Gateshead is feeling the effects of these broader national issues, particularly in relation to the local economy and impact on life chances.
Historically, we’re one of the most deprived boroughs in the country and we continue to struggle with a high number of children and families who need extra support and specialist interventions. This directly impacts on quality of life in the borough, with life expectancy being lower than it should be; educational achievement not quite hitting the mark; wage levels stagnating; and unemployment figures remaining stubbornly static.
The demographic profile of the area is also set to change over the next 20 years with the number of older people expected to grow dramatically, pushing housing and support provision for the elderly and the vulnerable to the top of the list for housing providers and key support agencies.
The past few years have also seen a dramatic shift in demand for particular types of property in the borough. Reductions in income for customers, changes in lifestyle and climbing demand for more aspirational and modern homes has meant that letting certain types of property, particularly flats in our multi-storey blocks, has become increasingly difficult.
Our customers should have a home in a neighbourhood which they are proud of. If we’re going to ensure this, we will need to think about the range of homes we offer and their suitability for the future, and respond quickly to market failure to safeguard tenancies, communities and the business.
Our customers are incredibly important to us, as without them we don’t have a business. Their expectations are higher than ever, which is challenging, but very rewarding when we get it right. Working with and listening to our customers to really understand what’s most important to them and make sure we do those things well, is absolutely crucial to our future success.
Following feedback from our most recent customer survey, we know we need to think about how we make our services more accessible and engaging. Customers are looking for a stand-out experience, quality in services and a range of ways (including digital platforms) to engage with us and give feedback, which we then use to improve and develop services.
Customers are also looking for us to improve the look and feel of our neighbourhoods and help them to build sustainable communities, particularly if we are to preserve them for future generations. Most customers interact with us when their home is in need of repair and on that basis there is a clear expectation that we deliver repairs quickly and to the highest possible standard. As we now have responsibility for the delivery of repairs and home improvement programmes, we’re in a much stronger position to influence the quality, efficiency and cost of the service. Customers have also told us that they wish to feel safe and secure in their homes, and where anti-social behaviour is a problem, they want to see us take action quickly and effectively.
Most of our customers simply want to rent their home and live their lives; only accessing our services if and when they need to. However, it’s currently estimated that almost a third of the population of Gateshead is classed as vulnerable and in need of some kind of support to safeguard their income, their home and their wellbeing.
Against a backdrop of reducing Council resources and cutbacks in the support offered by other key agencies in the borough, we’re an essential frontline service, providing advice and support to people in real need. A safe, settled home is the foundation on which better lives are built and flourishing communities are created. Protecting our frontline offer is essential if we are to work with the Council to make Gateshead a place where everybody thrives. That’s why it’s crucial that we concentrate on what we do best – which is to provide the best home we can and help people to stay there for the long term. We also have limited resources, so we can’t make a lasting change on our own. By empowering our communities to help themselves and working in partnership with the Council and other key partners
and agencies to play our role to deliver support when and where it is needed, we can combine our efforts and together we can truly transform lives for the better in the borough.
We face a lot of challenges, but we’re optimistic because Gateshead has a lot going for it. The Council has big plans to regenerate and revitalise the borough through a targeted cultural renaissance programme. Ultimately, this will transform the borough into a premier business and visitor destination, creating jobs, learning and training opportunities.
As with all good economic plans, housing will play a central role in that growth, giving us an unprecedented opportunity to provide genuine choice in how and where people live and the quality of the spaces they live in. A rich history of key agencies working well together and a real appetite to make Gateshead into something special means we’re confident that these ambitious plans have every chance of success.