The investment of millions of pounds in home improvements, the construction of hundreds of new homes, and the creation of apprenticeships for young people in the West Country are all to go ahead after two Bristol-based housing associations agreed to merge.
A £10m five-year investment programme and 500 newly built homes are now set to transform parts of Bristol and the surrounding area, following an agreement by Solon South West and United Communities to unite.
Both organisations entered into a strategic alliance yesterday (1 October, 2020), a key step toward a full merger.
Along with a raft of service improvements, the new-look organisation will also offer opportunities to young people across its communities through an apprenticeship programme aimed at developing the skills and careers of future builders, surveyors, and housing officers.
United Communities’ chair James Taylor said: “We are delighted our residents have shown that they share our vision for the future by backing our plans to merge with Solon South West.
“This is an exciting development and together we can set our sights on launching a £10m programme of improvements and construction of 500 new homes that will make the South West a better place to live for people from all backgrounds.
“This merger will have huge benefits for residents and communities as a whole across Bristol and the surrounding area.
“We are determined to do the very best for our communities and to build upon a recognition that we could achieve more together.”
Solon South West chair Graham Oliver added: “Residents have always been at the heart of everything we do and now can look forward to building a brighter future together under a single housing association.
“We have listened carefully to what our residents have said throughout the consultation process.
“We are ready to take action and our new Resident Panel will ensure they play a key role in decision-making to ensure their voices are heard.
“A range of important measures from a major overhaul of our customer service to improve residents’ experience, to an energy-efficiency programme that will reduce heating bills, there are lots of reasons for our residents to be enthusiastic about our future together.”
As well as some 500 new homes and a £10m programme of improvements, the new partnership promises to provide the following benefits to residents:
- An accessible and modern customer office and simple self-service option
- Fast, high quality, and consistent customer-service focussed on a personal approach
- Greater investment in tackling anti-social behaviour and improving communal areas
- A major overhaul of the repairs process
- An annual home safety MOT
- An annual programme of energy efficiency improvements
- Genuine resident involvement in the running of the new association
- A commitment to equality and diversity at all levels of the organisation
The merger was proposed last year by the organisations’ boards of directors, whose research suggested that combining the housing associations would result in the delivery of a better housing service to tenants and leaseholder customers.
Under the ambitious plans to ensure diversity, customers will be able to monitor the new organisation’s performance and determine the future through a new Resident Panel.
And at least one resident will be recruited onto the board of the new association, together with community representatives of the wider communities it will serve.
The new alliance has been given the go-ahead after residents’ views were carefully considered following a wide-ranging consultation process with residents living in 3,000 homes in and around Bristol, South Gloucestershire, and the Swindon area.
The consultation process included leaflets posted through residents’ letterboxes, online video discussions with the chairs of both associations, focus groups with chief executives, regular email updates, and social media activity.
More than 160 people responded to the consultation, the majority of whom were in favour of the proposed merger.
The merger process, which began yesterday (1 October, 2020), is expected to conclude by spring 2021.
The boards have appointed Anna Klimczak as joint chief executive and James Taylor as joint chair for United Communities and Solon going forward into the merger.
The new housing association, operating under a new name, will be based at the current United Communities office in Eastville.
Anna Klimczak (L), joint chief executive of merged HA; Graham Oliver (TR), chair, Solon South West; James Taylor (BR), joint chair of merged HA
Timeline for the proposed merger:
- Boards of United Communities and Solon considered high-level benefits of merger – November 2019
- Boards undertook due diligence and explored alternatives to merger – Nov 2019 to March 2020
- Boards considered that merger is the best option – April 2020
- Associations worked with a ‘shadow’ resident panel to develop a new Customer Service Proposal – May to July 2020
- Boards decided to proceed with merger and to initiate resident consultation – July 22 and 23
- Resident consultation begins – 1 August
- Resident consultation ends – 17 September
- Joint meeting of United Communities and Solon boards to review outcome of resident consultation and decide whether to proceed with the merger – late September
Main image: City of Bristol with view of Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol, and Clifton
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