Last summer, Stonewater chief executive Nick Harris made an announcement that changed the lives of colleagues forever. scheme
To champion its goal of giving everyone the opportunity of having a place they can call home, Nick revealed Stonewater would be launching its own specialist shared-ownership scheme, exclusively for colleagues, called myOwnHome.
The announcement came amid drastically rising property prices in high-value areas such as Reading and Bristol, leaving home-ownership increasingly out of reach for many Stonewater employees.
“Given current expensive land prices, Stonewater is not looking to build new homes in those locations, meaning colleagues in these areas are not able to take advantage of the company’s standard shared ownership schemes,” Nick said.
“For me, this just didn’t seem right. I wanted to find a way that allowed us to not only support our customers getting onto the property ladder, but our hardworking colleagues too.”
myOwnHome offers eligible colleagues the opportunity to choose a home available on the open market, either a new build or re-sale, which Stonewater then purchases on their behalf.
Colleagues then have the option to buy a share of their home, ranging from 25-75%, depending on what’s affordable to them, and then pay discounted rent on the remaining share.
One of the scheme’s beneficiaries is Rachel Lifton, a property manager at Stonewater…
Rachel was in a position to make use of an employee benefit scheme that would enable her to overcome the barriers preventing her from becoming an independent homeowner – even during a pandemic.
Rachel had been a proud homeowner for 20 years, and in 2015 she was in a position where she could buy a dream four-bedroom detached house in Weston-Super-Mare, off plan, with her husband.
With three older children, the home was exactly as she had imagined – on a beautiful street with plenty of space.
It took just over two years to build, but after just a month of living there her husband moved out and the couple officially separated.
“There was no way I could afford to live there by myself,” says Rachel, “and after putting most my savings into buying and furnishing the brand-new house, I needed some time to regroup.
“My main concern was that I wasn’t sure I would be in a position to buy in the same area again, no matter how much I saved.”
Having raised my children in the area and with all her friends nearby, Rachel reluctantly consigned herself to the idea of moving away and starting over.
And with her now ex-husband pushing to finalise her next steps, Rachel says she was “beyond stressed” and doing all that she could to find an alternative and affordable solution.
“I wasn’t sure I would be in a position to buy in the same area again, no matter how much I saved”
Just as she was about to give up, Rachel attended her first Stonewater company day and caught to an announcement made by the chief executive about a pilot shared ownership scheme that being launched solely for colleagues.
“Learning about the myOwnHome scheme and its purpose filled me with hope,” Rachel says.
“I knew in that moment that I was going to be okay and that with patience I was going to be in the financial position to buy a home suited to mine and my children’s needs.”
The one obstacle preventing Rachel from applying was she needed to have worked at Stonewater for at least a year.
It was one that she could easily overcome; only, when the time came to finally apply, COVID-19 had hit the UK and lockdown restrictions were in force. Rachel was unable to view any houses.
But while some people would have found such a setback frustrating, Rachel saw it as an opportunity to get organised, sorting her mortgage checks and planning what surveyor she was going to use when the time was right.
By the time restrictions were eased and estate agents could conduct viewings, she had compiled a list of four properties, one of which was just what she was looking for.
Originally priced £15K above her budget, Rachel negiotated with the owners of four-bed home and they accepted her offer. What’s more, it was located just down the road from where she had previously been living.
“Everyone I’ve explained the scheme to including my friends who work for other housing associations, and even the estate agent I worked with, were impressed with Stonewater’s commitment to giving everyone the opportunity to have a place that they can call home,” Rachel says.
“I never imagined being in a position like this at 44, but this scheme presented me with an opportunity I would never have thought possible: a chance for me to secure a home that I love and can be proud of.”
Rachel is now in the process of selling her old home, and she plans to put the proceeds from that sale into buying additional shares in her current home.
“Although it is still a little surreal, even now that we’re settled in,” she says, “I’m unbelievably grateful to work for an organisation that invests and offers what has felt like to me: a lifeline for its colleagues.”
Prior to joining Stonewater as Retirement Living team leader (South) in 2015, Linda Rayfield had lost her daughter and her marriage and was having difficulty finding suitable accommodation.
“Before joining Stonewater, I moved around for a few years and finally settled in Bexhill, East Sussex,” she says.
“Given the location and that I was living by myself, I could only really afford to live in a series of flats – I’d like to be able to say they were still nice places to live, but in my case they were awful.”
Each flat had its own set of incessant issues, most notably poor insulation, which meant being woken up constantly during the night by neighbours in the flat above using their bathroom or their children crying.
“There was also loud music,” Linda says. “It became a lot to endure, and I soon became unwell and found myself battling depression.
“To top it off, I actually had to move three times over the course of five years due to my landlords selling their properties.
“I received notice for the third time last June, 15 months after moving in and had until August to find another home.”
Stonewater’s annual company day happened in July, not long after Linda had received her notice. It was then that chief executive Nick Harris explained how home ownership can play a vital role in providing stability and contributing to health and wellbeing.
As part of Stonewater’s commitment to providing high-quality homes to those who need them most, Stonewater launched the first-of-its-kind specialist shared ownership scheme for employees.
“I’m used to shedding a tear at our company days,” says Linda. “Last year, the team shared a video with us about hidden homeless, which left me in floods of tears, but when myOwnHome was announced I was overwhelmed. I felt like I’d been thrown a lifeline.
“I read up about the scheme on our intranet and couldn’t stop thinking that there had to be a catch – it was affordable and I could do it by myself, so when the scheme went live on August 1st, I was up at 6am, ready to submit my application.”
The day she received confirmation, Linda also received a notification from a site she’d signed up to showing that a “beautiful” new house had just come onto the market.
“I remember standing in the flat I was living in at the time, staring out through the window, and just letting go of all the pain I’d held onto for the last five years”
It was everything she’d hoped for: a spacious kitchen and living area and a conservatory – all of which reminded her of happier times.
“The cherry on the cake, if it could get any better, was the size of the garden,” says Linda. “I absolutely fell in love with it and put in an offer.”
“When I found out it has been accepted, I remember standing at the kitchen window in the flat I was living in at the time, staring out through the window, and just letting go of all the pain I’d held onto for the last five years.
“I finally felt in control of my life and excited to be able to settle down and take pride in having my own home.”
Linda was the first of 10 colleagues to complete a purchase via the myOwnHome scheme, with another 14 employees expected to do the same in the coming months.
“I will be eternally grateful to Stonewater for making this wonderful opportunity possible,” Linda says, “and I’m extremely proud to be part of the organisation.”
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that community is key.
Before the pandemic, Emily Cook, customer experience manager for Retirement Living at Stonewater, had already found herself benefiting from getting more involved with parents from her children’s school and neighbours.
Her new-found network made her feel part of her local community and had evolved into a reliable pillar of support on which Emily, as a single parent, could rely.
After separating from her husband, Emily was not able to feasibly take out a mortgage big enough or pay the high private rent prices for other homes in the same area.
So, with a deep understanding of the importance of community, and not wanting to move her children to another school, Emily decided the best thing for her to do was to move back into her parents’ home.
“My husband at the time and I owned a home together in an area on the other side of Birmingham and had made the decision to move to Bromsgrove,” she says.
“Keen to move, we decided to rent a house in the area we liked and wait for our original home to sell before looking at buying again.
“However, not long after moving, we made the decision to separate, and my husband returned to our former home, leaving me until the end of the tenancy to find something more long-term.
“My children had settled in really well, and I was conscious of avoiding having to make more changes, like moving school, at an already confusing time.
“But the properties were just too expensive, and I honestly felt like I was going to have to take 50 steps backwards to ensure I kept a roof over my family’s head.”
To add to the dilemma, Emily’s parents, who were the primary carers of her children after school, had moved over to Bromsgrove to be closer to the family and reduce travel time.
“We had everything in place to make sure there was minimal disruption to my children’s routine, and at a snap of the finger it felt like it had all been for nothing,” she says.
Having worked for Stonewater for 12 years, Emily has been used to the introduction of various award schemes and initiatives during her time, but she had never imagined the launch of something like myOwnHome.
“Ironically, I’d been asked to provide feedback on what I thought was just random ideas, which included the myOwnHome scheme,” she recalls.
“I had no idea that Stonewater actually had plans to launch such a scheme and so, when I was at our Company Day last year and they unveiled the video, I had no idea it would be about that.”
“I find it mind-blowing that Stonewater want to support their colleagues as much as they do, especially with something so important like buying a home.”
“I felt like I was going to have to take 50 steps backwards to ensure I kept a roof over my family’s head”
Following the sale of her old home, Emily had enough for a deposit and took full advantage of the pilot scheme.
She is now the proud owner of a three-bed detached house in a cul-de-sac where six of her daughter’s friends live – about three miles from she had lived before.
“Being able to secure a home before the pandemic was an absolute lifeline,” Emily says. “My new neighbours are all quite close-knit, and they welcomed me into the area with open arms.
“Knowing that I’m a single parent, they all offered their help during lockdown and making sure we were okay.
“You can’t buy the feeling of community, and I’m so thankful to have been able to stay in an area that I feel I belong.”
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