Martin Armstrong: Regeneration is more than bricks and mortar

Housing has been a fantastic catalyst for community regeneration in cities such as Glasgow. Picture: Michael Gillen
Housing has been a fantastic catalyst for community regeneration in cities such as Glasgow. Picture: Michael Gillen
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REAL economic and social benefit is the key, writes Martin Armstrong

Regeneration means different things to different people. For some, it’s bringing swathes of neglected land back into use; for others, it’s building attractive buildings for people to live and work in.

For many organisations across the UK, including Wheatley Group, our imaginations are wider and greater, our ambition much deeper, as we work with partners to improve and sustain entire communities.

Of course, we recognise the importance of modernising the built environment and, yes, our bread and butter will always be providing homes people are proud to live in. But the provision of infrastructure, crucial as it is, is not enough. Physical regeneration is a golden opportunity to drive real economic and social benefit through communities, often providing a spring board to transform people’s lives.

It’s heartening to note the political world, in recognising this, is more seriously placing housing where it belongs: in the higher echelons of their parties’ manifestos. This appears to be the case as the political campaigns for the forthcoming Scottish parliamentary elections gather momentum.

It’s good news for housing organisations of all shapes and sizes across the country and, more importantly, the people and communities we serve. It will ensure organisations like Wheatley - in “Making Homes and Lives Better” - continue to support tenants and their families, particularly those who are vulnerable and affected by poverty and poor health, to find jobs, apprenticeships and training opportunities; feel safer in their communities; and enjoy a better all-round sense of wellbeing.

Housing has been a fantastic catalyst for community regeneration in cities such as Glasgow. GHA, the powerhouse of Wheatley Group and Scotland’s biggest social landlord, has invested over £1.3 billion refurbishing and upgrading over 70,000 homes.

Thousands of unfit homes have been demolished, thousands of new homes have been built and thousands more are in the pipeline.

Glasgow has improved beyond all recognition and the transformation of its affordable housing stock is central to that.

To date, the investment work carried out by GHA and the other Wheatley Registered Social Landlords - Cube, Loretto, West Lothian Housing Partnership and Dunedin Canmore – has created no fewer than 11,000 jobs and 2000 training places. Our Wheatley Pledge scheme, stipulating our contractors create jobs and training opportunities within our communities, has added a further 221 jobs / training places.

Over the next 10 years, we will build another 10,000 homes across Scotland. Ambitious? Certainly. But the real challenge will be to maximise the impact of hundreds of millions of pounds of investment, in the widest sense possible.

Strategic partnerships with Scottish Government and local authorities, such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian, will be at the centre of our efforts and plans, as will continuing close collaboration with our police, fire and health partners.

The launch this spring of a new Wheatley Foundation, under the chairmanship of Scotland’s former Chief Medical Officer, Sir Harry Burns, will be another incredible step forward in “Making Homes and Lives Better”.

This new charitable foundation will build on all the wider action work we have undertaken over the past 
13 years. It will take it to a whole new level by supporting projects that tackle poverty and social isolation, such as digital inclusion programmes, learning and employability schemes and sports and cultural activities.

It will distribute the millions of pounds in surpluses generated by Wheatley’s eight partner organisations to good causes, augmented by matched funding leverage in from externals sources.

So, here we are: investing not only in the fabric of people’s homes, but in the very fabric of their lives too. That’s what I call real regeneration.

• Martin Armstrong, Chief Executive of Wheatley Group