David Montague

Grenfell must change the sector and we must develop an updated vision for social housing

Finding the money to invest in unloved estates will be part of a new mantra of ‘quality and affordability’, says David Montague
Published on 22/06/2018

Finding the money to invest in unloved estates will be part of a new mantra of ‘quality and affordability’, says David Montague

One year ago everything changed. Today, watching the public reaction as the Grenfell Inquiry unfolds, the anger and emotion is just as strong as it was in the immediate aftermath of that terrible tragedy.

And little wonder. If there is a common theme which runs through every report to the Inquiry, it is this - it could have been avoided.

I would like to say that it is unimaginable for any of us to think of our loved ones meeting such a terrible fate. But the loved ones of 72 people now face the agony of unnecessary loss every day. My wife, who is a bereavement counsellor, tells me that we say things are unimaginable not because they are, but because we don’t want to imagine. They are imaginable. And only if we imagine can we get close to the pain people are feeling.

One year ago I wrote that Grenfell changes everything. One year on, it must. As housing professionals and citizens, it must.

“One year ago I wrote that Grenfell changes everything. One year on, it must. As housing professionals and citizens, it must.”

At L&Q we set aside £50m to fund the replacement of cladding. We won’t be passing the cost on to residents; we didn’t wait to see if someone else was willing to pay. Works are underway and waking watch fire officers are overseeing the safety of our residents until works are complete.

We are conducting intrusive Fire Risk Assessments to all of our blocks over six stories and doing whatever is necessary to ensure safety. We are conducting person centred assessments to better understand vulnerability and lifestyle traits which might compromise safety. We are installing property information boxes to provide the emergency services with detailed information our buildings, and fire safety measures. We are fitting hardwired heat and smoke detectors to all homes, fire alarms where required, and sprinklers where suitable and technically possible. And we are rooting our future in our founding social purpose.

From this year you will see a change at L&Q. We are probably known best for our development ambition and financial strength. These things remain important to us - we face a housing crisis, we see it as our responsibility to fix it, and our financial strength gives us the capacity to deliver at scale.

But this year starts with a new vision - that everyone deserves a quality home they can afford. Quality and affordability first. And a new mission - to create homes and communities that we can be proud of.

We will be investing in our existing homes, putting safety first and ensuring that the experience of residents moving into one of our older homes is as good as it is for people moving into a new home.

We will be investing in those ’too difficult to deal with’ and ’unloved’ estates that always seem to find their way to the bottom of someone’s in tray.

"We will be investing in those ’too difficult to deal with’ and ’unloved’ estates that always seem to find their way to the bottom of someone’s in tray."

We will be tackling social housing stigma head on and investing in jobs and communities through the L&Q Academy and L&Q Foundation.

And we will be transforming our service to ensure that every resident is treated the way we would wish to be treated ourselves.

How are we going to pay for it? It’s amazing what a bit of empowerment can do. I have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and creativity of colleagues over the last year. L&Q people are energised by this shift of emphasis. As a colleague who previously worked in retail recently said to me, the biggest challenge for the manager in retail is to get the person in the warehouse or behind the checkout to care - in housing associations you get that for free. And it’s true, we may not be perfect but housing association people care.

“You may ask why we didn’t do it before. Maybe we should have. But Grenfell was a catalyst for us.”

You may ask why we didn’t do it before. Maybe we should have. But Grenfell was a catalyst for us. It changed everything. And I believe it is having the same effect across the sector.

There is no going back. If someone I loved was in that tower there would be nothing that could console me. So what can I do from this point on?

I can imagine that it was my family. I can listen to the voices of Grenfell residents. I can learn from the Inquiry. And I can join with colleagues to take the Inside Housing oath. Never Again.

This article was first published in Inside Housing