Making a profit for social purpose

It is a much written about subject, the what, why and how of social housing providers engaging in profit making activities to generate funds for their social activities.

As the Government grant available to the sector continues to disappear (with ever more strings attached to what is left), local authorities and housing associations have increasingly embraced the need to secure funds from other sources so they can continue to provide affordable housing in their communities.

Some have chosen to build homes for market rent and sale, whilst others have diversified into other sectors such as leisure facilities, social enterprise, health services and education provision. To be successful in any and all of these endeavours, providers must adopt a commercial attitude.

At Futures Homescape, in April 2012, we began leasing and managing properties on behalf of private landlords. In just two years, we’re really proud to be leasing over 100 properties, which are offered as affordable housing, often to those in housing need stuck on the waiting list. Many of these properties were previously empty, some for 3 or 4 years, but thanks to HCA funding we’ve helped owners complete the required renovation works using only a fraction of the grant normally used for new builds (around £11,000 per property).

Recently, we’ve started to work with local developers to lease properties that they have built and wholly funded themselves. We’re really keen to do more partnership working like this as it creates so many benefits for local people, businesses, economies and councils, and all without any government funding.

A commercial attitude has been a really important part of this work; without it we wouldn’t have enjoyed the successes above or generated sufficient income to cover our expenses, let alone make a small surplus.

To achieve these successes, we have:

    • Continually developed our products and services in response to what our customers tell us they want, we use every conversation with our customers as an opportunity to find out what they think.
    • Considered anything, no matter how wacky or unusual, such as barn conversions in the middle of a golf course or renovating a pub with a chequered past.

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  • Thinking creatively to make a difficult project work, often through partnership working. We fully explore every leasing opportunity, we hardly ever say no straight away no matter how weird or wonderful it may sound (see above!)
  • Let our products and services speak for themselves; we’ve focused on providing excellent products and services and we’ve really felt the power of word of mouth, no flashy or gimmicky marketing tricks have been required.
  • Thoroughly researched our competitors and what customers think about them to learn what works well and what doesn’t.
  • Scrutinised and questioned every penny of expenditure.
  • Supported colleagues to develop their commercial skill sets and recruited from the private sector where necessary.

I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of developing the private sector leasing scheme, and I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved in just two years. Things have never been easy and we’ve hit numerous bumps in the road along the way, but as I read on LinkedIn recently, a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. It’s fantastic that this work has been recognised by Inside Housing and CIH, who have shortlisted me and my work in this year’s Rising Stars competition.

Whilst some may still be questioning whether or not and how to diversify, for me it’s vitally important that the sector maximises its financial strength and experience to ensure our communities are provided with the affordable housing they so desperately need.

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