Making the pounds go further with believe housing
Collaboration between public and private sectors in County Durham is improving life for its communities. Faye Gordon, from believe housing, tells Heather Barron why they are part of the County Durham Pound procurement family
As we move away from the pandemic, we are facing further challenges with the rising cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine, that are having a huge impact on communities already struggling to make ends meet.
One of the largest housing associations in the North East – believe housing – is part of a new County Durham initiative that is enabling them to further support the communities with which they work.
The County Durham Pound programme was set up in 2021 to bring together partner organisations in collaboration, with the intention of increasing the social value of every pound spent in the county.
The initiative is explained by Richard Carroll, Chief Procurement Officer, Durham County Council, as: Partner organisations across County Durham working collectively as a County Durham Family to improve the local economy, lives of our residents, and create opportunities for business growth.
He says: “We quickly realised we could have a significant impact by increasing the social value of every pound spent in our county, and by rethinking what it means to be responsible organisations.”
And Debbie Howe, Social Value Co-ordinator, describes Social Value as; “the value an organisation contributes to society beyond a reported profit. Where profit is measured in standard accounting terms, Social Value is measured by actions.
“Giving back to society, treating people fairly and taking care of the environment not only supports the levelling up agenda, but also sets businesses apart from its competitors, draws and retains staff, builds customer loyalty and attracts investment. It makes commercial sense to go above and beyond ‘business as usual’.”
All of which closely aligns with believe housing’s vision statement, “We believe in life without barriers”. By working in collaboration with other partner organisations, they can create more opportunities to maximise the benefits to their customers and their local communities.
Since it was set up, the social housing association has not only provided affordable housing for customers, but has also supported those communities where their customers live.
The County Durham Pound provides an ideal opportunity for them to take this even further, and leading the implementation of the programme through the company is Director of Finance, Faye Gordon, and Procurement Manager, Caroline High.
“We don’t just want to deliver affordable housing to our customers, we want to support our local area – that has always been part of our core purpose,” explains Faye. “It has always been a priority with the procurement team that we work with local suppliers and businesses as far as we can.
“Caroline joined the programme as the social housing representative, alongside eleven other public sector organisations including Durham Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office, Durham University, New College Durham, and Northumbrian Water.As it grows, it plans to include private sector business too.
“The point is to encourage local organisations and businesses to work collaboratively, share ideas, share experiences and best practices of social value, to maximise the benefits to County Durham and the local area.”
Faye is very clear that believe housing expects their suppliers to be as committed to improving the lives of their customers – and, by default, their own staff – as they are.
“It’s an integral part of our procurement process to ask any of the suppliers that we’re working with about what they are going to do to support social value, and that can be in a number of ways. It’s not necessarily about pounds and pence – it’s more about what people can contribute outside of the work they normally do.
“For example, we had one supplier that’s done some work with the local school. Some of their employees went in and did up an area of the school that needed attention.
“When we’re looking at evaluating a supplier, we’re also looking at what they’ve said around social value; what are they going to contribute in terms of an amount or a cost; how does that work, and what’s the quality of what they’re going to do.”
Although a number of companies that believe housing works with may not have been aware of the programme, the response has been very positive, and has strengthened the links that are being forged with suppliers.
“We’re a company of commercial business with a very strong social purpose, so we straddle both those demands. We have an expectation of our suppliers to support us in playing a wider role in our communities, and we’ve found that engagement has been very good.
“Every member of our own staff gets four volunteering days each year. We recently did a project with a local school to improve an outdoor area that had got overgrown. It involved a number of our staff, but some of our suppliers also provided some of the things we needed.”
While hands-on, practical help is always appreciated, believe housing also gets involved with schools in other ways – providing careers advice, or staff going in to talk about their own work experiences.
Faye says: “It’s evidenced that you should be talking to children at a younger age about what their aspirations might be, not when they get to 15 or 16 and ready to leave school.
“I’ll go in and talk to them about finance, or one of our trades will go and talk about the work opportunities that are out there.
“That link is a really important part of what we do, and that collaboration has been really positive.”
The County Durham Pound group meets regularly to share experiences and best practices, and Caroline often comes back with suggestions that might be implemented at believe housing.
While there is a core group of organisations, Faye says that it is very much encouraging other companies to embrace social value and the power of the collective.
“It’s about collaboration and working together, so I guess the more you get, the better it becomes, and the more you publicise what you’re doing, the more impact it will have,” she says.
“It’s given us a better opportunity to collaborate with other agencies that we have not worked with previously; to learn from them, and to contribute to something that has a real impact to our local communities.
“It’s never been so important to support local communities in different ways.”
To find out more about believe housing, go to www.believehousing.co.uk and for more on the County Durham Pound and how businesses can achieve social value visit www.countydurhampound.co.uk