Berwickshire Housing Association (BHA) has a double reason to celebrate.
Not only is it 25 years this year since they took ownership of the local authority housing stock from Berwickshire District Council back in 1995, but they have also reached the milestone of having built 300 new homes.
Berwickshire tenants took a leap of faith 25 years ago and agreed to be part of Scotland’s largest single transfer of housing stock from a local authority to a locally set up housing association.
For the first 12 years Philip Jones was at the helm as BHA’s Chief Executive and did a fantastic job in delivering on the promises to tenants to upgrade their houses and make sure that they were up to the standards of the day.
When Phil stepped down 13 years ago Helen Forsyth took up the baton and took the Association from strength to strength. Helen retires later this year and taking up the reins as the new Chief Executive at the end of October will be Michelle Meldrum who joins BHA from the Gentoo Group in the north east of England.
Helen Forsyth said: “We started building in 1999 and our first new house was in Duns, since then, with a small gap following the financial crash in 2009, we have now built 300 houses.
“Looking back on BHA’s 25 years there have been many highlights. One of these was, undoubtedly, recognising the need to make our houses more energy efficient and experimenting with and developing renewable energy solutions that will indeed be the future for all our housing over the next 10-20 years. That’s something that was started during Philip Jones’ time and has continued, and we hope all our tenants will benefit from that.
“Another highlight would be our Community Wind Farm (The Fisherman Three at Hoprigshiels, Cockburnspath) which has enabled us to create an income which is independent of government funding or rent and can be used for our housing.
“That income will become more and more useful over the next 25 years, so we are very excited about that. With this we are also contributing to renewable energy for the whole area because most of the energy from the wind farm is used in the local area.
“Another highlight is when we decided to enter ‘Best Companies’. Over a four-year period, we achieved No 9 in the UK standings and that was a moment of great pride because often, people see us as a very small area of Scotland and we get forgotten so it was nice to give ourselves a wider profile. It was also an indication of the fact that as an organisation we are happy and healthy and that we are committed to our staff as well as our communities and our customers.
“The development of our Financial Inclusion Team is a source of great pride. It enables us to reach out to tenants who are in real need and offer them a very personal and private service and help them to overcome difficulties. They are a fantastic team and the leader of that team recently won an award for ‘excellence in frontline housing’ which was very well deserved.
“The work our Befriending team do with vulnerable and older people across Berwickshire should also be noted. The people they visit really feel the benefit, both in their physical and mental wellbeing.
“Another excellent initiative is the work we do with our local schools where we reach out to our prospective tenants before they actually become tenants. We engage with students and run programmes with them and prepare them for independent life. This has been terrifically good fun and has created very positive relationships.
“A source of great pride over the past 25 years is how many of our staff are very much integrated into our local communities. They know and care deeply about the people they are working with on a day to day basis and this has created very positive relationships for both tenants and staff.
“It’s very hard to see into the next 25 years, however, there are sure to be very exciting times ahead for the organisation.
“We will have to invest a great deal in our present stock and actually that will make those houses, warmer, more secure and potentially more attractive internally and externally. This should make them more desirable for local people who want to live here and want to create a strong economy in the Borders.
“However, the challenge will be to do that while continuing to keep our rents low. We will absolutely need to work alongside other housing associations and local agencies and be open to working in a much more collaborative way. This would mean, for instance, contracting jointly to deliver services so that they can be cheaper. We already do this do a certain extent with, for example, our gas contract which we deliver with two or three other housing associations.
“Hopefully, in the next 25 years our houses are highly desirable, communities are thriving and people find it easy to get a service from us quickly and effectively and our staff have time to work with, and support, people who find life more challenging thus enabling them to function successfully in the community.
“I suppose the thing we are most proud of is the fact that we see ourselves as a community anchor, collaborating and working alongside a whole range of community groups and agencies to try and deliver the best service we possibly can.”
Florence Richards, who has lived in her BHA home in Coldstream for the last 25 years, has nothing but praise for BHA.
She said: “I can’t speak highly enough of BHA and have never had any issues with them during the past 25 years. They always get things done when I ask and make me feel it is my own home. I enjoy living here.”
Maureen Douglas has lived in her BHA home in Greenlaw for the past 17 years and says she would recommend BHA to people wanting to move into the area.
She said:” BHA are a friendly organisation and offer lots of support. Their Financial Inclusion Team are amazing and the BeFriend service is second to none.”
The completion of the final phase of its Todlaw development in Duns earlier this year saw BHA reach the 300 milestone.
Millar Court, Station Crescent and Station Drive make up the last phase of the Todlaw project which has provided a total of 87 new affordable and energy efficient homes including a diverse mix of shared equity, wheelchair bungalows, respite bungalows, general needs and supported accommodation.
These homes, constructed by Hart Builders (Edinburgh) Ltd, have been developed in partnership with Scottish Borders Council and the Scottish Government and contribute to the More Homes Better Homes new housing delivery.
BHA Convener Jim McDevitt added: “It is with great pride that I represent Berwickshire Housing Association in their 25th year of providing social housing for the people of Berwickshire.
“This is the year when we reached the milestone of completing our 300th new home for our tenants and we will continue to focus on providing quality homes for our customers.
“The past few months should have been a time of celebration for everyone associated with BHA but the COVID19 pandemic has necessarily stopped this happening. I fervently hope that our 50th anniversary is not blighted by a pandemic like the one presently affecting the lives of everyone in our region – indeed throughout most of the world.
“When we return to a new form of normality, probably only when a vaccine is discovered, BHA will aim to continue to improve the lives of our clients by making their homes the best they can be.
“A business such as ours can only be as good as its staff and it is clear we have an excellent team at BHA who ‘go the extra mile’ to improve the lives of our tenants. A measure of any business as a place to work is the turnover figure of staff at all levels – our figures are excellent. This can no better be illustrated than the fact that in 25 years we have only had two Chief Executives – firstly Philp Jones and laterally Helen Forsyth.
“When Helen retires at the end of October she will leave a legacy that is nothing short of remarkable. I look forward to working with her replacement, Michelle Meldrum, as we plan for the next 25 years.
“Here’s to the future of Berwickshire Housing Association.”