When South Staffordshire Housing Association marked two decades providing homes and services for local communities, there were special celebrations for employees who had been part of the team from day one.
Fifteen members of staff shared the anniversary, having worked for the organisation since a vote by tenants of South Staffordshire Council saw the housing stock transfer to the newly-created housing association.
South Staffordshire Housing Association (SSHA) was established in 1997, the year of the publication of the first Harry Potter book, when the average price of a house in South Staffordshire was £64,000. It began with 5,200 homes and a committed team dedicated to supporting neighbourhoods and making a difference to people and families.
One member of that team was lettings processing assistant Angela Scott, who had begun her career as a YTS with South Staffordshire Council. On the first day of the new housing association she was provided with the essential tools of typewriter and filing cupboards. “All our records were kept in A4 notebooks and I was horrified when we switched to new word processors. Of course, now, everything is computerised.”
Angela was born in South Staffordshire and says: “After all these years, I know the area quite well! I can’t believe it has been 20 years. In many ways it seems like yesterday, yet there have been so many changes in that time, especially the challenges faced by our customers in terms of welfare reform and a shortage of affordable housing in rural communities.”
Also at work from day one of the new association was gas service engineer Dave Wilkinson. “That day I was given a vacuum cleaner, a dust sheet and a list of properties. Off I went!” he laughs. Now a contracts surveyor, Dave says that a close connection with the community is what continues to inspire him: “I live in the area and always loved meeting the customers, knowing that we were making a difference in local neighbourhoods. I’ve kept learning, too, which is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.”
Today, John Grosvenor supervises the award-winning Home MOT team. In 1997 he was employed as a bricklayer with SSHA. “I joined the council just three months before the start of the new housing association and remember people being excited about all the changes taking place,” he says. “The time has gone so quickly – I’ve got a 24-year-old son who was a toddler when SSHA began!”
Finance business partner Andrew Brooks missed the first day of the new association because he was learning to ski. On the twentieth anniversary of SSHA he took another winter holiday, this time snowboarding.
“There have been some really significant changes to the way that we provide our service,” he says. “In the early days, rent collectors visited properties collecting rent from customers and almost everyone paid in cash. Today, the majority of people choose the convenience of direct debits and we offer a range of other payment methods to suit the individual.”
Andrew grew up in South Staffordshire and says he has “A strong bond with the area and a commitment to local residents. I understand how difficult it is for people who have to move out of their village because of a shortage of affordable housing.”
Neighbourhoods director Jan Goode reflected on two decades of change for the housing association, its customers and the wider housing sector:
“We have achieved so much in terms of creating an additional 1,000 homes in South Staffordshire, delivering care and support for older people and hugely increasing the amount that we invest in home improvements. Between 1997 and 2002 we spent a total of £10million improving our homes – now we spend that amount every year installing new kitchens and bathrooms, fitting energy-saving boilers and carrying out the very popular home MOT service.
“The changes that have taken place during the history of SSHA include a huge rise in property prices, creating a pressing need for affordable housing to sustain local communities. Welfare reform is having a big impact, too. We have been supporting customers through changes brought about by the bedroom tax and the introduction of Universal Credit.
“One of the most far-reaching transformations for us, of course, was our merger with Severnside Housing in October 2016. As part of the new Housing Plus Group, we begin the next decade determined to make a difference to customers and communities across Staffordshire and Shropshire.”
A lifetime of firsts in housing – landmarks in the history of SSHA