Willie Robertson: a brilliant ambassador

Willie Robertson – working for the common good.

Much of Bridgewater’s history can be traced through the tenure of one of its founder Board members, Willie Robertson. In 1994, at the age of 67, Willie attended a meeting where he volunteered to become involved in a steering group to look into tenure diversification in Erskine. This led to the formation of Bridgewater Housing Association Steering Group in 1995, with Willie being elected as Chair in 1996.

Willie’s contribution to housing in Erskine is remarkable for a number of reasons, and the Association is what it is today in no small measure through Willie’s vision, tenacity, and leadership over the years.

During this time on the Board, Willie has held the posts of chair and vice-chair and is currently a member of the Association’s Scrutiny and Land and Property Management sub-committees.

Willie moved to Erskine in 1979, with his wife Maisie, when the ‘New Community’ was still under development by the Scottish Special Housing Association. He was 52 and worked as an industrial relations officer with the Talbot Motor Company in Linwood. From the outset Willie was involved in building local spirit and was active in the fledgling Erskine Community Association.

His interest in people and their living environment grew and Willie became one of the founder members of Erskine Elderly Forum, set up to respond to the needs of the town’s older residents.

Willie’s motivation, commitment and dedication to the provision of affordable rented housing in Erskine, managed by the community, was a driving force in guiding the processes which led to a successful ballot and stock transfer in 1998. On a daily basis, he would undertake home visits, talking to people wherever and whenever he could to encourage them to ‘use their vote’.

His philosophy is to get the community working together for the common good, encouraging people to consider their own contributions. Willie’s involvement has been influential in shaping both the community and the services provided to its residents.

Willie’s vision for Bridgewater to become a developer was first realised when the Association obtained grant funding to build nine amenity ats and a 26-unit Extra Care housing development, known as Rashielee South. Completed in 2008, it coincided with Bridgewater’s 10th anniversary. In recognition of Willie’s remarkable con- tribution not just to the Association, but the wider community, the development was named Robertson House, a lasting legacy of his community work.

Willie’s determination for older people to live at home for as long as possible was further rewarded when Bridgewater’s second Extra Care Development, Clayson House, was formally opened in 2009. It comprises 20 self-contained ats within a two-storey building. Special features include a sensory garden, a dining room, and lounge area where residents can take meals and socialise.

Critically aware of the shortage of good quality, affordable housing in Erskine, Willie envisaged further development opportunities for Bridgewater. This was realized in 2013, when 92 general needs houses and ats were completed at Rashielee North, the first new-build mainstream housing for rent in Erskine in 30 years.

Willie has just turned 90 and his energy and commitment to the Association is undiminished. A brilliant ambassador for the housing movement, he is dedicated to ensuring that the Association rises to the challenges which lie ahead.

Bridgewater Housing Association’s origins

The origins of Bridgewater Housing Association lie in the decision by the UK Government during the 1980’s to divest Scottish Homes of its land- lord role in Scotland. In December 1997, tenants of Scottish Homes in Erskine voted to support the transfer of ownership and management of their homes to Bridgewater Housing Association Ltd.

A newly formed group of local people, supported by Scottish Homes and consultants, prepared a business case for the transfer and ultimately formed the rst Board of Bridgewa- ter Housing Association.

On 15 April 1998 the transfer of 946 houses and ats, together with 499 garages into community owner- ship took place. Bridgewater also took ownership of and responsibility for the maintenance of 32 hectares of green open spaces, more than 18 miles of un-adopted footpaths, 250 un-adopted car parks, and several small un-adopted roads. Ownership of these “non-housing assets” makes it unique in Scotland.

The Association’s open spaces and particularly green spaces, contribute signi cantly to the popularity and amenity of the area for residents of all tenures. Their effective mainte- nance and management have a sys- temic in uence over the reputation of the Association and have a positive effect on the value of the housing generally.

Of the 3,391 houses and ats built by the Scottish Special Housing Asso- ciation between 1972 and 1983, 2,445 had been sold under right to buy legislation by the time of the stock transfer to Bridgewater. By 2015,
a further 303 properties had been bought by residents. During the same period, the Association sought to stabilise the number of properties for rent, and through a combination of grant funding and its own resources, purchased 62 former SSHA proper- ties on the open market

In early 2000, Bridgewater began

the process of increasing its stock through the development of new build social rented housing. Renfrew- shire Council’s local housing strategy and strategic investment plan had identi ed the need for extra care and amenity housing within the Erskine area.

This requirement coincided with Bridgewater’s ambition to increase its housing stock and meet demand from older residents for housing with support. Generally while people want to remain in an area they know, as their lives progress their housing and other needs change and the provision of housing with support means that residents can transition from main- stream, to sheltered, and/or extra care housing.

Over the years, Bridgewater has steadily increased provision of both its mainstream and Extra Care housing, bringing its total stock available for rent to 849 properties. Its recently refreshed business plan includes ensuring a programme of continuous improvement is imple- mented effectively to support the excellent services which customers have become used to.

Bridgewater’s strategic objectives

  • Increase, as well as manage and maintain, high quality affordable homes.
  • Increase tenants’ opportunities to influence change.
  • Deliver high quality, cost efficient, services.
  • Protect the environment and the value of our assets.
  • Provide a challenging, supportive, and rewarding work environment for staff and board members.