The £50 Adventure: Chapter 3

Training was going on apace and the committee were beginning to understand their roles and how to work together as a team. We knew it wouldn’t be long before we were ready to start appointing staff. We looked at where to place an advert and thrashed out between us a job descriptions and person specifications for a manager and 2 ‘super-caretakers’. In the end we decided to advertise in the Romford Recorder for all 3 staff and also the Institute of Housing magazine “Inside Housing” for the managers post.

We put together an interview panel and decided on a set of questions for the managers post. Because we had opted to take on rent arrears chasing – one of the questions was, “As the manager how would you deal with a tenant in rent arrears and ensure that they got the message that rent arrears was a serious issue?” We were all taken aback when one of the candidates answered by saying, “ I would pick the tenant up and hang him over the balcony by his ankles”. Needless to say he didn’t get the job. We also worked out a set of practical tasks for the ‘super-caretaker’ posts.

We interviewed for the managers post in August and appointed Paul Taylor, who had a background in Housing Associations and a number of contacts with local authorities. He started work in October 2002, our first member of staff and the chance to move further forward towards our target. We spent the next few months furnishing and equipping the office, and in December 2002 we held interviews for our 2 super-caretakers (one of which would be senior). This consisted of a formal interview plus a couple of practical tasks, plumbing and electrical. We had a clear candidate for the senior post in Jim Brett, who had already worked in the TMO sector at an estate in Islington and was also very knowledgeable about grounds maintenance. We had an agreement with the Council to provide a flat for this post. For our second operative we took on someone who lived on the estate. We thought that having resident caretakers would be a bonus but in hindsight it was a mistake which later on would cause us some problems.

They started work in January 2003 and quickly began the task of getting the estate into a tidy and clean state. Years of neglect from the previous caretakers had left their mark. Graffiti was left untouched, there was drug use paraphernalia in the grounds and on some stairwells. Youths were roaming through the blocks after school and in the evenings they were unchecked. Residents were not using the bins and just dumping rubbish in the basement areas. As the estate gradually started to look better, people were calling into the office to comment on improvements, and slowly people began to take some pride in their surroundings.

Things were now moving on and we thought that we were moving towards signing our Modular Management Agreement (MMA) with the Council. We were to take on the day to day repairs, grounds maintenance and cleaning of communal areas, but the larger areas such as lifts, roofs, water tanks pumps etc. would stay with Council services. We also took on a service level agreement (SLA) to undertake the grounds maintenance for the sheltered housing which is on the same site.

With a bigger committee we were able to appoint an Executive Committee and set up a Finance & Staffing sub-committee. Some of the founding members felt that they were entitled to come into the office and throw their weight about with the staff instead of channelling  requests through the Chair and Manager. This started to cause some problems within the Committee

We were now receiving an allowance from Havering for the works we were undertaking and with careful planning and completing the majority of day to day repairs ‘in house’ we finished the year with a surplus of more than £30k, which would provide additional facilities for the tenants.

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