In 2005, there was an historic vote in Preston amongst council tenants.
Offered the chance to band together and have a more vociferous say in how their homes and neighbourhoods are managed as part of the proposed Community Gateway scheme, they voted in favour of what was then a first-of-its-kind organisation in the UK.
The residents had spoken, and Preston City Council transferred 6,500 of its homes to the Community Gateway Association.
Now based at Harbour House on Port Way overlooking the docks, Community Gateway has gone from strength to strength since then. Some 14 years down the line from that defining vote of confidence, the company now employs around 260 members of staff, 80% of whom live in Preston, and has an income of £54.7m.
Following their acquisition of 430 homes from Clarion and Regenda Housing last year, Community Gateway now manages the largest number of properties in Preston, and looking ahead, their growth strategy aims to build and acquire some 330 much-needed new homes over the next two years, including a flagship independent living scheme called Oakbrook Gardens in Ingol.
Thriving barely covers it.
"What is important to us is that there is a route for tenants to get involved should they wish," explained Louise Mattinson, who joined CG in 2006 and is the Executive Director of Customers and Communities at the firm, responsible for CGA’s front-line housing management teams. "Once they’ve made the decision to join, they can stand for election and be part of the governance structure or get involved more informally through surveys, meetings, and workshops.”
And that's the approach which sets Community Gateway apart: their model puts tenants at the forefront. With the company accountable to a tenant-led board, any money they bring in is invested straight back into the communities to address issues residents themselves raise first-hand, allowing people who live in communities to have a direct say in how they are run.
From cleaning up green spaces and upgrading people's kitchens and bathrooms, to their Holiday Hunger food-bank initiative, the power is held by the residents.
When David and Margorzata Drzewiecki and their three children needed more space, they contacted Community Gateway. "The children are growing up now and we needed more bedroom space and a garden for them to play," said David, with his family having moved into a new home last month. "We're really happy with this house and with the service we have received."
Going above and beyond the remit of mere landlords, CG's setup ensure that it is to their benefit that they are committed to helping their residents in as many ways as they can.
Not only are they available to help tenants with emotional and practical in the form of calls to enquire as to residents' welfare and a support line offering advice on benefits queries, Community Gateway staff with direct experience of working in housing associations are also on-hand to offer expertise when it comes to business matters about property management and acquisition.
Large-scale property investment is carried out in conjunction with Preston City Council, with such moves ensuring that the company keeps growing. And given that Community Gateway are committed to helping over 2,000 people across Lancashire get back into work by improving their skills and job prospects - such as through their charitable sister subsidiary, Preston Vocational Centre - it's just as well.
"Our plans are unashamedly ambitious and make clear how we will continue to invest in homes and neighbourhoods, provide support for our tenants to live well, and respond to changing needs and expectations by evolving the services we offer," said CG's Chief Executive, Rob Wakefield, a qualified accountant who previously spent six years as the company's Director of Resources.
“There are exciting times ahead."