For the first story on this subject, look up “PRINCETHORPE COURT STORY” in the TAG CLOUD.
Looking back, there were four key elements to the story and although they only clearly emerge with hindsight, they are perhaps the essential ingredients to many breakthrough projects. Whether we knew it or not at the time, it was a breakthrough that was required.
The Project Team
The first key was the group of people involved in the project at the outset. The leader and most significant player was Bill Martin, the Chief Executive of Coventry Churches Housing Association. Bill was never satisfied with the status quo and always wanted to improve everything around him. He encouraged, and at times, drove his team to do the same. Second best was never good enough. Boundaries, rules and regulations were there to be stretched. What was good enough for everybody else was never a yardstick to be copied. I’ll bet as a kid in winter, Bill was the one who always wanted to be the first to walk in fresh snow. He was the hardest, most demanding boss I ever worked for and also the very best. He remains a good friend to this day.
The second central player was the CCHA Housing Director, Stewart Fergusson. Stewart was the son of an East End bookies runner with all the cheek, and 100-word-a-minute patter that you find on market trader stalls. Stewart’s abilities went way beyond the market place. He had a history degree from Cambridge University and an intellect capable of challenging any issue. He was supported by one of his Team Leaders, Liz Taylor, who had a qualified background in housing management and considerable experience of managing sheltered housing schemes. Both Stewart and Liz had a wholistic approach which looked beyond the immediate housing needs of the elderly and was concerned about the pressure that increasing frailty could bring.
My role at the time was as CCHA’s Development Director and I was charged with getting the design project off the ground and successfully constructed. Whilst I did much of the pushing and shoving, I was more than ably assisted by my right hand man – Andy Hillier, who has worked alongside me for thirty years and is a master of project co-ordination and specification.
Whilst many others made strong contributions later in the process, it was this small group who initially developed the concept of what we then called Very Sheltered Housing.
On the outside of the team, we were fortunate to have Tom White as the Director of Social Services in Coventry. Tom was very positive about the concept from the outset, even though he could see that in the long-term this housing and care provision would undermine the City’s much older stock of “old people’s homes”. His support was vital because the referrals for care came from Social Services, at a time when many social workers felt that frail residents could not be looked after in housing and needed to move to residential care.
We were on the edge of legislation and regulation on several fronts and constantly had to argue our case for this new model. The Housing Corporation felt we were over-sizing the communal facilities and straying into providing care, which was not the role of Housing Associations. We had quite a few skirmishes with them but they did eventually capital- fund the project. The planners and building regulators could not make up their minds whether this was housing or health care provision and were constantly trying to put us in an “institutional” box. We didn’t give in and were adamant that this was housing, not residential care. The health care regulators reluctantly left us alone because we were only providing domiciliary care. This was outside their remit in those days.
You can see why the combined skills of the initial development team were so essential to the early negotiation of the project. It very much challenged the conventional wisdom that frailer old people could not cope or be coped with in housing.
Thirty years on and extracare housing is a well liked and accepted model of housing and care provision.
MORE TO FOLLOW