customer of the Association and provide valuable insight at Board level into the impact of strategic decisions on customers. The Orwell Residents Group, which oversees the work of the various tenant groups and scrutinises the services we provide, has been invaluable in assisting in the ongoing improvement of services and works closely with the Tenant Participation Advisory Service to further develop their role alongside the new customer insight and involvement team.
The scale of our investment in information technology and digital platforms during 2021 demonstrates the commitment to the delivery of the Digital Strategy and its importance to the organisation. We recognise the key risks around the data we hold and process, and ongoing investment in cyber-security applications and training has been key. In order to measure the progress, and identify any further areas for improvement and strengthening, we undertook the Cyber Essentials Plus accreditation and achieved full compliance early in January 2022.
Property sales of both shared ownership homes for Orwell Housing Association and private house sales for Orwell Homes, have remained buoyant both in terms of sales activity and market price throughout the year. Work started on site at the largest combined private sector and affordable housing scheme undertaken by the Group to date at the site at Cockfield in Suffolk which, once complete, will see 18 affordable homes and 25 homes for sale built by Orwell Homes Limited.
During the year, the wholly owned subsidiary of Orwell Housing, Orwell Homes Limited, continued to provide construction services to the Association, resulting in a net saving to the Group of approximately £60,000.
We strongly believe in the importance of keeping employees informed, engaged and involved, including them in decision making wherever possible.
Our Employee Voice forum has been invaluable this year and has put on some fantastic events raising money for the Make a Difference fund. They continue to challenge and inform the decisions we make.
During 2022, we will continue to put people and customers at the heart of our organisation and ensure that the decisions and investments we make deliver the mission of “Together we make a difference”.