Coming of age: Bridgewater Housing Association is celebrating its 21st anniversary

Clayson House, Bridgewater’s Extra Care Development

The ‘New Community’ of Erskine, which lies within Renfrewshire, is situated on the south bank of the River Clyde, beside Erskine Bridge. As well as being a unique landmark, the bridge is a major link in both the national road network of the UK and the regional motorway system of the West of Scotland.

Erskine therefore occupies a strategic position within the Clyde Valley and its residents have fast and convenient access to all the major centres of business, employment and recreation. Erskine provides a residential area of high amenities and spacious environment within easy reach of mountain and water scenery.

Bridegwater’s newbuild at Rashielee.

The Scottish Special Housing Association (SSHA) began building at Bargarran, Erskine, in May 1970. Erskine was an ‘overspill’ development, with properties initially let to Glasgow ‘overspill’ tenants and essential incoming workers. To meet the need for economic expansion, priority was given to people working in the manufacturing and service industries in the area. It was projected that by 1982 some 9,500 houses would be built in Erskine with a population of 30,000 – 4,000 of those houses were to be built by private developers and 5,500 were to be built by SSHA.

Public sector house building in 1983 when the overspill programme ended. By that time, 3,391 properties had been built in four distinct areas. “The reason the work stopped is bound up in national and local politics and dis- agreements between local authorities about who should get the Rate income from the residents,” said Bridgewater Housing Association Chief Executive Ian McLean, “or at least that is what I was told 21 years ago!”

SSHA, along with the Housing Corporation in Scotland, became Scottish Homes in 1989. The origins of the association lie in the decision by the UK government at that time to divest Scottish Homes of its landlord role in Scotland.

“It’s been a privilege to be the Chief Executive of Bridgewater Housing Association over the past 21 years,” said Ian. “The association is still pretty much an infant in housing association terms, but the scope and reach of its work during the past two decades has undoubtedly made a difference to so many people’s lives in Erskine and elsewhere in Renfrewshire. I’m immensely proud of the work that the Board and staff team have achieved, working with the community during this time.”

Looking at the difference we’ve made helped us to reaffirm our commitment to our customers and the community in Erskine and to commit to do more and better during the next 21 years.

Enhancing the natural environment is an association priority.

Recently, Ian was asked by his board to consider the difference that Bridgewater has made; in other words what would not have happened if the association did not exist. “The list was a sobering resume of the investment which the association has made in the property it owns,” he reflected, “in the environment which it is responsible for protecting, and in the people who volunteer or work with it.

“Quite often, because of hectic work schedules which we all keep in the housing association world, it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees. Looking at the difference we’ve made helped us to reaffirm our commitment to our customers and the community in Erskine and to commit to do more and better during the next 21 years.”

Bridgewater is led by a voluntary and unpaid board, comprising tenants, other service users, and individuals who have an interest in the association. It makes key decisions on governance and provides challenge and oversight for the team to ensure that all decisions and activity are in the best interests of tenants.

Bridgewater staff at Erskine Gala Day.

Members have a range of skills developed over many years as employees, service users, managers, elected members, civil servants, and board members of other organisations. The current chairperson is a tenant, retired shipbuilder Hugh Cameron, and its longest serving member is Willie Robertson.

“The association is used to working in a very volatile environment,” observed Ian, “and considerable change continues to take place in the financial, political, legislative and social framework within which the association operates.”

These include high levels of need for new affordable housing, Social Security reform, the availability of capital grant for affordable housing, the changing role of the Scottish Housing Regulator, social inclusion and the association’s wider role in the community in which it works, and the need for increased energy efficiency in all our housing.

“Our mission,” said Ian, “is to be a customer focussed organisation which delivers the best affordable housing and services to people who need them most.”

Top grade for housing support

The Care Inspectorate recently graded Bridgewater’s Housing Support Service ‘Grade 6 – Excellent’ following an unannounced inspection in October 2017. This grading covers quality of care and support; quality of staffing; and quality of management and leadership.

The Association’s Housing Support Service delivers support to just over 100 older people across three sheltered housing developments in Erskine. The Inspector commented that the Association’s sheltered tenants “receive excellent, flexible support that helps them to achieve positive outcomes. It was evident that staff had developed effective, trusting working relationships with people being supported.

“Staff were described as inclusive, skilled and good at promoting independence. We heard examples of ways people thought staff went the extra mile.” Other strengths included the emphasis on participation, continuous service developments and staff retention.

The Association’s Chair, Hugh Cameron, commented: “We are absolutely delighted with the out- come of the latest inspection. We have been a Grade 5 for the last few years and it is great to see the hard work and commitment of our housing support team being recognised through the excellence award.

“We know how much our sheltered tenants value the service and their contribution to the inspection process was crucial as service users.”