How a housing association turned a crisis into an opportunity

  • On Boxing Day 2015, more than 300 Salix Homes properties in Greater Manchester were affected by the region’s worst flooding in decades
  • While some tenants were able to remain in their homes, others, such as those living in the Alexander Gardens sheltered housing complex in Lower Broughton, Salford, had to be evacuated
  • A partnership between Salix Homes and the Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust gave the damaged properties a new lease of life, with both organisations – and the wider community – reaping the benefits

At 4pm on Boxing Day 2015, rising floodwaters finally overwhelmed the River Irwell in Salford, causing its banks to burst. Water soon reached Salix Homes’ 36 sheltered housing units at Alexander Gardens, in the Spike Island area of Lower Broughton.

With 310 of its properties affected in this area, Salix Homes immediately put its business continuity plan into action, and where appropriate, was able to remove tenants from the worst affected areas, including Alexander Gardens, and place them in alternative accommodation.

With tenants in many other properties choosing to stay in their homes, the housing association faced a huge logistical challenge to establish who needed help, and how best to support them.

“It took huge effort from our staff and volunteers who worked very closely together to try and overcome the initial damage and upset our tenants were faced with,” says Lewis Dyson, Risk and Insurance Manager, Salix Homes. “It was all the more challenging because several other parts of the country were also badly affected, so there was great demand for things like dehumidifiers.”

Deciding the future of Alexander Gardens

Over the next few months, Salix Homes worked with contractors to begin drying out and repairing its damaged properties. However, the organisation faced a difficult decision regarding the future of Alexander Gardens.

Jonathan Drake, Service Director for Business Development for Salix, explains: “We had managed to get all the tenants quickly settled into other sheltered housing schemes.

“We knew it could be many months until Alexander Gardens was habitable again, so we decided it would be better for them to stay in their new accommodation, where they felt safe and secure, than put them through more upheaval. This left us with a decision about what to do with Alexander Gardens.”

Partnering with the Salford Royal

Having established there was sufficient sheltered housing elsewhere in the Salford area to meet local needs, Salix Homes turned its thoughts to alternative uses for the complex. It soon began discussions with the Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Salford Royal Hospital. The two organisations already work closely together as part of the Salford Health and Housing Partnership.

“Housing providers and clinical providers have common goals,” says Jonathan. “Both want to support people to live independently in their homes, and to improve their health and wellbeing. The Health and Housing Partnership is about how the two organisations can work together more effectively at a strategic level.

“During our regular discussions, we identified that the Salford Royal was struggling to fill 200 vacancies, including doctors, nurses and other clinical staff, and that a lack of suitable accommodation to attract people into Salford was a major reason.”

Reinstating and repurposing Alexander Gardens

As a result of these discussions, it was decided to repurpose the complex into hospital key worker accommodation.

It now provides 26 one and two-bed apartments, which are exclusively for staff at the Salford Royal and their families, and available at below market rent.

“The apartments are fully-furnished, right down to the cheese graters in the kitchen cupboards,” says Jonathan. “That’s allowed Salford Royal to market these properties as a ready-made solution for new employees who want to get their bearings in Salford before they are ready to explore the city. They can move in with just a suitcase.”

Salix Homes still owns and manages the complex, but the Salford Royal has underwritten the cost of any tenancy voids. Jonathan says: “While on paper that might seem a risk for the Trust, demand is such that the risk is actually negligible.”

A win-win situation for both organisations – and the Salford community

The partnership has helped the Salford Royal recruit the staff it needs, and cut its wage bill significantly by reducing its reliance on agency workers. It has also given Salix Homes a guarantee of rental income.

Perhaps most importantly, it has reinforced the organisations’ roles in helping to build a more resilient wider community.

“Health and housing organisations have a responsibility to help each other,” says Jonathan. “If the Salford Royal is struggling to recruit staff, that could have an impact on our tenants, who rely on the hospital’s services.

“It’s really important for us to recognise our role within the community and the impact we can have. Of course, there is a commercial aspect to it too, but it’s commercialism with a social heart.”

How Zurich supported the project

The work to repurpose Alexander Gardens was made possible initially as a result of the extensive flood damage claim administered through Cunningham Lindsey and Zurich. Additional funding came from the Homes England Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes Programme.

But it wasn’t just the financial payment that made the difference for Salix Homes – the smooth claims handling and major loss support Zurich provided was also vital.

“We couldn’t have done it without the help of Zurich and (loss adjusters) Cunningham Lindsey,” says Lewis. “It was a very amicable partnership approach from the beginning. They didn’t make any aspect of the claim feel like a struggle – we weren’t having to quibble about spending £200 on this or £300 on that.

“We also really valued the extra support and guidance Zurich provided, particularly on flood resilience measures.”