By Abdul A Ravat

Departing Message – Vice Chair of Manningham Housing Association

To all parts of the Manningham Housing Association (MHA) story and family, it is time to finally draw curtains to what has been an almost two-decades-long relationship with this amazing community anchor organisation.

I joined the board in October 2016, having previously had a professional relationship as its Lead Regulator (with the Housing Corporation) and Lead Investor (with the Homes & Communities Agency).  MHA asked me to submit an application to become a board member and I jumped at the opportunity. 

But as soon as I started, the organisation was plunged into serious regulatory challenges resulting in downgrades in Governance (G3) and Viability (V2) by the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) and threatened its existence to remain independent and define its own direction. 

Over my career, I have seen too many BAME and smaller community-based Housing associations losing their true identity and either merging into bigger groups or simply disappearing.  I was adamant about that not happening to MHA and determined it should chart its own destiny.  This we have collectively achieved and today MHA has the best set of PIs, level of resident satisfaction, customer service and voids that I have seen in the sector and the RSH has regraded it as G1 & V1, which it has now had for the last 2 years or so.  This is also accompanied by many other accolades that have provided independent validation towards customer service, EDI and volunteering.

Under the requirements of the new NHF Code of Governance, there are now strict time stipulations as to how long individual board members can serve with a housing association.  So having served the two terms I have been reflecting on the journey at MHA and where next for the sector.

MHA is a “shining example”, leading the way in delivering homes and services against a backdrop of real pain and economic realignment with high inflation impacting rent increases, cost of living crisis and reducing support for household incomes, not to mention the discrimination and disparities that many people from the social minority communities’ encounter.  Yet despite these challenges, MHA continues to work with and fight for its residents and neighbourhoods who do not get the same attention from many of mainstream actors to truly level up.  Community anchor organisations like MHA, have endured years of struggle on behalf of their social minority communities up and down the country and because of that gained a unique voice to operate as independent entities and remain firmly rooted to their social purpose.  Particularly, where other organisations have struggled to keep voids down, disinvested and been hesitant to invest in many of the localities MHA have significant stockholding and championing the needs of their communities.

I am forever in awe whenever I meet the original founding disrupters who started MHA over 35 years ago.  MHA started its mission following research to investigate the chronic housing needs and lack of suitable affordable options available to the South Asian Community, with a £3,000 grant from Bradford Council.

Today, MHA is a business with a £10M turnover, with circa 1,400 homes in ownership and management (over 70% being larger homes), with a truly diverse staff team of over 40 people strong.  It also has circa £50m of new private funds to deliver an ambitious, but affordable growth programme as well as ensure that the existing stock meets the net carbon challenge and receives the necessary investment to reduce fuel bills for existing residents.  From those humble beginnings, MHA has become one of the strongest developing social landlords and is rooted in Bradford, Keighley although wants to stretch into other parts of West Yorkshire where there are unmet needs to help support other social minority communities level up.  MHA not only gives our communities and people a roof and a pace of sanctuary, but also a sense of community ownership, self-worth and pride.  I am just so humbled and privileged to have played a small part in this.

But things have not always been as they should be and given the ensuing cost of living crisis, chronic under-investment in affordable housing supply in places like Bradford (we still have over 2,000 applicants on the waiting, yet our growth programme will deliver circa 100 new homes throughout the current phase of the corporate plan), there is still much to do and real risks to the business, notwithstanding the crisis in social care and an increasingly ageing demographic also amongst many of the social minority groups.

But we have worked hard to develop a governance and organisational culture that always places the needs of our customers at the forefront of who we are and what is our purpose.  Indeed, at every board meeting, we start proceedings with a customer impact story that reminds us of our shortcomings but also humbled to hear of the wonderful work that the entire staff team, working through the partnership with others, do to help sustain and improve the living environment and life chances of those who turn to us for help and support.

I am sorry that I have not had the opportunity to visit many of our schemes and speak to residents directly, which I believe is an essential prerequisite to being an effective board member.  But I know through the work of the customer, complaints and scrutiny panels (as well as on the board itself) that the voice of the customer is always there and shaping our understanding and every decision.  Whilst it is easy to single out the work of the teams who undertook the digitalisation transformation and community investment, but actually, all of the MHA staff teams supported residents during the pandemic lockdowns and proved a real source of support for many in the community and not just our tenants.

I wish each and every one of you the very best for the future and whilst reflecting back on my time with MHA I can honestly say that it’s always been interesting intellectually, often extremely challenging, usually with lots of fun and frolics and also a place to experience learning.  Thank you for the opportunity and memories.

It has also been great to be part of the team that has, I believe, built a really good business, albeit one working in a very hostile environment with fog and uncertainty abound.  But, MHA has always risen to the challenges and I have every confidence in the board, staff team and the many partners and stakeholders that it will continue to serve, deliver and protect the life chances of those facing vulnerabilities and who need that helping hand and a place they can call home.

Thank you and peace be upon you all.