Calum Macaulay: How housing associations help communities

Housing associations develop and build homes for communities
Housing associations develop and build homes for communities
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The Scottish housing association movement has felt misunderstood for many years. Often it is reported that the general public don’t know who we are or what we do.

Politicians appear to struggle to decide if we are ­public ­bodies or ­private ­businesses. Yet, we keep ­moving forward with a strong ­commitment to our tenants, their communities and our capacity to address social ­inequality and poor quality housing through investment, innovation and engagement.

For decades, engagement with communities and individual households has been a key ­feature of housing ­association work. We are much more ­likely than other developers to do this in a positive manner in planning proposals.

Since its inception, Albyn has worked alongside communities, helping them to understand our role and how to make best use of their own resources. These days communities have greater access to funding and can use this to build their own homes through bodies such as development trusts. Housing associations can offer skills, expertise and resources to help.

We also work closely with ­the NHS and social work, creating homes for residents with long-term ­disabilities, and shared homes for the most vulnerable members of our society.

This work has now found a new form that reflects the changing pressure points in our health and social care systems. Like many innovative ideas, our ­journey into this field was ­triggered by crisis – in our case, a tenant who died at home and lay undiscovered for more than a year. In trying to learn ­lessons from this we developed primary ­market research with academic institutions which helped us develop an understanding of people’s desires to remain in their own ­communities ­rather than have to be ­hospitalised or placed in a care home when illness, accident or old age catches up.

Further research told us how people relate to IT and what forms of IT would help people to remain in their own communities.

This came to a head when one of my colleagues attended an entrepreneurial development programme at MIT in Boston and met the ­managing director of a house builder with a factory close to our head office.

We are now working together to address the growing societal challenge of an ageing population as well as increasing pressure on NHS beds ­occupied by people in need of social, rather than medical, care.

The result is ‘Fit Homes’, a joint ­venture by Albyn Housing, Carbon Dynamic and NHS Highland, to develop a ­sustainable solution using digital technology, Big Data and IT infrastructure.

Housing associations in Scotland now play an irreplaceable role in supporting a fairer, wealthier and healthier society and leading the fight against poverty, inequality and social exclusion. This ought to be acknowledged and celebrated.

Calum Macaulay is chief executive at Albyn Housing Society.