Sovereign news - 1st June 2020

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Sovereign news
Moving out of lockdown - what it means for our customers
Following the recent easing of some of the lockdown measures by the government, we're looking at restarting some of the services that we had to stop when original lockdown rules were announced.

With 60,000 homes and 140,000 customers, and as one of the largest housing associations in the country, we're delighted that we can write to you with positive news on the next steps on the road to recovery.

We believe that Sovereign responded well to the impact of the crisis when it began in the middle of March, but we, along with our customers and anyone with an interest in Sovereign are keen to get services going again.  

We're looking at the whole range of services that we had to suspend or reduce on a case by case basis and we'll only resume them when we're sure this can be done in a way that is safe for both our residents and our people.

This is going to be a step by step process, and it will be some time before we are back to normal, but we have arrangements in place that will ensure we can move quickly and respond positively to government guidelines as they change

And as an established business with strong financial foundations in place we're in a good position to support customers and people as we enter this first stage of the recovery process.

An important part of this process is about doing what we do best: providing homes for people that need them. Now that the government's eased restrictions on moves, we are able to start letting our homes again.

We continued to get our empty homes ready throughout lockdown - within the safety guidelines - and we're now busy with final preparations so customers can move in. Given safety considerations it's likely to take us longer than it used to, but it is good news and a really positive step forward.

With the current restrictions in mind, we have introduced virtual viewings so customers can still have a look at homes they might be moving into.  We know this isn't the same as having a walk around in person, but it is a really good alternative. 

We are also starting to advertise our homes via local authority lettings sites. Home ownership sales and lettings of new homes are continuing and as construction starts back on more sites we can help lead recovery and get the country building again.

There are more of our teams out and about in our communities now too. Customers will see us carrying out grounds maintenance and works on the outside of buildings. We are resuming estate walkabouts and our concierges are on site in our Housing for Older People schemes.

And with many repairs put on hold at lockdown, we've now started to contact customers to re-book them, carrying out repairs inside and outside of homes where it is safe to do. Of course, considerable constrictions remain, and we will not be carrying out any non-emergency repairs in a home where someone is shielding or self-isolating.

As we have over the last two months, we continue with gas and electrical checks in homes where it is safe to do so too.

We've emailed every one of our customers with online access, to update them with all the latest news and how it affects them. We also continue to offer help, advice, and guidance to anyone who needs it. Our message to our customers remains the same: we are here for you.

The latest government advice on coronavirus online and this letter from the Minister of State for Housing gives further guidance for landlords and residents to follow as we resume services carefully.
Housing First - Barry's story

As soon as we became aware of the impact that Covid-19 was going to have on our customers we pledged that no-one would lose a Sovereign home due to financial difficulties brought about by the virus. That's a promise we'll keep as we move into recovery.

We exist to provide homes for people that need them, and that includes some of the most vulnerable people in society. Last year we pledged to do more to use our influence and reach to support more of these people in need. We also pledged to do more to end homelessness, making a series of commitments, including creating at least 50 Housing First properties over the next five years. 

This meant that even during the coronavirus pandemic we've worked closely with amazing partners to find permanent homes for four new households.

Our resident Barry Lockhart told his story to the iPaper, talking about what having his own place has meant to him.

And leading housing sector trade magazine, Inside Housing, also featured our COO, Heather Bowman, whose opinion piece shared the ways that our valuable partnerships work, and why we're keen to support  other housing associations and potential partners across the south to make Housing First work happen. 

Sovereign in government Homelessness Taskforce talks

Heather Bowman (COO) – alongside Head of Supported Housing Steph Wood -  is now also in talks with government about how Sovereign could be involved in a Homelessness Taskforce. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, emergency measures were put in place to help rough sleepers, but while the pandemic is still ongoing, those measures have come to an end. The Taskforce will look at ways in which local authorities can be supported to implement the 'next steps and recovery' plans for people experiencing homelessness as we move into the next phase of the national recovery.

Communities Roundtable 

Last week we attended a virtual Ministerial Roundtable led by Minister for Employment, Mims Davies MP and the Minister for Welfare, Will Quince MP, where discussions focused on employment and training and welfare.
The roundtable also discussed the new Housing and Employment Taskforce chaired by Communities That Work CEO, Lynsey Sweeney. We were one of a small number of housing associations invited to the roundtable as core members of Communities that Work, a national body of social landlords that looks to support people into long term employment.

The roundtable offered us a great opportunity to influence thinking and policy at the highest level

Our Communities Director Matt Buckham was delighted with how the day went: "It was great to be able to join Lynsey and the Ministers at the roundtable: both were positive advocates for social housing and our work in communities through employment and training.

"Department of Work and Pensions representatives were joined by a range of UK housing CEO's, community investment professionals and the National Housing Federation's CEO, Kate Henderson, to look at economic recovery and new funding solutions to employment and training."

Quarterly performance update 

We have just published our quarterly performance update covering the 12 month period to 31 March 2020. Our performance over the year confirms our position as a leading UK housing association. While not for profit, we are a major business: our asset base would be worth over £11bn on the open market. 

You can see our full performance report here. Some of the highlights are:
  • We completed 1,770 homes (1,702 of which were affordable) in the twelve months to March 2020 (2019: 1,549) +14.5%
  • There are 59,382 homes in management (2019: 57,742)
  • Turnover for the year was £406.9m (2019: £402.1m) +1.2%
  • Operating surplus for the year was £137.6m (2019: £150.8m) -8.7% 
  • Net margin on sales was 23.5% (2019: 23.9%)
  • The surplus for the year was £80.9m (2019: £93.8m)
  • £125m retained bond due 2048 issued at record breaking all-in price of 1.974%

Happy retirement Heather!

Our Chief Operating Officer Heather Bowman is to retire later this year after a career in housing spanning more than three decades.

Heather joined Sovereign as Head of Supported Housing in 2001 and became a member of the Executive Board in 2009, playing a key role in making Sovereign one of the leading housing associations in the country today.

She will leave us in September, but will continue to head up the organisation's response to the Covid-19 pandemic until her retirement.

She said: "Throughout my career it's been my fundamental belief that everyone has the right to their own home. As a good landlord, it's our responsibility to make that home safe, secure and somewhere that people feel proud of. In short - a place where people love to live.
"I'll be sad to go, but I am confident that I leave the organisation in great shape moving forward."

Our Chief Executive Mark Washer, said: "I know that Heather will be hugely missed by everyone at Sovereign; personally, I will be incredibly sad to see her go. Her successor will inherit a team that is in fantastic shape, ready to play its role in delivering Sovereign's exciting plans for the future."

Sovereign in the news
Building Today: Housing associations plan for site restarts. Some of the UKs biggest developing housing associations are planning a cautious reopening for construction in May.
WhatHouse:  New shared ownership homes in Hampshire - Sovereign launches new homes for shared ownership in Woolston, Southampton
Inside Housing: The role of compliance teams has changed significantly. What does it look like now? Matt Greaves, Safety and Assurance Director, Sovereign talks about the vital role his team plays 
This is Wiltshire: Six year-old saw the Trafalgar Square celebrations  Residents turned to other ways to celebrate VE Day as street party celebrations up and down the country are cancelled.
iPaper: I went from being a married homeowner to sleeping rough 
Isle of Wight County Press: Ryde family rehomed and helped after their house burnt to the ground in devastating fire
Housing Today: Associations target £2 trillion investment market to fund homes
Bristol Post: You could get a Bristol Harbourside flat with £5,000 deposit.
Didcot Herald: Sovereign launches photo competition with 'heart of my world' theme
You can read all of our latest news releases here.

Please keep in touch

We hope you found this useful and please do keep in touch if you have any questions or want to know more.

We will continue to keep you updated later this month with news from Sovereign.

For more information please visit our website
Sovereign Housing Association
Woodlands, 90 Bartholomew Street
RG14 5EE

Tel: 01635 572220

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