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Housing LIN: Forging a new partnership to transform housing and care tech choices

Earlier this week we listened to the HousingLIN #HAPPIhour, ‘Forging a new partnership to transform housing and care tech choices’. The subject of this was the merger of Central & Cecil and Aster Housing, which occurred in January this year.
Beginning the session Julia Ashley, Managing Director - C&C; Over 55s Housing and Care Lead - Aster Group reflected that Central & Cecil and Aster Group are two very different organisations, which came together in January this year. Aster Group had also merged with East Borough Housing Trust in 2020. Each organisation brings something different to the table, and know that they can achieve more by working together, She then outlined the challenges currently facing the sector:

·       Brexit
·       Covid
·       Ageing population
·       Climate crisis
·       Building and fire safety reforms
·       Housing white paper
·       Inflationary pressures and rent cuts
·       Levelling up agenda
·       Impact of war in Ukraine
The discussion then moved onto the case for merging. For Central & Cecil, the drivers were reducing risk/volatility, maximising asset strength, access to funding, sharing skills & resources, and having more impact for our ageing population.
For Aster Group the motivations were growth into London, maximising asset strength, available funding, sharing skills and resources, and more impact for our ageing population.
The organisations look different in terms of size (Central & Cecil has 1,850 homes in London whilst Aster Group has 32k homes in South/South West) and in the types of property they offer and average age of their tenants (95 and 65 respectively); but their values are aligned.
There was a short time frame for the merger, with initial conversations beginning in February 2021 and the legal merger happening in January 2022. The merger brought the best of each organisation ‘without fear or favour’:
·       +700more homes
·       Accelerated C&C fire safety programme
·       More investment in technology
·       Shared knowledge, expertise and resources
·       Wide range of learning and career opportunities for colleagues
·       Enhanced benefits for C&C employees
·       A new strategic plan for ageing for the group
·       A bigger voice and influence
Board members went to visit residents to explain what was happening, and as a result less than 5% of residents had concerns, with most saying that their questions had been answered. They reflected that system integration will take longer, as both organisations need to ensure that everything continues to work effectively.
Developing the new strategic plan will involve being bold in thinking, meeting the wider demographic need, challenging ageism so that it is need not age related, thinking about customer/resident homes and services, enabling and valuing the ageing workforce, using all available resources and working together in communities, and creating sustainable homes and services that are fit for the future.
Julia noted that both Central & Cecil and Aster Group were built on the courage of founders who thought merging was important. This is the next evolutionary step. There is an ongoing commitment to Central & Cecil and its brand, and to reaching 100 years and beyond.
In response to the myth that ‘Identity is vanity’, Julia said that we can be overprotective of our history and identity. Central & Cecil’s founder wasn’t held back by the past, it was more important to meet the needs of the future. The current board are short-term custodians of the longer term future.   
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