Leadership Spotlight: Nigel Wilson, chief executive of Wythenshawe Community Housing Group

Nigel Wilson is the chief executive of Wythenshawe Community Housing Group, a housing association who provide over 20,000 homes to people across Wythenshawe, Manchester. He spoke to Thomas Barett about improving opportunities for residents and the misconceptions that surround housing associations.






What challenges do you face in Wythenshawe?

A large part of our work is the bricks and mortar of housing and letting but also the social investment. This means involvement in food projects, education, skills, employment – the full gambit to make sure we’re part of the community and providing the resources for people to live healthy lives and improving their lot.

The challenges in Wythenshawe historically were issues of stock condition, extreme poverty and deprivation. We’ve seen some changes in terms of that such as escalating values and people going back to work, but there are still significant challenges especially around in-work poverty.

What schemes do you have in place to support residents?

We run the Manchester arm of motiv8 ; we run an enterprise centre that has small start-up support to help people start their own businesses; we run our apprenticeship schemes for trades and we run year-long programmes for people to get back into work.

We also do a lot of work with schools around mentoring and reading programmes and work closely with the airport, council and other specific access to jobs and fairs, so when Amazon opened their new warehouse near the airport, we worked with them to get people ready for interviews and help with CVs.

Do you believe the government’s figures that unemployment is falling?

There are more jobs. We’ve got more people in work than ever before but people are still struggling because a lot are on minimum wage and on zero hours contracts, which is damaging stuff in terms of people’s ability to sustain themselves. We also have a lot of seasonal work here which can be challenging.

We’re fearful of the roll out of universal credit, because the ability of that to create more mayhem is of concern to both the business and for individuals to manage their household. We’ve still got 1700 people who are impacted by the bedroom tax and universal credit which creates concern and uncertainty. We could be taking a million kids out of free school meals.

How is your relationship with Manchester City Council?

We get on. We’ve maintained a healthy and constructive relationship. Their approach to strength based works around our Manchester strategy and they have a recognition that austerity bites. We’ve all got to be pulling in the same direction and working collaboratively. It’s a cliché but we are all in it together.

Did the Grenfell disaster change attitudes to social housing in central government?

The present administration has recognised that housing is number one on peoples list, so to get re-elected they have to do something. Their push to get people to build is clear but 300,000 homes a year is a challenge. Labour is talking about redefining what affordable is. If affordable rent is 80% percent of the market rate then that prices people out. It will be a big debate going forward.

Has Right to Buy been a success or failure?

It’s not helped. Had the principle been that every one sold gets replaced then fine, but it never was and it has never been. It’s taken much-needed resources out.

The ideological stance that people who own their own home will be different members of society is not something I ever bought into. The homes that were bought here in Wythenshawe in the 80s and 90s are in the biggest levels of disrepair because they cant afford to re-roof, re-window or re-wire. Those properties are struggling. We were one of the few organisations nationally that stood out against voluntary right to buy because we didn’t think it was the right thing to do. We saw it as a threat to supply and the evidence is we’ve lost more homes, the money has not been used to resupply and we’ve taken stock out of the much-needed supply chain.

I cant criticise people wanting to own their own home but we do have a strange approach compared with the rest of Europe where they are quite happy to have a healthy vibrant rental market. We seem to still be stuck in ‘ownership is everything’.

If people prefer to rent than that should be available at a level that’s affordable.

What misconceptions do you hear about housing associations?

That we are somehow private sector and in it for profit, or we don’t involve engage or be accountable to our tenants. We need to debunk that.

We still have tenants on our board and part of our governance structure. We’re happy to be accountable and listen to their loud voices.

They often say ‘we need to get back to council housing.’ There was some really good council housing but there were some tough times. We need a broad spectrum. We cant be complacent and we need to show we are accountable and we are able to demonstrate the distance we make on the ground.

We exist to make a surplus so we can reinvest that back into all the work we do. Back into homes, communities and all the important work that goes into supporting these communities. We need to make sure we get that message across. Some parts of the media and political parties that don’t necessarily see that.



Thomas Barrett
Senior journalist - NewStart Follow him on Twitter


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