In December 2019, Coventry-based housing charity, Valley House took out social investment for the first time.
We invested £2.5 million from our ground-breaking Social and Sustainable Housing fund (SASH) to fund the acquisition of 22 properties with 29 bed spaces for Valley House’s supported housing services.
Now as Valley House has just completed on its final property using this investment, we talked to them about the process of taking on social investment and what impact it has had on the charity and its service users.
Established in 1977, Valley House has grown from being a single house to an entire organisation offering a range of accommodation and community-based services for vulnerable people in and around Coventry.
They provide supported accommodation for young parents aged 16 to 24 years old and individuals and families escaping domestic abuse, helping them to live in a safe environment and providing personalised support. They also run a children’s nursery and offers community wellbeing services.
Creating a sustainable future
The charity is led by LJ Winterburn who has been CEO since 2016. Since joining LJ has steered the charity in a new direction, taking on social investment to buy properties for the first time to provide short term accommodation for their vulnerable service users.
LJ decided to approach us for social investment when the charity was facing challenges providing housing. Prior to the investment their accommodation consisted of properties leased from registered providers of social housing and private landlords.
However, some registered housing providers had started to change their business models by selling off their supported accommodation provision or leasing them to private landlords, reducing the amount of social housing available for charities like Valley House.
Valley House also anticipated struggling to source alternative accommodation from the private sector and decided to change direction and consider buying property.
When one of their housing providers approached them about purchasing some of their properties, LJ used social investment to take up this opportunity.
The social investment process
LJ says the investment process was relatively smooth, although recent property hikes due in part to the stamp duty holiday and government backed mortgages to stimulate the housing market during the pandemic, meant the charity had a shortfall of funds. They were able to overcome this by asking SASC for additional funds.
Other challenges were around finding contractors to do refurbishment work on the new properties, as well as price rises in building materials, due in part to Brexit. However, the charity was able to use its own maintenance team for some of the work and now only has a small number of properties left to refurbish.
One of the biggest lessons for LJ is the importance of having a good team around her including the senior management, maintenance and facilities teams who were behind the purchasing of properties from the start. LJ used a solicitor that understood the sector, which was important, as well as the services of a property management agent, Cornerstone, who helped the charity find suitable properties.
Taking on social investment was a huge learning curve, but a highly positive experience. LJ describes it as a ‘godsend’. The charity has become property owners and is less reliant on private landlords, who can be reluctant to rent to charities because they perceive there to be a higher risk from their service users.
LJ says without taking on social investment they would really have struggled to find appropriate accommodation for their service users.
Using the loan, Valley House can now provide safe, secure accommodation across Coventry and support and help people move towards independent living. They manage the maintenance of the houses themselves, ensuring any work is undertaken promptly and to a high standard.
The charity is more financially sustainable as it owns the assets and less reliant on the private rented sector. LJ is considering purchasing more properties in the future to provide permanent homes for service users to move to after the temporary accommodation currently provided.
Valley House’s service users have benefitted from living in safe, secure, high-quality accommodation, something which is particularly important for people who have suffered trauma in their life.
LJ says living in a well-maintained home in a nice area and removing any anxiety that comes from living in poor quality housing, enables people to focus on healing and moving forward with their lives.
In 2020/21, Valley House supported a total of 353 people through its accommodation services, broken down into 179 adults, 11 young parents and 163 children. Going forward Valley House wants to able to help many more people and children. We wish LJ and her team the best of luck and we look forward to continuing to work and support the charity.
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