A successful mobilisation strategy sets the standard for the delivery of vital social housing repairs and maintenance contracts.
We have mobilised ten new repairs and maintenance contracts on behalf of social landlords over the past 18 months alone, David Morgan, Executive Managing Director of Wates Property Services, gives his insight on the business’ tried and tested approach to effective contract mobilisation.
There are over 5 million social housing homes across the UK, all receiving investments in a variety of repairs and maintenance, and a figure this vast requires careful strategic planning and impeccable logistics to ensure residents across the country receive the standard of service they deserve. There are a multitude of facets to mobilisation and they all need equal care and attention; we need an understanding of the properties, engagement with residents, the transfer of staff and the integration of IT systems, and all of these must be managed efficiently.
Over the past year and a half, we have mobilised ten new repairs and maintenance contracts, including a programme of works to carry out responsive repairs and void refurbishments to 17,000 properties on behalf of Lambeth Borough Council. Of the new contracts, seven involved the transfer of around 250 operatives from previous employers to the Wates team. The logistics involved are challenging and are only possible through a flexible approach to mobilisation. By its nature, mobilisation is a fluid process, one that requires adaptability, strategic thinking and problem solving. It’s my belief that those things happen only when client and service provider work as one team, from day one.
Putting residents at the forefront
There is a risk in social housing repairs and maintenance that the industry can become so heavily focussed on systems and processes that we lose sight of the reason that we are there – the residents. Putting residents first has always been a fundamental part of our work in social housing and at times, this involves some frank and open conversations but when done in the right way, and collaboratively with social landlords, we set the right tone from the off, which in-turn enables us to provide an efficient and high-quality service that crucially makes a real difference to people’s lives.
In 2020, we mobilised a new contract on behalf of Barnsley Council and the team had an exceptional strategy for resident engagement. At the outset of mobilisation, we invited resident representatives to join the mobilisation core group, giving them a forum to understand our processes and raise concerns directly with the team. This level of transparency is extremely valuable; our job is to be deserving of residents’ trust and give them confidence that we will deliver a high-quality service. The only way to do this is to listen, understand and respond.
In January this year the Government released its new charter for social housing, which rightly put residents’ voices and needs at the forefront of social housing. This policy paper put into black and white what many social landlords and service providers have always believed; that resident participation is a vital part of all planned and responsive repairs and maintenance. It has always been a core part of Wates’ mobilisation strategy. We work with social landlords to understand residents and ensure the service delivered keeps their individual needs in mind, but more importantly we talk directly with residents. They are opening their homes to us and that requires a lot of trust so we have dedicated resident liaison officers that form a core part of our mobilisation teams to listen to, and address, any concerns residents may have.
Good mobilisation should always be scalable
Whether you are mobilising a small team across a handful of properties or a major taskforce that will service tens of thousands of homes, the high standards should always be the same. If you achieve this, then you have struck upon a successful mobilisation model. In April 2016, we mobilised a fleet of 190 vehicles, managed by 266 operatives to service 31,000 homes on behalf of Birmingham City Council. This was to become the largest contract mobilised by Wates and one of the largest social housing programmes in the UK.
As part of this mobilisation, we transferred members of the team over to Wates, migrated all systems successfully, commissioned a new service fleet, undertook training and worked with the council and its residents to ensure the contract was successful as soon as it went live. Creating a smooth transfer into the contract was our number one priority for the council, its residents, and our team. Without working together, that simply wouldn’t have been possible – particularly given the scale of the work. Five years later, we are still the same well-oiled machine we were and that’s not because we congratulate ourselves on our success, it’s because we continually interrogate our processes and look for a better way.
The learnings from the pandemic will be here to stay
The Covid-19 pandemic threw some incredibly tough challenges at social landlords, who had a duty to continue delivering their service to residents while also keeping both them and the contracting teams safe. The need for social housing repairs and maintenance was unabated and so finding a safe and efficient means of undertaking vital work was necessary. This was particularly the case for social landlords who were in the process of mobilising new contracts.
Among the challenges presented by the pandemic was communicating our Covid-secure working practices with the people we came into contact with, and our resident-first approach really helped us achieve this. We commissioned an animation for residents to help demonstrate our new working practices and how we were managing social distancing, helping to reassure them of the safety measures we were taking. We took a step back, questioned how we could do things differently and were able to apply innovation to overcome a challenge; we were thinking on our feet.
In 2020, we successfully mobilised a 10-year contract with Crawley Borough Council to carry out repairs for 9,400 homes and 5,000 garages, an achievement that we can attribute to our collective agility. A blend of virtual communications and innovative training methods enabled the team to prepare systems, vehicles and equipment to ensure housing repairs were delivered without delay. Wates has never been a business that operates within rigid and confined processes. If we have a challenge, we communicate with our clients and think on our feet. If the pandemic taught us anything, it taught us that no matter the obstacle, solutions can always be found.