16 October 2020: A housing association for colleagues and customers

~ A colleague from leading housing provider Stonewater explains how the organisation has helped her find a home ~

Last summer, Nick Harris, Chief Executive at Stonewater, made an announcement that changed the lives of many colleagues working for the housing provider, forever. To truly champion its mission of giving everyone the opportunity of having a place that they can call home, Stonewater announced that it would be launching its own specialist shared ownership scheme – exclusively for colleagues – called myOwnHome.

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The announcement came after it became clear that despite home ownership being an aspiration for many who worked at Stonewater, as a result of dramatically rising property prices in high-value areas like Reading and Bristol, seemed to be an ever-fading dream.

Nick said: “Given current expensive land prices, Stonewater is not looking to build new homes in those locations, meaning colleagues in these areas are not able to take advantage of the company’s standard shared ownership schemes.

For me, this just didn’t seem right. I wanted to find a way that allowed us to not only support our customers getting onto the property ladder, but our hardworking colleagues too. myOwnHome works by giving eligible colleagues the opportunity to choose a home that is available on the open market, either a new build or re-sale, which Stonewater then purchases on their behalf.

Colleagues then have the option to buy a share of their home, ranging from 25 to 75 percent, depending on what’s affordable to them and then pay discounted rent on the remaining share.”

Following the announcement, one colleague in particular was moved to tears. Before joining the organisation as a Retirement Living Team Leader – South in 2015, Linda Rayfield had dealt with losing her daughter and then subsequently the breakdown of her marriage. Following her divorce, she found finding suitable accommodation a difficult challenge.

Linda said: “Before joining Stonewater, I moved around for a few years and finally settled in Bexhill, East Sussex. Given the location and that I was living by myself, I could only really afford to live in a series of flats. I’d like to be able to say they were still nice places to live, but in my case they were awful.

There were recurring issues in each of them – mainly surrounding poor insulation, which meant being woken up constantly during the night because of the neighbours above me using their bathroom or their children crying. In addition to the noise that couldn’t be avoided, there was also a lot that could, including loud music. It became a lot to endure and I soon became unwell and found myself battling depression.

To top it off, I actually had to move three times over the course of five years due to my landlords selling their properties. I received notice for the third time last June, 15 months after moving in and had until August to find another home.”

Stonewater’s annual company day – where Nick made the announcement – took place in July, not long after Linda had received her notice. Here, Nick explained how home ownership can play a vital role in providing stability and contributing to health and well-being. As part of Stonewater’s commitment to providing high-quality homes to those that need them the most, Stonewater was launching the first of its kind, specialist shared ownership scheme for its own employees.

“I’m used to shedding a tear at our company days,” continued Linda. “Last year, the team shared a video with us about hidden homeless, which left me in floods of tears but when myOwnHome was announced, I was overwhelmed. I felt like I’d been thrown a lifeline.

I read up about the scheme on our intranet and couldn’t stop thinking that there had to be a catch. It was affordable and I could do it by myself, so when the scheme went live on August 1st, I was up at 6am, ready to submit my application.”

Linda received confirmation that she’d been successful for the scheme at the end of that month. Shared ownership is usually funded by a government grant at a 12.5 per cent cost, but for this scheme Stonewater will subsidise the scheme with any surplus made being invested into building more social housing.

This scheme, however, has been limited to Board funding of £5m for this financial year and will be assessed and used to influence any requests for Board funding in subsequent years.

“The day I received confirmation, I also received notification from a site I’d signed up to showing that a beautiful house had been listed on the market,” she said. “I arranged a viewing immediately. It was exactly what I’d hoped for, it had a spacious kitchen and living area, and a conservatory, all reminding me of happier times.

The cherry on the cake, if it could get any better was the size of the garden! Gardening and cooking are the two passions in my life and something that has become crucial to keeping my spirits and wellbeing high.

I absolutely fell in love with it and put in an offer. When I found out it has been accepted, I remember standing at the kitchen window in the flat I was living in at the time, staring out through the window and just letting go of all the pain I’d held onto for the last five years. I finally felt in control of my life and excited to be able to settle down and take pride in having my own home.”

Linda was the first of ten colleagues to complete a purchase as a result of the myOwnHome scheme with another 14 employees expected to do the same in the coming months.

Having now settled into her new home, she said: “I will be eternally grateful to Stonewater for making this wonderful opportunity possible and I’m extremely proud to be part of the organisation.”

If you think this might be a place you’d like to work, check Stonewater’s latest vacancies, here: https://www.stonewater.org/careers/

Alternatively, for more information about Stonewater’s homeowning schemes visit www.stonewaterhomes.co.uk