Green Fingered Housing Service Plans to Grow the Appeal of its Gardens

by Heather Peebles

Monday, May 5th, 2014

Landscape ExampleGardens are set to be transformed throughout Scotland following an extensive, back to basics, grounds maintenance review by care and housing experts.

Blackwood, which provides services to thousands of people with specialist needs and requirements, has embarked on the major project after consulting its tenants and care users.

Sharon Brady-Wardrope, Asset Manager at Blackwood, said: “We know that some of our residents can’t get out and about as much as they would like so their gardens are a crucial part of their lives.

“We want to ensure we offer them a safe and pleasant outdoor space for them to enjoy, so our grounds maintenance is something we are taking great time and care to improve at Blackwood.”

The Edinburgh-based organisation, which runs more than 1500 properties across 29 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, carried out a fundamental review of its grounds maintenance services to improve efficiency and deliver what its customers want.

Feedback from extensive tenant surveys from the past three years was studied to identify common themes. A number of tours of the properties were also carried out, allowing tenants to highlight problem areas and to suggest improvements. Dedicated focus groups were also held to gauge its tenant satisfaction.

Meanwhile Blackwood’s own housing officers provided feedback on existing contractors allowing the quality of work to be carefully examined. That also helped identify areas for improvement as well as potential inconsistencies in standards between regions.

Landscape Specialists

To aid the process, a partnership was formed with landscape architects Chris Palmer Associates who carried out specialist surveys of 30 developments.  They then completed three pilot projects to deliver the types of changes identified, which also allowed a new Blackwood Standard for Grounds Maintenance and Improvements to be developed.

Sharon added: “It has been an exhaustive and comprehensive process which saw us go back to the drawing board on the subject of grounds maintenance.

“By directly involving our tenants in this process, we ensure their views were not only heard but are actively shaping the improvements that are planned for the next four years.

“Ultimately we want to deliver the best possible service and value for money for our customers and believe the changes we have implemented will deliver that.

“Already we have reduced the number of contractors from 26 to four and have carried out an extensive tender process in which tenants have been involved in interviewing potential contractors.”

Blackwood is now seeking Tenant Ambassadors to get involved in the Grounds Maintenance to work with the new contractors and staff to ensure they deliver the highest standard service.

Improving Lives

Since it was established more than 40 years ago, Blackwood has provided support that lets people make their own choices and have control over their lives in accommodation that meets their needs. As a result it has an outstanding record of adapting properties to make them accessible.

People who use Blackwood’s services include older people, those with physical or learning disabilities, mental health issues or sensory impairment, so even small adaptations can deliver significant quality of life improvements.

These include minor adaptations, such as lowering the thresholds between rooms for easier wheelchair access, fitting grab rails and installing easy-to-use lever taps. However, they also carry out bigger projects, including installing wet rooms, level access showers and “rise and fall” kitchens.

With 1600 properties and tailored, individual care packages for more than 400 people, Blackwood has embraced the challenges of taking housing and care into innovative areas at a time when funding is increasingly.

Its board and executive team have a clear strategy to ensure a long-term and sustainable future while also helping its customers deal with welfare reforms. An important part of that is a comprehensive asset strategy which maps out Blackwood’s likely property maintenance and investment needs for the next 30 years.

It works in 29 of Scotland’s 32 council areas, working closely with many local authorities, more than any other care or housing provider.

Private: Heather Peebles

Based as a PR in Edinburgh, Heather Peebles is a highly-valued member of the team at Holyrood Partnership. Her work with the Scottish public relations consultancy sees her advising clients in healthcare, construction, renewables and logistics. As well as delivering numerous successful PR campaigns, she is also experienced in crisis PR and reputation management.

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