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Wrexham's First Tenant Conference A Major Success

It had never been done before in Wrexham. But after months of hard work and preparation the first conference for Council tenants proved to be worth the wait.

Organised by Wrexham Tenants Federation and Wrexham Council and held in the brand new Catrin Finch Centre at Glyndwr University, Wrexham in September the event attracted over 100 tenants and contractors.

Sponsors

We are extremely grateful to the following companies for their sponsorship of the event:

The Mayor of Wrexham, Councillor Arwel Gwynn Jones and the Vice Chair of Wrexham Tenant and Member Partnership Eric Moore officially opened the event.

The compere for the day was Dewi Llwyd. Dewi explained that he was North Wales regional manager for inform2involve He began by welcoming everybody to the Conference, which was a first for Wrexham and outlined the work of inform2involve, which concentrates on training and job opportunities from the investment in meeting the Welsh Housing Quality Standard.

Speakers – morning session

Ceri Breeze

Ceri Breeze advised that he had recently been appointed as WAG's Head of Housing.

He began by stressing the considerable impact housing has on peoples lives, health and well being and how housing is the core of our communities and more than just bricks and mortar.

He went on to talk about the Housing Strategy Document and its strong focus on affordable housing and how tenants feature prominently in the document and that social housing is an important choice for people.

He went on to talk about the Essex Review commissioned by Jocelyn Davies:

He explained how the focus was to improve efficiencies of other services and that out of the Essex review came the National Tenant Participation Strategy which sets the agenda on the role of tenants

He mentioned i2i's document 'What Tenants' Want' developed with help from tenants and stressed the importance of the tenants voice in developing other services.

In talking about the Welsh Housing Quality Standard he advised how WAG in 2002 set the agenda for Authorities to reach WHQS by 2012. He stated that WHQS was about achieving the standard and maintaining it thereafter and that the standard is not a luxury it is a minimum standard that tenants should have.

He went on to say that WAG is neutral on how Authorities achieve the standard and that it is for the Council to determine how they do it. If Councils can meet it within existing resources fine but that it must be met by whatever means.

He concluded by stating that Wrexham are commended in their approach in involving tenants.

Aled Rhys Roberts

Aled Roberts opened his speech by informing the audience that this was his own personal view and that it had not been discussed in the group he leads.

He advised that he had no opinion as to whether the stock is transferred or whether it should remain with WCBC and that the reality is that stock transfer was created by the government. He stated that there is a need to listen to what tenants want and that we should have more of a customer focus badge.

Regarding the WHQS he went on to say that the link between Local Government and WAG is good. In his role as Welsh Local Government Association Spokesperson for Housing, Environment and Sustainability he has the opportunity to see what is happening elsewhere and share experiences.

He continued by saying we can't move the WHQS, whoever delivers the service. He pointed out that there is no way Wrexham can deliver the standard within its existing resources but that all tenants deserve WHQS and should have warm homes with modern facilities and which are well managed.

He talked about the HRA Business Plan submitted to WAG which commits to reviewing all options. He stated that we need to be more switched on to tenants' views.

He advised that currently a HRA Subsidy Review was taking place in England looking at the financial relationship with the Treasury.

Last year £11.5 million was sent to the UK treasury from Wrexham and the outcome of this review will influence the decision taken by Wrexham. In Wrexham the Council have set up a group to look at other cross services - to ensure as much money as possible is going into the HRA to spend.

He advised that Housing had introduced multi-skilling into repairs services but there was still more work to do. By having a locally controlled department we hear more of tenants problems Wrexham is responsive.

In closing he explained that Wrexham has a £400 million shortfall in achieving WHQS. That work has started on the stock option appraisal in order to check figures. It is an open book and we are not making a case out for stock transfer. In England have 'Decent Homes Standard' which is a slightly lower standard than the WHQS.

He continued that once the option appraisal has been carried out we need the honest view of all 52 Councillors. If Wrexham can't achieve/reach WHQS or find a way forward we will need to put these facts to the tenants.

He stated that whether stock transfer takes place is a decision only tenants can make. At present Wrexham is showing that it is better at providing services and we are spending more. This year spending £12 million on capital programme. This can have a knock on effect as if we asked tenants whether they wished to transfer, they may say that as things have improved, etc. they wish to stay as they are.

He concluded by advising that it is anticipated that a report on the options will be presented to Wrexham Tenant & Member Partnership in December with a Members Workshop in January 2010. Tenants need to be well informed in order to make a decision.

Questions raised following guest speakers

Breakout Groups

After the tea break the tenants formed into 6 breakout groups to discuss the content contained in the earlier speeches.

Each group were given two exercises to discuss.

Positives

Negatives

How do tenants want to be further involved?

Speaker – afternoon session

Peter Bungay, Welsh Tenants' Federation

Peter Bungay, Welsh Tenants Federation spoke about the credit crunch and the effect it was having.

He provided facts about the effect the credit crunch was having around the world and in particular how individual voluntary agreements were on the increase.

He spoke about the need to know our existing tenants, whether they are employed or unemployed, have unsustainable debts, who has been worse affected by the down turn i.e. elderly, single parents etc and what affect is the crunch having on our waiting lists.

He went on to outline how a positive approach should be taken and outlined a basis of any proposals along with a 10 point plan to help in these difficult times.

Barbara Roxburgh spoke about her role and that of the Wrexham Tenants' Federation as did David Lloyd, Tenant Participatory Advice Service and Elin Jones inform2involve.

Awards

A special awards ceremony to recognise contributions to 'good' council housing in Wrexham County Borough was held at the Conference.

Nominations were made via Housing Hotline and enabled tenants to vote in four categories. Video footage of the nominees were shown to the audience, the winners of whom are listed below:

Good Neighbour Award


Isabella Matthews, Coedpoeth

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Staff Award


Ian Owens, Sheltered Warden, Maes Y Capel

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Youth Award


Fern and Amber Lewis, Bronnington

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Best Garden


Mrs C.M.Morris, Gresford

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As well as being presented with a certificate by the Mayor and Ben Llewellyn from sponsors First Line Digital the winners also received high street shopping vouchers.

Prize Draw 

First Line Digital also provided a flat screen TV as a raffle prize.  Everyone who attended the event was given an information pack which included a raffle ticket.  The winning ticket was drawn by Ben Llewellyn of First Line Digital and the TV was presented to the owner of the winning ticket, Mr Randal Lloyd of Llay by the Mayor of Wrexham. 

Closing

The Mayor of Wrexham and Eric Moore, Vice Chair Wrexham Tenant and Member Partnership closed the Conference.  They thanked all for coming along and making such a valuable contribution to the day. 

The Evaluation

Staff received many verbal thanks and compliments on the conference; anecdotally it was very well received.  The returns indicated an enjoyable event.

Fifty two attendees out of 56 graded the whole event as 4/5 out of 5.  Forty five attendees out of 56 graded the exhibitions as 4/5 out of 5. Fifty one tenants graded the event 4/5 out of 5.  Fifty three tenants out of 56 stated they would like the conference to become an annual event.