Thousands of people across the South West of England are being asked to share their views on the proposed merger of housing associations Solon South West and United Communities.
The proposed plans would pave the way for the creation of a new housing association that would bear responsibility for more than 3,100 homes in and around Bristol, South Gloucestershire, and the Swindon area.
Under the proposals, a single housing association would be established to ensure residents “enjoy safe and comfortable homes and experience better customer service”.
Residents are now being given the chance to have their say on the planned partnership over the next six weeks.
United Communities and Solon South West, both based in Bristol, have been exploring the proposal and believe together they would do more for residents and communities in Bristol and the surrounding area than they could separately.
Solon and United Communities say the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown and shielding of vulnerable people has meant postponing the staging of public meetings to discuss the plans, so they have stepped up efforts to get residents involved in other ways.
All residents have already been emailed with information setting out the new plans and offering several ways to comment on the proposals. The consultation packs are due to be delivered in mid-August.
The packs will explain some of the perceived benefits of the merger, which include:
- An accessible and modern customer office
- Fast, high-quality and consistent customer service focused on a personal approach
- A self-service portal on a new website enabling residents to contact staff at any time and request things to be done
- Faster and more effective response to anti-social behaviour
- An annual home safety MOT
- An ongoing annual programme of improvements to the quality of communal areas in flats
- A major overhaul of how residents report repairs, track progress and provide feedback
- For shared owners, the option of paying the housing association to carry out repairs rather than having to find contractors
- An annual programme of improvements to the energy efficiency of the homes
- Genuine resident involvement in in the running of the new association
- A proposed five-year programme of £10m investment on home improvements plus around 500 newly built homes
During the consultation, residents are also being invited to express interest in joining the new association’s board and new resident panel, which will provide people with a greater say in how the new organisation is run.
As well as completing feedback forms in the consultation packs, residents are being invited to attend online discussions about the proposed merger and take part in online focus groups to ask questions about the Customer Service Proposal.
The plans have been developed by the Solon South West and United Communities boards and staff teams working closely with a number of resident volunteers who have given their time to help over the summer.
They have already worked together to set up the Coronavirus Community Fund, which has seen grants handed out to a number of groups in many communities to help people get through the coronavirus pandemic, one example is St Werburghs Community Association foodbank.
The final decision on the proposals will only be made once residents’ views have been carefully weighed up after the consultation phase ends on September 17.
“Residents should take advantage”
The leaders of the two organisations believe the merger is “vital” for residents to take advantage of a wide-ranging consultation process.
United Communities’ chair James Taylor said: “We think that these are exciting proposals to change the face of the communities we serve for the better.
“We firmly believe that together we can deliver an improved housing service to all our tenants and leaseholder customers.
“Improving customer service is the key reason for the merger because as individual associations we are held back by a lack of resources, particularly around specialist skills and new technology.
“Now we are extremely keen to find out what residents think on the proposed merger before we make the decision on whether or not to go ahead as their interests are at the heart of everything we do.”
Solon South West chair Graham Oliver added: “We are determined to deliver the best services and high-quality homes for people across the South West and we are certain the best way to do that is by combining our resources and expertise.
“Merging would allow us to rise to new challenges, such as increasing health and safety and energy efficiency requirements and adapting to welfare reform and this will be achieved while retaining the personal service that we know residents value.
“Our organisations will aim to maintain our joint heritage and have greater influence in making the case for more affordable housing and stronger communities and make the South West a better place to live than ever for people from all backgrounds.”
A joint meeting of Solon South West and United Communities boards of directors will review the outcome of resident consultation and decide whether to proceed with the merger in late September.