30 July 2019

Over the last seven years Livin Housing Ltd have been working extensively within the local community to help regenerate the area.

Project timeline

2012 - Reports of anti-social behaviour spikes and regular spills out into the street. Local people are leaving the estate as York Hill becomes ‘the place not to live’.

March 2014 - Livin’s Board agreed to support a holistic regeneration to improve the physical assets by adding wider housing choice and to address the socio-economic issues on the estate. A £5.4m budget spend is approved.

October 2014 - Whole estate engagement begins and all households are visited. Interventions begin, in conjunction with our local partners for children, families and the digitally excluded.

January 2015 - Financial wellbeing, employability and health projects commence. One to one engagement with residents continues and there is a launch of community social media pages and web pages to enhance communication.

October 2015 - Construction work starts on the estate.

September 2017 - Physical regeneration and community led landscaping works finish.

November 2017 - We achieve our first house sale.

December 2017 - The Community Celebrations begin.

May 2018 - We are awarded the Northern Housing Award for Outstanding Regeneration Scheme of the Year 2018.

December 2018 - We secure a lasting legacy for York Hill residents by successfully supporting a £136,000 Reaching Communities funding bid for a three year Community Development Worker to support the community centre to thrive in the long term.

The project

We have transformed York Hill, an estate of 144 undesirable homes from a place not to live, to the place to live. We have not only transformed homes and the surrounding environment, but have also raised the hopes and aspirations of the residents living there. This may be a small regeneration scheme, but like Livin it punches above its weight.

We turned around this whole community by addressing issues such as an unbalanced stock profile, high levels of anti-social behaviour, falling demand for rental and privately owned homes, excessive turnover, a poor environment and residents buckling under financial pressures.

We may have faced a conundrum at York Hill in 2012, but can now safely say that we have solved it and enhanced the strong community look and feel of York Hill and provided a lifeline to residents. Ultimately, York Hill is now the place to live.

See the transformation and hear the residents’ here.

Challenges

Changing community perception of York Hill – York Hill was synonymous with anti-social behaviour, crime, drugs and empty houses. Changing this view required a wholescale and holistic approach to transformational change and not just improving the properties. It needed to become the “place to live”.

It was clear from the offset that we needed to support people into work, improve their financial wellbeing, raise aspirations through social inclusion, improve how the estate looked and design out crime. The challenge we faced meant that plans had to be ambitious and, as Livin was only five years old, we needed to “cut new ground” and take a leap of faith. We addressed this by focussing on all elements of what makes a community sustainable. For example recognising that delivering employability to individuals is as important to the improvement of homes.

Tackling socio-economic issues -
improving the properties alone would not make the community sustainable and certainly would not protect our long-term capital investment. We pride ourselves on being community focused and at York Hill we dedicated our time to getting to know the community and its needs so that we really understood what interventions would be impactful and meaningful. Statistically we knew about the poor health and wellbeing, low education attainment, reliance on welfare benefits (71%) and economic inactivity. To achieve this we utilised a range of methods, which included providing youth work, practical support to people searching for work, finding sustainable jobs and offering a range of tenures that would attract new neighbours to the community.

Lack of housing choice
- the properties on the estate were single brick construction, with flat roofs, making them damp and hard to heat. Part of our solution was an improvement programme investing £5.4m to transform both private and social homes by constructing pitched roofs, installing external wall insulation and adding modern facilities such as utility rooms, in-curtilage parking and patio doors. Only 32% of properties were owned, so owners were outnumbered by a transient neighbours that rented properties. It was important that we offered a home ownership option to encourage employed families to invest and settle in this community.

Taking the private owners with us
- to make this work we needed all private owners with us. Finding affordable, easy and deliverable solutions for owner-occupiers and private property owners to improve their homes was a substantial challenge, as we knew that they had lost equity since the initial investment into their homes. Many residents were wary about committing financially and the ability for them to lend money was often not an option. In addition, private landlords told us that despite have the financial capability, they were reluctant to invest into the works that we proposed and did not share our initial vision for the estate.

Our creative, dedicated and adaptable staff rose to the challenge of building trust with residents and finding practical solutions to enable all residents to benefit regardless of their financial wellbeing. We were able to offer interest free lending by registering a charge on their property deeds, meaning that they too could benefit from the investment and home improvements Livin was making to benefit the estate.

Outcomes

People - a strong thriving community is essential and York Hill is far more resilient than when we first started on our joint venture. Through the delivery of community-based projects the following outcomes have been successfully delivered:

• York Hill job club helped 24 residents gain employability skills
• Nine households gained employment
• £185,000 in external funding for community activities since 2015
• A free “hungry” holiday club for 29 children supported by the Big Lottery Fund in summer 2017 supporting struggling families through the holiday period
• An increase of 90 more families engaging regularly in community activities in their local centre (dance, arts, crafts and cooking) since 2014
• New youth clubs with over 60 children and young people with Foundation of Light Kicks Youth Club
• Improved confidence for eight York Hill residents to change negative behaviours, reduce stress and improve emotional wellbeing
• A drop in benefit dependency by 33% between 2013 and 2018
• ASB eradicated in the last year
• £188,795 of HACT social value achieved in 12 months.

Places - our investment delivered 110 modern, warm homes across a range of tenure, including rent-to-buy.

York Hill estate was originally a mix of family sized housing and single person flats. The flats became an area of high levels of ASB, requiring high levels of intensive housing management, this in turn affected demand and turnover as families moved off the estate. We knew that to change this we had to redress the unbalance in property types and by securing investment from Homes England we were able to convert these undesirable properties into much needed large family homes.

We have turned it around and now residents are benefiting from energy efficient homes and we continue to offer free home energy advice through our financial wellbeing partners. Heating bills have halved and houses have far exceeded HouseMark Upper Quartile achieving SAP ratings of 76 in 2017, compared to HouseMark lower quartile in 2012.

65% of existing tenants chose to stay during regeneration and a local lettings arrangement attracted a further 21 new households to the community. As ‘the place to live’ York Hill is now the highest demand community in Spennymoor and continues to top Livin’s league table of popular communities.

Our properties now exceed net yield targets, void rent loss is negligible, there is no tenancy turnover and the Net Present Value has risen from £1,314 to £32,134 in three years. In addition, home sales have released income to offset some capital expenditure and our rental homes are now assets rather than liabilities. We have tested new tenure and service charge offers thereby modernising our range of services and, our employees have embraced a new sense of commercial awareness and innovation.

We are delighted to have increased home ownership from 32% to 62% and with a dedicated sales website, we advertised and sold our first sale units within 12 days. This is a fantastic achievement when compared with local averages of 124 days! Similarly, our rent-to-buy properties had eight-times more applicants than homes available.

The economic change in the housing market has surpassed our expectations and those of the private owners. Across the estate, we have seen house prices double and in some cases even treble! In 2014, a three-bedroom house achieved £30,000 and following the transformation, they now sell for up to £120,000. York Hill is now meeting a real local demand and is the community foundation for a broad and diverse range of people looking to put roots down in a community that they plan to live in for years to come in homes that they love.

Partners
- developing relationships with community partners and stakeholders was crucial to us and York Hill is a great example of how powerful partnership working can be.

We led local partners with the community’s vision for their estate, which attracted resources and funding to support projects. Our key partners include the Foundation of Light, Durham County Council, the Town Council and the Big Lottery Fund; all of which are committed to lasting change in this community.

Through our partnership with the community and local stakeholders, York Hill helped bring regeneration back to the table. We have learned that regeneration is not just about large-scale demolition and that the impact of having a holistic approach to improving places has been impactful in this corner of County Durham. We now see a prominent place for housing led regeneration in Durham County Council’s latest Housing Strategy and our experience and approach at York Hill influenced the Estate Regeneration National Strategy 2016.

Former Spennymoor Town Mayor Ian Machin says,“It is hard to overemphasise the changes achieved. The regeneration has really delivered to provide residents with quality accommodation, transforming the lives of residents at York Hill in the process. Well done!”

If you did this again, what would you change?

Regeneration is fully embedded as a core service at Livin now and is an integrated part of our strategic Business Plan. As we move forward with new regeneration projects in communities, there are some practical lessons that we have learnt.

We learned that early engagement with housing and economic development colleagues at the Local Authority is crucial. Their agenda is our agenda and in retrospect, their involvement at an earlier stage would have raised the profile of the project to funders and politicians.

What can others learn from this example?

Communication with residents must be convenient for them and respond instantly. In the beginning, we used traditional methods of public meetings, but this did not attract our target audience or encourage less confident residents to speak up. Digital communication such as a closed Facebook group and dedicated websites to the project can be effective in building trust and assuring residents that their views matter.

Do not be afraid to co-design with residents.
Residents developed design options for the public green spaces, assessed service charges for on-going maintenance and accessed funding to enhance spaces. Given the design and cost options, residents have delivered affordable green spaces for their community.

Be innovative and seize opportunities
to test new services and products. At York Hill we launched:
• first sales units
• first show home
• first Rent to Buy products
• first new service charges since stock transfer in 2009
• first use of social media for resident involvement

Regeneration is about redesigning communities for the better, we are in a unique position to redesign services and products and deliver community growth and organisational growth.

Further Reading

See more information or the York Hill website.

For more information email Vicky.Miller@livin.co.uk

York Hill Regeneration, Spennymoor