At Community Gateway our customers are at the heart of all we do, we strive to be 'more than just a landlord' and provide significant support to our tenants, from helping customers receive benefits and food support to supporting individuals to job search and training opportunities and much more.
We spoke to some of our customers to hear about how Community Gateway supported them over the years. We would also like to share our work in the community and workplace.
Sally - Tenancy Management
Sally (not her real name) was referred for outreach support after our Tenancy Management team realised she was a vulnerable adult living alone with multiple support needs. She had poor mental health, a chaotic lifestyle, little support and was heavily in debt.
At first, as we began to support her, we were aware that she was struggling to keep her tenancy with us. Our colleagues had experienced difficulties with Sally in the past; she was unapproachable and defensive, so it took a while for her to trust our colleagues who were trying to help her. Following intensive and continued support, she has now turned her life around and we continue to check in with her weekly.
We have helped Sally claim benefits she didn’t know she was entitled to, so she can now afford to pay her rent and maintain her home. We have helped her clear previous debts, which were having a major impact on her mental health. We found a better energy tariff for her, saving money and allowing her to manage her supplier independently. We’ve also helped her connect with Social Services to enable her to see her children and build relationships with local support agencies.
Sally now sees her children on a regular basis and is working alongside others to achieve the best outcome for all concerned. We are now working with her to find a job.
At the end of the 12 months, thanks to colleagues from across the business, life looks a lot rosier for Sally, who is much more positive about her future.
Mary - Tenancy Support
Mary, suffered with bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia for a number of years and struggled with her finances. As a result she fell into debt with her bills, including her council tax.
A rent officer from Community Gateway went to see Mary when her rent fell into arrears and immediately referred her to colleagues in the Tenancy Support team. They visited Mary and soon found that she was not receiving the correct level of benefits and should be exempt from paying Council Tax. The local authority accepted the claim and agreed to backdate the application.
Mary had been overcharged Council Tax in excess of £5,000 and after all court costs and bailiff charges were removed, she received a refund of £2,500. The team also helped resolve issues with other benefits and Mary’s income has increased by over £65 per week and she received backdated benefits in excess of £3,000.
Edward and Stacey - Purple Pantry
The Purple Pantry is a Community Gateway food outlet, which offers high quality food through a simple membership scheme.
Edward visits the Purple Pantry every week with his daughter Stacey, whose partner walked out on her just before Christmas last year, leaving her as a single mum with six children. We spoke to both Stacey and Edward.
“Just a few weeks ago I received a letter off my gas company asking me why I hadn’t put any gas on my meter, however, since the Pantry has opened it has been a great help and I have been able to put more money on my gas and electric card. The Purple Pantry is really handy and is local to us, the food available is great quality and the people are very helpful. I visit the Pantry every week, I go for my mum who has been self-isolating for the last seven months and I visit with my daughter Stacey. It has been a great help for her as a single parent, especially with nappies, it has been absolutely brilliant. I was so happy to find out that it will stay open until the New Year, at least now we will have a good Christmas and will be fed properly. It makes my day when I visit the Purple Pantry, the staff are so helpful and always cheer me up. It would be great if the Pantry could be expanded so everyone in Preston that is struggling could access it. I have been using the Pantry for the last two months, everyone in my area uses it. The Purple Pantry has helped us a lot.”
We also spoke to Edward’s daughter Stacey who said:
“The Purple Pantry has been a brilliant help to me and the ladies that work there are so polite and helpful. With six children, I have been struggling, but the Pantry has made it so much easier for me. It would be nice if there were more services like this available to those struggling.”
Joanna - RRP Scheme
Joanna (not her real name) and her long-term partner were homeless and had a crack cocaine addiction, they were in a privately rented house, but unfortunately lost it. They also have two children together who were in foster care.
Through the RRP scheme Joanna and her partner gained a Community Gateway property and since then things have improved massively. The CGA Pathways team housed them in one of our properties in March this year, just at the beginning of lockdown and they both managed to come off the cocaine addiction.
This new improved environment has now allowed them full access to see their youngest son and they are building their relationship back up as their sons have confidence in them now, with their oldest son studying at Edge Hill University.
They have both taken up new hobbies, including macramé which Joanna has never done before, she finds it therapeutic and is now at a stage where she can possibly sell her work. Her partner has taken up match making, making jewellery boxes, VW Vans and the London eye.
Finally, Joanna thanked Community Gateway for providing her with a home that has given her and her partner security and stability, especially during the current pandemic.
National Tree Week
We understand the vital role that trees play in local and global environmental sustainability. We try to maintain all our trees where possible, but sometimes we have to remove trees if they become unsafe or diseased. We aim to re-plant three trees for every one we remove.
This re-planting is done over a three year programme, so we were delighted to get our customers and colleagues involved in National Tree Week 2019 which fitted in well with our “leafy” plans!
National Tree Week is organised by the Tree Council and is the UK’s largest tree celebration, timed to launch at the start of the winter planting season each November. We encouraged our tenants to have trees planted in their own gardens, as well as in our larger communal and open green spaces to increase the number of trees across Preston, particularly in more urban neighbourhoods.
We offered a choice of small trees, suitable for gardens, each with different assets such as spring flowering Sugar Plum, Apple and Pear, and Acer for rich autumn foliage.
The campaign was a real team effort with our tenants and colleagues helping to 'spread the word' and identify potential planting locations. Even our senior managers got their wellies on and helped to plant some trees whilst our GreenCare colleagues provided practical support and advice.
We had a great response and planted over 100 young trees within our communities; 40% of those being planted people’s gardens.
Craig Garner, Executive Director of Resources said:
"Environmental sustainability is everyone’s responsibility and our ethos at Community Gateway is that we are one big family. The activities we arranged to support National Tree Week are just some examples of how everyone in the ‘Gateway Family’ works together to benefit our local and global environment; regardless of who they are."
Community Gateway will maintain all new trees to ensure they stay healthy and are maintained at the right height to bring pleasure for years to come.
Real Living Wage
Whilst Community Gateway has been an accredited Living Wage Employer since 2014, in January 2020, we became a Preston Real Wage Accredited Employer. As one of Preston’s largest employers, we play a key role in an initiative led by Preston City Council to encourage more local businesses to raise their own rates of pay to the Real Living Wage, which is currently £9.30 per hour.
The Real Living Wage rates are higher than the government’s National Living Wage because they are independently-calculated based on what people need to get by.
Chief Executive, Rob Wakefield said:
“As a community-based housing association with 93% of our colleagues living in the Preston area, it is really important to us to pay the Real Living Wage. This ensures our colleagues earn enough to live on and are fairly rewarded for the work they do. It also aligns well with our ethos of ‘giving something back’ to the local economy.”
This sentiment was backed up by Claire Smith, Head of Culture and Engagement, who added:
“We believe in valuing and recognising the hard work of our colleagues who deliver great services in our communities. As an organisation driven by strong values and ethics, treating people fairly and paying them properly is what we are all about.”
In addition to the benefits to the individual, organisations paying the Real Living Wage also see improvements including increased productivity and motivation. Our entry level roles all pay the Real Living Wage rate, meaning we receive a high volume of applications for our vacancies. We are passionate about recruiting, developing and retaining our valued colleagues and delighted that this accreditation forms part of a package helping us to retain our talent.
The very real changes this commitment has made to individuals can be best highlighted by the positive feedback from colleagues. One of our apprentices said:
“Being on the Real Living Wage means I don’t have to worry as much about money. It’s amazing how much of a difference this has made to my overall wellbeing.” Such positive sentiment was echoed by another who added, “It’s had a positive impact on my life, making me feel a valued member at Gateway and shows me how they appreciate all the hard work I put in.”
Each year, Community Gateway raises money to support local charities and 2019/20 was no different.
In November an intrepid team of colleagues from across the business, alongside colleagues from Preston Vocational Centre, braved the cold to participate in The Big Sleep Out at Preston North End’s Deepdale stadium.
Organised by The Foxton Centre, a Preston-based charity working with rough sleepers, the event was held to help purchase and renovate a local house that will be used to provide a safe and secure location for Preston’s homeless community.
Participants were asked to bring only the bare essentials on the night, with the sleepover designed to provide a small insight into what it felt like to sleep rough. With over 300 people taking part in total, our team did fantastically well, raising more than £3,500 for the charity.
Patsy Alexander, Housing Support Co-ordinator, who took part, said:
“It was very rewarding to see so many local people from different walks of life come together to raise money and awareness about homeless issues in Preston. People have been incredibly generous in their support and we would like to thank everyone who sponsored us.”