Some might shudder at the thought of doing a stock condition survey that covers every property you own as a social housing provider. But this undertaking is testament to the way Muir Group Housing Association is facing the future as safety in the sector comes under increased scrutiny, as LABM finds out.
“It’s a massive task, but it says everything about the character, commitment and ambition at Muir,” says Nik Evans. Niks’ appreciation of the ‘massive task’ ahead is a subtle reminder that rarely does anyone tackle a stock condition survey of all its properties in one fell swoop. However, Muir’s Assistant Director of Property Services insists the housing association is raring to kick on as it continues to enhance its reputation as a dedicated social landlord, with more than half a century of experience.
Having remodelled the department since his arrival at Muir, Nik now prepares to design a dynamic, five-year planned programme of works — with the ultimate but simple aim of providing people with great homes to be happy in.
“With 5,500 homes we’re certainly not the biggest, but covering everything you have in one stock condition survey is a huge undertaking at any level,” Nik said. “What’s important is how we use the data we collate to design a robust new strategy for planned improvement programmes. This is about continuing to deliver high standards of affordable living in properties residents can be proud of, maintaining excellent levels of compliance, and continuing to provide homes fit for futures at Muir.
“It’s important to have a total bird’s eye view of everything we manage, so we continue to deliver improved, energy-efficient homes. We need to remain flexible enough to respond to changing landscapes, such as fire safety, and the need to deliver more and more affordable properties — both for rent and shared ownership.”
Initially launching in March 2020, delays caused by COVID-19 have barely hampered the all-encompassing stock condition survey, despite the housing association being forced to down tools before remobilising when lockdown restrictions were loosened in July. Working with specialist social housing consultancy, Michael Dyson Associates, to achieve its aims, the partnership has seen the survey completed at 2,500 properties so far; including at Muir’s Independent Living and supported schemes.
Tony Jones, Muir’s Asset Services Manager, has been at the forefront of helping to make Muir’s stock condition survey spring into action.
“After a really competitive tendering procedure, we were pleased to appoint Michael Dyson Associates based on their vast social housing experience and their strong, quality submission,” Tony said. “They had a lot of in-house resource to commit and that was a big factor for us. Geographically our stock is very widespread, so this has helped to deliver a very coordinated approach.”
Ensuring fire safety
One main emphasis will be on continuing to ensure Muir meets changing legislation surrounding fire safety, and that processes remain versatile enough to respond efficiently to those changes as they arise.
Muir has re-evaluated the block configuration of its schemes as part of the stock condition survey, and rearranged them in line with fire risk assessment reports to provide greater reassurance around communal block safety.
“Part of the overall programme involves a specific five-year plan for fire safety,” Tony said. “It’s a hugely important area and very much in the spotlight. We’re determined to be in the best possible position to react to changes in legislation — not only from a compliance perspective, but because we want to do all we can to keep people safe in Muir homes. Those levels of reassurance and flexible ways of working are vital to maintaining the trust of residents, and to underlining Muir’s reputation in the sector.”
Alongside fire safety, Muir has a very keen eye on enhancing energy efficiency in its homes — making sure residents always get the best value for money while doing whatever it can to reduce its carbon footprint. Nik says the project will help Muir understand the current energy efficiency of all its properties, information that will influence a dedicated programme of improvements while prioritising environmental factors.
“We’ll have a great understanding of where and how to maximise the use of evolving technologies as we shape future strategies,” Nik said. “For example, we’ll be able to make more informed decisions regarding alternative and renewable energy systems.
“In 2019 we moved our windows and doors work streams in-house as a forerunner to some environmental benefits we’re considering. This has strengthened the Muir Property Solutions (MPS) arm of repairs and maintenance at Muir, and will provide a longer-term commitment to work streams while maximising our budgets.”
Redefining Muir’s planned maintenance strategies will enable the housing association to continue meeting and emulating the Decent Homes Standard while also preserving the general appearance of residents’ properties.
In the background, members of Nik’s team are also working with Muir’s Business Transformation and Technology team to reconfigure IT systems for greater, faster visibility of data with which to inform decisions.
Ian Whitwell, Assistant Director of BTT at Muir comments: “Ensuring data is updated in a consistent and timely manner to Muir’s Asset Management System is a key objective for the BTT Team as we support this Property Services project. The teams are now reconfiguring the Keystone system to ensure data is readily available to inform decision-making, and can be easily maintained.”
As well as keeping people safe, this bedrock of work will help Muir strengthen many of its other strategies, allowing the housing association to maintain good governance and improve customer satisfaction, while maximising returns on assets. Nik explained Muir will be better prepared to maintain the new affordable homes being delivered under its increased Building New Homes strategy too.
“With our revised Building New Homes strategy coming into effect, the stock condition survey and recent remodelling of the Property Services department means we’ll be in a strong position to embed Muir’s expanding portfolio into our repairs and maintenance strategies,” Nik added. “It means Property Services will have very solid foundations upon which to support Muir’s future — and, most importantly, those of our residents.”
Header inage shows Muir Group’s 44-home affordable housing scheme at Watson Road, Blackpool.