Invest in sustainable communities to make inclusive growth happen

Midland Heart

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce to provide insight on the findings of the Birmingham Economic Review.

The Birmingham Economic Review 2019 is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and is a high quality resource for organisations seeking to understand Birmingham to inform research, policy or investment decisions.

This post is featured in the full Birmingham Economic Review 2019 and the Summary Review. These are available here.

The term “inclusive growth” might be relatively new but the concept goes back a long way. This year we’ve been celebrating 100 years since the Addison Act was passed – a major piece of legislation that made it possible to build social housing at scale for the first time. Coincidentally, it wasn’t long after this that Midland Heart was born, although our early focus was on acquiring and improving existing homes, rather than building new ones.

Lord Addison dedicated much of his political career to improving health and housing conditions. In his time, it was never just about building homes, it was about the type of communities people wanted to live in. One of Lord Addison’s contemporaries, NHS founder Nye Bevan, famously talked about social housing in which “the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and the farm labourer all lived in the same street”. The new estates would offer a “living tapestry of a mixed community.”

So what can we learn from this legacy, and what can it tell us about making inclusive growth happen today?

Inclusive growth means recognising that economic expansion is necessary for prosperity, but to be sustainable in the long term it must be broad-based. The RSA Fellowship’s recent Inclusive Growth Commission described it as “enabling as many people as possible to contribute and benefit from growth”.

Housing sits right at the centre of this. As a housing association, we remain committed to our original social aim of providing good quality homes that are affordable to a broad range of people. We’re excited to see inclusive growth back on the agenda as a core objective for our city region and we’re ready to play our part in achieving this.

Providing high quality, affordable homes in the right places enables people to access good education and employment opportunities. When people have leisure activities, shops and other community infrastructure on the doorstep it makes their local area feel more like a community. New housing supply is critical, but so is the careful management of existing homes. High levels of tenancy turnover can lead to concentrations of poverty and disadvantage - a real obstacle to inclusive growth. We must ensure all our homes are places where people want to live and choose to stay.

Our new corporate plan Making What Matters Brilliant sets out how we will deliver real improvements for our customers, new and existing. Working closely with partners in local, regional and national government, we’ll build more than 600 good quality affordable homes each year in mixed communities across the Midlands. It’s an ambitious target, but one we’re confident of delivering based on our previous track record and strong strategic partnerships.

A few years ago we worked with William Davis and Birmingham City Council to convert the Crocodile Works factory in Newtown into 170 new affordable homes across different tenures. The site was transformed into a vibrant mixed community and has quickly become a highly sought after place to live, which also offers genuinely affordable homes to those in need.

More recently, we redeveloped an old school in Shard End, working closely with Countryside and Birmingham City Council. This time we transformed a disused site into a mixed estate of 64 homes for affordable rent and shared ownership. The project delivered much-needed affordable city living accommodation, close to good transport links.

But it does not stop there. We’re also making a record investment in the services and homes we offer to our existing customers. With designated funds set aside for our most challenging schemes, we’ll bring our older properties up to date and maintain all our homes to a high standard of safety and comfort. Crucially, we’ll also review how our homes are allocated and managed to ensure a balanced mix of people from different backgrounds. We’ll do our bit to contribute to modern vibrant communities.

Making inclusive growth happen requires long term investment and stewardship, and this goes right back to the core of our social purpose. Working with our partners we will invest in homes that not only meet the needs of families today, but go on supporting sustainable communities for another 100 years. If you believe you can help support this ambition we would love to hear from you.

Glenn Harris MBE
Midland Heart