John Synnuck gives an overview of Swan, 20 years on from the company’s inception…
Swan started out small. Its original incarnation, Basildon Community Housing Association (BCHA), started life by managing homes transferred to it in Basildon by the Commission For New Towns. BCHA's logo happened to be a Swan. In the late 1980s, the government was pushing the idea of tenant choice; tenants in New Towns could elect to go with the local authority or move to an independent landlord. The Commission for New Towns transferred around 2,000 homes to Basildon Community Housing Association in 1994 and that is where our story begins. We now have over 10,600 homes and 22,500 residents.
When we took on our first 2,000 homes, I quickly realised that Swan had to build more. Housing need was rising then and it continues to rise now; we must address our future responsibilities. That's why in 2016 we adopted the challenging target to deliver an additional 10,000 homes by 2027.
We recognised that, if we undertook the building of new properties ourselves, including homes for private sale, we could maintain our independence and return any profit to social housing. As funding was, and remains, extremely limited, we had to use our entrepreneurship to fund Swan's mission.There has been a shift towards housing associations pursuing commercial aspirations and I have no problem with this, if all the profit is ploughed straight back into meeting housing need. In fact, we've set ourselves the target of generating £250m from our commercial activities by 2027, so we can reinvest in our social purpose - that is providing homes and services to those who need them. The decrease in social housing provision during the last 20 years has created a genuine crisis, together with a dysfunctional market affecting millions. We're trying to do something about this.
We set up a commercial construction subsidiary, NU living, which has now completed over 1200 starts and is building most of our secured development programme of 6,500 homes.
We continue to expand our services providing domiciliary care and support services and property management through Hera - our property management arm. We're ambitious, but why not? Meanwhile, we continue to deliver high quality services to those in need; for example, we provide sheltered housing to people with special needs. We have units that accommodate very young parents and their babies. We own a number of women's refuges and we house NHS key workers.
Alongside putting roofs over people's heads, we take our social responsibilities very seriously. Swan's mission is to provide a comprehensive service, not just collect the rent. This means working hard to involve our residents in a meaningful way creating opportunities - I want us to improve residents' quality of life.
We've always looked to innovate and we are very proud to have won Inside Housing's Award for Modular Construction 2017 - this for our approach which has seen us invest £3m in our very own factory to build modular homes in Basildon. These first homes, which are now BOPAS accredited, were delivered to our regeneration of Beechwood in Basildon and we will use our "NU build system" to deliver up to 100 homes a year, first to Beechwood, then to Laindon Place and then to Watts Grove in Tower Hamlets. You can find out more about our factory on the NU build website.
We should ask whether housing associations can effect positive change. My answer would be yes, at local levels. Improving a run-down estate can make a huge difference to that community, particularly when we invest in community space, training programmes, even in some cases Community Trusts, to support the community. A good example of this is our tackling a tired town centre like Laindon Shopping Centre, which we are transforming into Laindon Place with a new High Street, retail shops, health centre, new Swan office, fantastic public realm and 224 new homes.
For Swan, our focus is on partnership with the Mayor of London, Homes for England and our local authority partners to provide Regenerations. View our developments.
All this work has helped us win What House Housing Association of the Year 2017 and there's still so much more we want to do … our latest project will see us deliver up to 2,850 homes in a new town centre for Purfleet, along with retail and commercial space, improved transport infrastructure, an integrated medical centre, primary school, high quality public realm and up to one million square feet of world class TV and Film production studios. Purfleet on Thames demonstrates the potential for Housing Associations if they work in partnership to make the biggest difference.
I'm very proud to be a part of that.