Wheatley Foundation’s (TWF) innovation is a service called ‘My Great Start’, targeted at social housing tenants from vulnerable groups. The
interviewee Sharon McIntyre, Financial Inclusion Innovation Manager,
describes the aim of this service as an “early intervention and prevention
service” for social housing tenants, designed to create sustainable communities. The innovation contributes to SDG 1 - No Poverty; SDG 2 - Zero Hunger; SDG 3 Health and Well-Being and SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities.
Glasgow Caledonian University
The innovation seeks to solve the inter-related problems of homelessness, poverty, health and well-being and sustainable communities prevalent amongst those entering social housing. Research suggests that people from disadvantaged groups have difficulties establishing and maintaining a stable home due to poor education and low skill levels, and a lack of long-term, well paid employment. The social and financial costs of evictions from social housing are very high.
This innovative service seeks to empower clients to create a sustainable home by providing a range of services from the beginning of their tenancy. MGS provides multiple services to new tenants through six financial advisors, with a range of programmes that include: the “Eat Well” programme, the financial management programme: "My Money", and advice to tenants on how to claim all the benefits they are entitled to. Included in this package is an innovative partnership with Barclays Bank, which gives tenants the opportunity to open a bank account without requiring photographic ID - which many tenants do not have.
Sharon indicated that after analysing multiple court cases regarding tenant evictions, it was evident that going in to debt was the main factor that triggered these evictions and consequent homelessness. In addition to untold distress caused to families, Sharon estimates that it also costs the company £8,000 per person, per eviction, in legal, administrative and logistics costs, clearly showing that evictions carry economic, social and human costs. This is what prompted creation of the “My Great Start” service, which provides tenants with a new home and all the self-help tools needed to make their stay sustainable. Sharon described the service as: “an innovation that is able to separate need into a proactive empowerment model which we’d never done before.” Moreover, the Wheatley Foundation states that the service “offers free, confidential and independent support to help new tenants stay in their home for years to come.”
Sharon McIntyre’s inspiration comes from her previous experience in industry, education, health, social care and social poverty. Sharon’s next step was to tackle housing, motivated by the inspirational ‘My Great Start’ programme. The original idea of this service blossomed after the Wheatley Group identified the tenant’s main problem: lacking life skills and education on how to independently run their homes. The service tackles at least two SDG Goals:
SDG No. 1, ‘No Poverty’, is a key priority for the company. Sharon outlined the major issue in Scotland’s most deprived areas as: “financial exclusion” and “social isolation”, creating an incentive for change, aiming to tackle poverty. Introduction of the ‘My Money’ programme addresses financial issues through provision of money management knowledge and skills - thereby reducing chances of financial exclusion.
The innovation is also linked to SDG No. 2 ‘Zero Hunger’ by offering an ‘Eat Well’ programme. The inspiration was derived from shortages at food banks, limiting tenants to a maximum of 3 visits, resulting in it becoming a struggle for tenants to find food to sustain themselves. The ‘Eat Well’ combats this problem by delivering emergency food parcels to tenants in crisis.
‘My Great Start’ has enhanced the reputation of the Wheatley Foundation by achieving numerous awards in 2017. These include the ‘Investors in People’ Platinum Award, for their outstanding work in the community, the European Business award (EFQM) for the ’Most Outstanding Business’ and TWF was ranked in the top 100 in non-profit organisations in the UK.
The innovation has impacted 7,500 people, with tenants being 50% more likely to succeed in their tenancy due to the service. Klara Chomicz, a successful tenant of the Wheatley Group, received a bursary that enabled her to study at Glasgow School of Art. Also, Kaylee Duncan, one of eighty-nine people, achieved a Wheatley Group Modern Apprenticeship. Sharon McIntyre stated proudly: “I’m delighted to have seen first-hand today the difference the Wheatley Foundation is making to lives across Scotland.”
A tenant, 56, from the south side of Glasgow, commented on the benefit of the ‘Eat Well’ service: “It definitely makes a difference. It’s a worry off my mind. I still have to buy food, but this is an emergency supply, so at least I know I have something there”. This programme has helped over 2,000 tenants since 2014 and the Wheatley Foundation is looking to mitigate this issue and are continuously working with food banks and other partners.
“Proactively tooling people up so that they lead their own solutions and that’s a big value proposition of ours - empowering people to be able to navigate their own lives better”
“We offer them roles here and are a real support to them, and that just goes to show that we go much beyond our communities than what others do.”
The organisation uses an asset people-based approach business model. The majority of tenants receives housing benefit from the Scottish government, which they use to pay their rent. So while housing is free for the tenant, courtesy of the government, these funds laid the foundation for Wheatley Group's £275.7m turnover in 2016/2017.
The Wheatley Group's positive impact on the communities it serves has resulted in secured funding from a number of organisations. TWF has received £8.2 million of external funding: £722,000 from the European Social Fund to deliver employability contracts, £470,000 from HM the Treasury’s Libor Fund to support Scotland’s veterans, £4.2million from Big Lottery to deliver My Money programme, and £250,000 from the Scottish Government to empower communities. £2.65 million of total income came from donations and legacies.
In December 2016, an arrear spike (increased mortgages resulting in banks repossessing homes) didn’t occur for the Wheatley Foundation, which was a massive accomplishment for the business. In the process, ‘My Great Start’ has also created a healthy relationship between housing agents and tenants. This positive relationship has created a successful business model, increasing tenant number involvements and their tenancy stays.
The business began in 2016 with the aim of helping 7,000 people in the first year. Within 3 months they had managed to help 2,500 people in the most deprived areas of Scotland. By the end of 2017 they had met their target, helping over 7,500 people. The aim for 2018 is to help 8,000 people.
The company plays an important role in terms of macro policy, aiming to contribute to the ‘No poverty’ and ‘Zero hunger’ SDGs by shaping tenants’ futures through employment and development opportunities. Each helping to overcome financial barriers and raising awareness of entitlements to work benefits.
The Wheatley Group prioritises community investment, by aiming to maintain and sustain every tenant. Investing upfront establishes more active and resilient communities, eliminating social exclusion. Once a tenant is introduced into a new home, integration into society is assisted by a financial advisor, familiarising them with the local community and amenities. This is an important factor in preventing social isolation, as tenancy failure is a recurring issue. Introducing community involvement removes the opportunity for social isolation, avoiding the cycle previously discussed, providing pivotal action to promote active community participation.
“The benefits of this innovation include boosting employment and helping those in need, reducing the risk of falling back into the cycle of unemployment and homelessness.”
Sharon McIntyre, Financial Inclusion Innovation Manager
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Business Website: https://www.wheatley-group.com/
Year Founded: 2003
Number of Employees: 1001 to 5000
In Scotland, 17% of the population are living in relative poverty before housing costs (Scottish Government, 2016). The Wheatley Group (TWG), founded in 2003, is the UK’s largest builder of social rented homes occupied by 70% of the households under the poverty line. TWG manages over 80,000 homes and over 250,000 people. Their mission statement is 'Making Homes and Lives Better' by supporting their tenants and the communities they live in. The award-winning company employs 2,700 people along with another 2,000 joint owners through City Building, one of the biggest repairs and maintenance companies in Scotland. Their headquarters are based in Glasgow, with other assets in Dumbarton, Edinburgh, West Lothian, Midlothian, Canmore and Barony. Wheatley Housing Group Limited is a company limited by guarantee and registered in Scotland under the Companies Acts.
The Wheatley Foundation (TWF) was created by the founder Martin Armstrong and his executive team in 2016 from within the Wheatley Group. Martin began his career in housing 25 years ago. The Foundation brings together all of what the Wheatley Group calls its ‘Better Lives’ programmes and activities into one service, called ‘My Great Start’. Set up as a charitable trust TWF aims to empower 10,000 unfortunate and vulnerable people throughout Scotland to establish a sustainable household and basis for a decent livelihood.