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At the moment it is wet and miserable outside in West Ealing but the Christmas period surprised me with the number of sunny days which meant I could spend a lot of time walking in the country side. Walking is a great way to relieve stress and I needed a break after a particularly challenging Autumn. When things are not going well you don’t want to put this up on a public blog, especially on a website for an organisation dedicated to helping people in need. Who needs someone who moans at you?
Thankfully, while we still face challenges at Pathways I can look back on a year where we accomplished a great deal in improving our services to residents. We have also put things in train which will have even bigger impacts in the future, particularly in reducing costs for residents and increasing our funds for investment in our stock. I am very proud to have a staff team of dedicated officers who are good at their job and put the needs of residents first. In the coming months we will be advertising for new people to join our team and increase the breadth and depth of our services. Its going to be great!

Our proposals for the development of Dean Ct and the Mattock lane site are progressing well and we have completed RIBA stage one which was reported to our board last night. We have now had 8 consultation meetings and met with 80 residents, plot holders and representatives of community organisations. Most people realise that there is a need for social housing but many are opposed to losing any open space to help meet that need. We had a really useful meeting with Ealing Officers yesterday where we discussed making the Mattock lane site a car free development. This would mean that the land take could be up to 50% less which should go a long way in helping ease peoples concerns. Our residents are largely supportive of the scheme as they see the benefit of having new, larger level access flats with good sound and heat insulation. We have created a new website dedicated to this development which can be found at www.pathwaysdeancourt.org.uk

Today is an important day for Pathways, our residents at Dean Court and the plot holders at Northfields allotments as we announce plans for a major redevelopment.

Our initial scheme proposes to redevelop the existing properties at Dean Court in order to increase the amount and quality of these homes. The scheme would provide a total of approximately 110 Pathways social homes and 30 homes for sale. There is an acute shortage of affordable housing for older people in Ealing, but demand is increasing all the time. We want to do more to improve the amount of good quality supported housing in the borough and play our part in helping vulnerable older people.

We are therefore proposing to redevelop our properties at Dean Court and build new affordable homes at Mattock Lane. This will mean developing a small proportion – around 10% – of the Northfields Avenue Allotment site. The proposals are in the very early stage of development and Pathways are now starting a lengthy period of consultation with Dean Court residents, allotment plot holders and the local community.

We know that this will mean disruption for residents and plot holders but we are committed to working with them and other key stakeholders to ensure that our plans are developed to maximise the benefits and minimise the inconvenience. We are particularly committed to keeping the existing residents of Dean Court together and enabling everyone to move back to the new development. The new development will have level access for all residents and special features which will enable people to live independently in their homes for as long as possible. The additional housing provided will all be at 50% of market rents making it truly affordable for people in need.

You can find out more about our proposals by downloading the booklet below.

Dean Court Redevelopment

 

Pathways hosted an interesting meeting with members of the West London Almshouses Group yesterday. We all caught up with the key issues we are dealing with, Dementia was quite high on the list as well as issues around becoming an incorporated charity and the implication for Almshouses of the Brexit vote, ( no one knew except if property prices fall then some development schemes are going to be less viable). We then took some of the group around a couple of our schemes.

Part of the informal discussion over lunch was about minimum standards for Almshouse accommodation. While most of the Pathways stock is quite good we do have some very old properties which are very small with difficult access, sometimes bedsit studios and not really good accommodation for elderly people. They are often listed as well, which makes putting in double glazing and other improvements difficult and sometimes impossible.

I have drafted a discussion paper for our board which proposes we dispose of these properties and re provide them as part of a new development. I can see that there could be considerable difficulties in taking this approach and we would need the support of the Almshouses Association as well formal consent from the Charity Commission. I think we need to deal with this issue though and I suspect that we are not the only Almshouse organisation which has some stock which is designed for expectations of past times. It is bound to raise some sensitivities and many people may oppose such a strategy.

Last week I met up with Ann and Andrea from Dovedale who had a few issues to raise with me, three pages of typed text to be precise. The main issue was the programme to repair the windows. Dovedale is a listed building and we were not allowed to replace the existing windows with double glazing, even if we made facsimile windows. Ann was not convinced we had tried hard enough to convince the conservation officer in the Council and was also concerned that there was a lack of proper consultation. I think in the end Ann and Andrea were a little less sceptical about our dealings with the planning officer, but I had to concede our consultation process had not been good enough.

It has always been very clear to me that residents know more about their property and the issues that need to be addressed  than even the most experienced housing officer. It is self evident, even without the three pages of typed up notes. Where housing providers let themselves down is by not talking to residents to find out their concerns and if they do find out, not addressing them. Most people just want to be listened to if they have a concern.

So I listened very closely to Ann and Andrea as they raised their issues one by one. I made sure that the relevant person was instructed to deal with the issue and told Ann and Andrea to come back to me if anything was not done to their satisfaction. I am very happy about Ann and Andrea coming in to see me. Now I know what the issues are, have instructed the right person to deal with it and can be confident that if anything causes them concern they can get in touch with me straight away. I also know who should be contacted in person when we do an estate inspection. I hesitate to say that Ann is an unpaid pair of eyes on the ground for me as It might result in a demand for payment if she reads this. However my hands are tied, we are not allowed to pay our residents although sometimes I think it would be a very cost effective way of keeping on top of a whole range of issues.

Church Gardens & Bowmans Court Street Party 12th June 2016

The street party was a great success!

On Sunday morning it poured with rain, but by midday it was just a drizzle. At twelve o’clock a few of the planners came out to meet on the street with questioning faces, the decision was made to go ahead, and all the activity started. Tables and chairs were brought out, flags and balloons were hung down the street, and someone wheeled a portable bar down the street and set it up.  A small tent and a large awning were put up providing shelter for most of the party.

Plenty of residents and Bowman’s Court residents and their friends came, bringing lots of plates of food and drink, and as they arrived they were welcomed at the bar with a glass of Pimms. A chef from the Rose & Crown pub came down the street wheeling his portable barbecue, and soon started serving delicious hot dogs.

Music and conversation continued all afternoon. The children were happily making birthday cards for the queen with chalk on the pavement. The party was meant to finish around 4pm, but was still going strong at 6pm, and was only finally cleared away just after 7pm.

Thank you to the organisers!

I went to a residents meeting in Greenwich last week. It is one of a whole series of meetings we are having at all 18 schemes we are currently managing. Our Head of Housing, Alison, is leading on  all of them and is going to have a very busy month. I am going to as many as I can fit in this time round. At the Greenwich meeting it was my job to explain what we are going to do for planned maintenance, which is mainly kitchens and bathrooms.

During the conversation we discovered that one lady had been promised a new bathroom by the previous managing agents because she cannot use the bath. Somehow this information was never acted on and she has had to put up with an inadequate bathroom for some time. In our planned maintenance programme the bathrooms are due to be replaced in January 2017 but since this lady had waited so long I decided to bring her bathroom forward and do it as a one off job.

We are currently taking part in a pilot study with the University of the South Bank which hopes to demonstrate that using high quality components saves on overall costs in the long term. In practical terms this means we will be using high quality baths, showers and taps from a company called ‘takeparts’. I had a look at the samples and wished I new about them before I just had a new bathroom suite fitted in my flat. They look indestructible. So our Greenwich lady will be the first Pathways resident to have a new bathroom with a special low profile shower as part of the pilot scheme. I am hoping to be able to fit these to all our properties eventually although I don’t think we will be forcing people to have a shower if it means losing a bath. I can’t see that going down too well.

In 1995 I got my first job as a Housing Officer working for Southwark Council in the Abbeyfield Neighbourhood Office in Rotherhithe. I had been a builder before that and one of the first things I noticed when I had been in post for a few weeks was how clean my hands were and the cuts and nicks you pick up working on building sites has healed. For the first time in years my hands were not sore. As a Housing Officer I dealt with rents, maintenance and lettings as well as anti social behaviour and neighbour disputes. While I was there I worked on the frontline, dealing with some very unhappy people. I got a lot of satisfaction in helping to sort out peoples problems and now I find that because of some long term staff  sickness issues I am once again working in the frontline to help cover for our housing team. So far I have had to deal with housing applications, maintenance problems, TV licence threatened enforcement actions and complaints about the quality of windows proposed in our planned maintenance programme.

The issue that had the biggest impact on me, especially my respect for the housing team, was trying to help an old lady who came into the office to get assistance with her pension. She was one of our local residents and she told me that she could not get her pension and did not know what to do. She had been to the Council and she said that ‘they had a big change round’ and she now had problems. We sat down to talk through her issues and it became clear she was very confused and suffering from dementia. I managed to get her NI number and phoned up the pensions service where we found out that she was being paid her pension as normal, but she did not know if she had a bank account or a post office account. When our Housing Manager came out of a meeting I found out she knew our resident and she went to her home to see if she could help. An hour later she came back having found the ladies bank card and found out that she had been withdrawing her pension regularly, she just forgot.

Getting first hand experience of what our housing officers face on a daily basis has been very worthwhile. They take the time and trouble to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society and are often the first point of call for many people who have no other people to support them. I am really proud of them and proud of our organisation who put our residents first and care about the quality of our service.

It is a very busy period at the moment with 12 items for the next board agenda and it seems that a new one gets added everyday. We have the auditors in as well, camped in our boardroom for the next three weeks! I was a bit shocked to find out how much they cost us and the Large Almshouses group were very helpful in providing me with some comparison costs which helped put my mind at ease. So, I need to crack on but a resident sent me this photo which I thought I would share. This is the first time I have added media to a blog post so lets see if it works.160511 Tawny Close in bloom 2

I had an interesting visit to the Welshore Community Hub yesterday run by our Pathways Trustee, Christina. The Hub is a much used community resource for West Ealing, especially for our elderly residents. Christina is passionate about her community and she surrounds herself with people of equal passion. One such person is Dawn, who had a long career in community work before training herself to be a barrister and setting up her own company. Dawn still champions community work and runs a legal resource centre from the hub three days a week. Yesterday she had seen over a dozen clients who get free legal advice and representation. She is a powerhouse, a real legal eagle, and I think that once she has her opponent in her sights in court then they are going to get taken down. The meeting was serendipitous, because I have a little legal issue over a dead tree falling over and flattening my car. The owner of the tree tells me it was an act of God. I think Dawn might persuade him to take a bit more responsibility.

A day after my visit to the allotments a local resident emailed me to complain about the bonfires, so now I have to deal with a real burning issue. We have already agreed to restrict the hours when plot holders can have bonfires and I have asked that they will be banned on Sundays altogether. The question is should the allotment committee have just one place well away from houses where they can burn their rubbish or should everything go off to the council as part of their recycling? Or should we keep with the status quo and let the plot holders burn rubbish at designated times? I used to have a lot of fun with bonfires in my garden but now I am suppressing my inner pyromaniac for the benefit of the climate. I generally restrict them these days to the autumn clear up and  the annual garden party. I take a lot of stuff down the dump but I  have an estate car. It is difficult to know what is best. Any views welcome, its a hot topic and I don’t want to get my fingers burned!

I started as the new CEO of Pathways three months ago and am starting to feel I have the scope of the job. Yesterday I wrote my first workplan which sets out what I need to complete over the next six to nine months, thats about as far into the future I can usefully plan for right now. It has been an interesting time getting to know the staff, the board and some of the residents. Today I had my first tour of the Northfields allotments which Pathways inherited from a charity set up in the 17th Century by the Bishop of London.

Today was also the day where I met a local community activist, Simon,  who had been part of the community development team of a local housing association and who is now working with ex offenders, new business start ups and a campaign to reduce crime in our local park, Dean Gardens. Simon gave me a whistle stop tour of the area, the problems, some of the solutions and some of the barriers he is trying to overcome. Now we have to consider how best Pathways can support the community in West Ealing and where we can most usefully engage with other partners and initiatives.

My main focus at the moment is the reorganisation our team and a review of all our contracts to ensure we highest quality service for the best value for money. Once that process is complete I will be moving onto developing our business expansion strategy. Headlines in the housing press are dominated by the stories of merger mania with organisations like Peabody joining up with other giants in the housing sector to create the new housing giants of the future. Pathways is not in that league but you have to start somewhere!

It is the new financial year and new charges now apply for many of our residents, as well as for residents of other housing providers. It can be easy for our residents to inadvertently fall into weekly maintenance contribution (WMC) arrears, even if they regularly make payments towards their account with us. However, it is also very easy to avoid falling into arrears so long as our residents take the following steps:

  • Remember that weekly maintenance contributions should be paid in advance. Ideally you should have at least four weeks worth of credit with us.
  • If you cannot afford to cover your housing costs please contact your local authority’s housing benefit department. If in doubt speak with your housing officer for advice on this.
  • For convenience and to avoid forgetting to make payments, set up a standing order (our preferred method of payment). Your housing officer can help you to do this if you have difficulty.
  • If you fall into arrears speak with your housing officer as soon as possible. It will be easier to resolve earlier with a simple payment plan than later if your arrears are much higher.
  • Read your annual WMC charges notification letter very carefully to ensure any standing orders are set up to pay the correct amount each month. If your standing order is set up correctly and paid four weeks in advance you should not fall into arrears.

If you are a Pathways resident who needs any more advice on how to avoid falling into arrears and managing them if they occur, contact the Pathways housing office.

See other helpful advice and tips articles

On Friday 22nd January, the residents of Dean Court enjoyed an afternoon party at St. John’s Church Hall in West Ealing (even though the weather was dreadful). Jo Giddings, Housing Officer and Sue Sampson, Maintenance Officer opened proceedings by welcoming residents and explaining briefly how the idea for the event was put forward by a resident at a previous residents meeting. Residents were introduced to our new Chief Executive, Clive Wilson and enjoyed an afternoon of music, a light buffet, a quiz and a raffle.

The event was an excellent opportunity for residents to meet and socialise together. There was much talk about residents making use of the “Resident Participation Fund” provided by Pathways to organise future events in the coming year.

If you are a Pathways resident and would like to organise a social event for residents at your scheme please speak with your Housing Officer who can assist. Although Pathways will be happy to offer assistance where we can the events will belong to the residents. Events that we will support can include parties, day trips, coffee mornings or similar.

Pathways has grown over the last few years and so has our team of staff, outgrowing our current office premises and in order to continue to improve our service and effectiveness it is essential for us to move.

We will shortly be moving, temporarily, from 65 Tawny Close to St. James’ House that is located along West Ealing Broadway (Uxbridge Road). We will be based here until construction of our new community room and ancilliary offices are completed at Bowmans Close, West Ealing.

We weighed up our options which included redeveloping our current office, purchasing a new premises or building a new community room with offices attached for Pathways staff to work in.

We decided that in order to have a space that was most suited to our needs it made sense to build our own premises alongside a community room so this is what we chose to do.

We were granted planning permission for a community room and ancilliary office premises at Bowmans Close in October 2015 and construction work will begin shortly.

We plan to move to our new premises on Thursday 25th February.

Our telephone numbers will remain the same and any post to our current office at 65 Tawny Close will be forwarded to us at our new temporary address. Our new temporary address will be:

Housing Pathways
First Floor, St. James’ House
105 – 113 The Broadway
London, W13 9BE

side-views-bc-officesAt long last we are able to report some good news on this project. We have now received approval from London Borough of Ealing to build our new community rooms with ancillary offices in Bowman’s Close, Ealing.

The building will consist of two floors with the upper floor having a large community room, kitchen and toilets for use by residents and Pathways.

The upper floor will be serviced by a platform lift making it accessible to everyone. As you will see on the plans the offices are on the lower floor. There will also be small meeting rooms for us to use to see residents/families in private away from the noise of the busy office.

We are anticipating erecting the hoarding around the car park sometime in January following a letter drop to our neighbours in Seaford Road as it is believed that they use our car park as well.
We are currently in the process of discharging the few conditions to planning that we have as this needs to be done prior to the build starting on site.

This is a very exciting time in Pathways history, and as many of you who have visited us in our existing office are well aware of, which is necessary for us to be able to comply with the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 as it will offer essential cloakroom facilities as well as a kitchen/rest area for all.

Work on the building is not likely to commence until mid-February although should this change we will write to the residents in Bowman’s Close to let them know.