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Following on from two hugely successful interviews, this week we have chosen to speak to Yvonne Castle, CEO of Johnnie Johnson Housing (JJH), a not-for-profit housing provider dedicated to offering quality homes for older people across the North-West, North-East, Yorkshire and Derbyshire.


Their vision of ‘living longer, living better’ has never been a truer motto to have in the current climate. Claritas spent five minutes chatting to Yvonne about the impact Covid-19 has had on the housing provider, how the growth of assistive technology will become a positive to emerge from the crisis and we discuss what’s next for JJH’s strong growth and development plans, asking how they intend to fulfil their ‘living longer, living better’ vision?

Yvonne, thanks again for taking the time out of your incredibly busy schedule to chat to us. I know how frantic the last few months have been for Johnnie Johnson and the speed in which you have had to adapt as a business has been very impressive.

So, as a registered provider of housing for older people, tell us how you’ve had to adapt over the last few months to support your residents, some of whom are extremely vulnerable?

I know we’re meant to be talking about emerging technology here and I suppose I should be discussing all of the ground-breaking innovations we have been using to drive our response to Covid-19. To be honest, we’ve reverted back to strong and impactful postal communications with all our residents. We have over 5,000 homes spread right across the North of England, with many of our customers classified as vulnerable.

One of the first things we decided to instigate as an Executive team following the announcement of lockdown, was our need to reach out to each and every one of our residents – we had to take the lead, there were a number of mixed messages coming from Government around lockdown. We felt we had to go back to basics to give reassurance and guidance.

We introduced daily wellbeing calls with all of our customers – no mean feat given the dispersed nature of our stock. Within the last month we’ve increased our daily calls to over 2,000 calls. The quality of the calls has improved as well, with us now being able to tackle more and more complex issues our residents may have, rather than just asking if they are ok. Subsequently, these calls have turned into video chats with those residents who have access to the technology to be able to join in and we’re making sure we listen to all our resident’s needs. Sadly, it is apparent that our older generation are more likely to be the ones to feel the brunt of a recession as we come out of lockdown – much more than any other age group.

So much so, we’ve made one of our key corporate priorities about getting to ‘know our customers better’. Everything we’ve been doing through lockdown and inevitably everything we continue to do will ensure we ‘know our residents better’ – we have to keep evolving after lockdown is over.

You mentioned not everyone has access to technology and as a sector leader in assistive technology, how does JJH address these gaps and what does JJH see the future of independent living looking like?

Lockdown has forced us to look at everything with a fresh pair of eyes. We had so many plans in our heads, which I’m sure would have come to fruition at some point, however, nearly all of those plans have been sped up and are currently being considered either by our Executive team or by our Board.

Naturally, we already had fantastic links with the NHS and health care professionals due the nature of our day to day work, however we have accelerated a number of other partnerships, during lockdown, such as our work we’ve been trialling alongside the North-West Ambulance Service.

Through Astraline our in-house telecare alarm monitoring centre, we’ve been carrying out an initial triage service for the ambulance service, and our first responders have been attending those call outs where an ambulance isn’t really required – freeing up time and inevitably money for the already overstretched NHS. The pilot has been a great success for both us and the Ambulance Service and it is a partnership we see continuing long into the future.

It also gives us the opportunity to install our Astraline technology into more and more homes going forward, creating a technology hub across the North West.

To be honest, the whole telecare/telehealth sector has had the shove it needed to bring other emergent tech into the marketplace – we’re just glad we’re a driving force who is affecting positive changes going forward.

With regards to how Johnnie Johnson help our residents tackle the technology gap, we’re exploring a number of ways to provide the hardware needed and in partnership with many of our contractors, we’re utilising their social values vehicles to deliver training, support and guidance residents need to feel confident and comfortable when transacting online.

OK, let’s talk about Johnnie Johnson’s growth and development ambitions. You have a desire to build 1,000 new homes in the coming years – how do you combine that with your vision of ‘living longer, living better’?

Two words – ‘Design Together’.

We’ve again gone back to basics and looked at how we design and build our homes going forward, we’re nearly there with our new design for independent living for the future, which is very much designed around community hubs and living and community spaces having the flexibility to meet the needs of residents now and in the future.

We’ve spent a lot of time working and researching alongside a number of professionals in this field to be confident we have it right. Assistive technology will obviously play a large part in the design and infrastructure of the buildings – future proofing them for the years to come.

Alongside this we’ve also been reviewing our service offering and this is born out of the work we’ve been doing around ‘knowing our residents’ better’. Rather than assuming one type of service offering is right for everyone, we’ve been looking at how we can bend and flex in line with residents needs now and, in the future, to deliver better, efficient and effective services.

We’ve also been able to look at our internal approaches holistically addressing any disconnects there may have been in the process. Housing management teams are now talking to our development team, helping to formulate the knowledge and practicalities about how a new home is used by an end user – we’re about to take this to our residents to gain their understanding, to ensure we have a fully rounded approach.

Finally, Yvonne you’ve touched on various points already during the interview, but what’s next for JJH and what does the ‘new normal’ look like?

A great question!

Agility as we know is key to any business, more now than ever. I hope, if the last few months are anything to go by, we’ve proven our ability to adapt and work with agility. It’s something that we ‘d been looking at before Covid-19 struck – how do we change our approach to agile working?

We all think we have an agile approach to working but working from home a couple of days a week or hotdesking around an office isn’t good enough. It’s much more than that and it boils down to the culture of a company and the trust it shows its employees, which in turn rewards itself with increased productivity.

Currently we have 60% of our workforce out and about working in our communities, the rest of the team are home-based. Again, with mixed messages coming out of Government on the best approach we should take, we felt we had to take control. We asked colleagues if they felt they could continue to work in this way for another 3-4 weeks and unanimously they said yes!

So, we’ve already said that no-one will be back working from our head office in Poynton before the end of July. If I’m honest I doubt we will return to how we worked before Covid-19 hit. We’ve set up a review panel to look at how we work and formulate a plan for what it looks like going forward. Our ‘My Futures Group’ is made up of a cross section of the JJH team and I’ve told them to consider everything, nothing is off the table – anything is a possibility.

As for everything else, we will continue to drive the housing, health and assistive technology agenda forward, we will continue to build much-needed homes for older people, and we will continue to review and adapt our service offerings for both residents and our colleagues.

To find out more about Johnnie Johnson Housing, please visit their website – Here

You can follow them on social media:

Facebook: @jjhousingtrust

Twitter: @jjhousingtrust

LinkedIn: Here


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