Thursday, 14 August 2014

50 - It's a magic number

50 – it’s a magic number

Give people an opportunity and they’ll make the most of it – it’s just a shame that more people don’t do just that.

Deborah and I all kitted-up!
I was delighted to meet up with Deborah Porter earlier this week. Chances are you haven’t heard of Deborah. But for me – Deborah is a symbol. She’s a symbol of what someone can do when they’re given a chance to succeed. Deborah is the 50th apprentice who we’ve taken on through our double-award winning LEAP programme.

She’s the latest in what is becoming a long line of tenants who we’ve been able to help by giving training, work experience - and in some cases, full time work.

Deb makes it 50 apprentices
Deborah joined us a few months ago – after being out of work for ten years. She’s worked in different factories over the years but never really had the chance to excel. What I really like about Deborah is her determination to be better. Off her own back, she enrolled at college and became a qualified carpenter; a profession that too few women have taken up. But she could never put those skills into practice because there was no-one who was willing to take a chance on her. She enrolled in our LEAP programme and I’m delighted that she’s our 50th apprentice! She’s thriving in her new role on our handyperson scheme.

She seems to be really enjoying herself as well. And that’s what makes apprenticeships so rewarding for a company like ours. Seeing people who no-one else would take a chance on, really enjoying their work and really making the most of the opportunity which has come their way.

Ignore those who continually knock our city or who seem to take a perverse enjoyment in demonising those who live in council houses, Wolverhampton has a wealth of people who are desperate to do a good job – they just need to be given the chance and the confidence to succeed; and I couldn’t be prouder that LEAP is giving some of them that very chance.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Robin Williams RIP

Mental Health – there must be more we can do

Robin Williams. RIP

I, like millions of others, woke up this morning to hear the exceptionally sad news that the much-loved comedian and actor Robin Williams had died.

A man who literally made millions of us laugh has left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment and the childhoods of many. From Good Morning Vietnam to the Dead Poets’ Society and from Jumanji to Mrs Doubtfire; Williams was an accomplished actor with seemingly boundless energy and humility.

But beneath the laughter lay a man riddled with doubt, insecurity and a dark, desperate depression. Well documented battles with drugs, alcohol and mental health have seemingly finally taken their toll.

It leads me to think about mental health and the stigma which is still attached to it – not only in society but in the workplace too. If someone you know breaks their leg, their plaster cast is a visual reminder that’s something’s wrong and that person may need some help. But with mental health the signs aren’t always so clear and the problems not so easily understood.

In a world where the pace of life seems to get faster and faster as the days go by, it seems we often forget to ask the simple questions of others around us; how are you? Are you feeling ok? Do you need to talk?

Millions are suffering in silence and there’s a desperate need for more to be done. Statistics suggest that one in six workers in the UK suffer with some sort of mental health problem – whether it’s anxiety, depression or stress. That suggests more than 100 of my staff could be suffering – many in silence; and that just doesn’t seem right to me.

We need to do more to support people with mental health problems. Here at Wolverhampton Homes we have a counselling service which I hope is of use to colleagues who feel they might need it. But I suspect many who really do need it don’t come forward because they simply don’t want anyone to know. We need to deal with that mind-set – not just here but in society as a whole. We all need to do more and create a culture where we can talk openly about mental health.

Today I’m going to email all of my staff and remind them that we have services that can help – and that there are people out there like the Samaritans and countless others groups who can help.

We need to change our attitudes towards mental health. Let’s start that now.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Stay Safe. Stay Put

Earlier this week we launched a new fire safety campaign on our high rise estates.

We’ve got 48 high rise tower blocks in Wolverhampton and the nightmare for every housing organisation or local council is that a tower block goes up in flames.

Lakanal House in 2009
The Lakanal House fire in Southwark in 2009 is a lasting reminder about how fires in tower blocks can be so dangerous. Six people died as a fire spread through a flat on the 9th floor. There were a multitude of failings that day.

The advice from fire safety experts is fairly simple - if there’s a fire in a communal area in a tower block…stay put. We all know that our natural instincts are to try and get out but in these instances, unless you’re told by the fire service to move – you should stay put.

That’s because the flats were built to withstand fire. The concrete shells of each flat can withstand heat of several hundred degrees. And with the latest standard fire doors installed, the odds of the fire coming into a flat from a communal area is greatly reduced.

We’ve seen for ourselves how much damage fire can cause in a high rise block. Last year there was a fire in the communal lobby at Longfield House in Wednesfield. It’s sobering viewing when you see the CCTV footage to think how quickly the fire spread and how lucky we were that no one was hurt – let alone killed.

Stay Safe. Stay Put.
We also saw a fire in another block of flats in Wednesfield last year. This was confined to one flat – but it really hits home about how important it is to have a plan for when fire strikes in your home.

So this week we’re launching our Stay Safe, Stay Put message for tenants living in high rise blocks. Before we started the campaign we did a quick survey and this is what we found:
  • 40% of people don’t check their fire alarm weekly 
  • Nearly half had never heard of the stay put policy
This tells me that there’s still work or us to do.

That’s why every high rise flat will be getting a leaflet, a sticker for their front door and a phone call over the next 6 weeks.

With people’s lives at risk – it’s so important we get that message out there.

I’ll let you know how the campaign goes – but in the meantime, let me leave you with this footage from Longfield House…how long do you think it takes for the fire to spread?