Valuing our greatest resource results in ‘Best Companies’ milestone

In her latest blog, Thrive Homes Chief Executive Elspeth Mackenzie reflects on how a self-conscious focus on people management has helped Thrive on its journey to becoming a great place to work.

Here at Thrive we recently celebrated being recognised as one of the country’s best places to work.

We were ranked among The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Companies To Work For and named ‘Best Improver’. This was great news for us and represents a milestone in the journey our organisation is on.

For us, these rankings are the measure we use to determine how effectively we are engaging our people and we are passionate about the role our managers play, because the way employees feel about a business isn’t something that just happens – they look to their managers for truth and leadership.

The reason we have improved so much is that we have worked to ensure we have a real focus on our people, reflecting the value we place on them. This is rooted in our strategic framework, of which a key aspiration is being a good place to work.

In so doing, we will not only attract the right talent, but customers will get a good service as our people will have the right capability for us to run the business well. During a period of significant change at Thrive and in an environment where we are trying to operate as efficiently as possible, this is imperative because, more than ever, every person counts.

One particularly pleasing aspect of the Best Companies ranking is the fact that we were rated 25th overall for the regard people have for our learning and development programme, which is something we are continuing to develop. It helps our business, improves our offer and enables us to identify and nurture talent, equipping people to be the best they can be and to evolve during the course of their careers.

Changing our approach

In terms of people management, part of our approach has been to focus on areas where we don’t think traditional ways of operating serve us well – for instance, the annual round of staff appraisals which can become just a paper chase and box ticking exercise.

So, instead, we have replaced the process with Chin Wag – a system based on the premise that you know what your job is and generally get on with doing it. An organisation’s over-riding objectives and focus for the year might influence the emphasis on different aspects of your job description but, fundamentally, you are just getting on with your job.

On that basis, your conversations with your manager should be around how well the job is going, with new objectives only being set if it’s not going well or you are looking for career development.

The other aspect of these conversations is around how your behaviour is impacting on your achievements and the achievements of others. For instance, here at Thrive, we have specific values which we need to behave in accordance with in order to work well as a team.

The underlying principle of Chin Wag is the relationship between you and your manager, so the final element is the need to give your manager feedback. We recognised that this part of the conversation often wasn’t happening as people were unsure how to tackle it. As a result, we decided we had to equip them to do so.

In response, we developed our Managers’ Compact. We began by asking our staff to list what was important to them in their manager and what things they most appreciated in the best manager they’d ever had, such as showing a personal interest in them as individuals. We then conducted a workshop with our managers, listing and discussing their best experiences in their role.

When we married these two lists up, we found a lot of common ground – and our findings form the basis of our new Managers’ Compact, which sets out what we should be expecting of them.

This compact acknowledges the different motivations that drive us and promotes recognition of people performing well. It is also permissive, enabling people to hold their manager to account and giving them a basis to flag up issues they want to address.

It is already working well by giving everyone a reference point for how they manage or are managed – and it makes clear that being a good manager is not about being a subject expert, but about getting the best out of people.

Looking ahead, we are developing individual Employee Compacts so that people coming into the business have a clear view of what the Thrive culture is. With that clarity, we want our people to take responsibility for themselves and have an open relationship with their manager.

Evolving culture

Over the last year we have also focused on our emphasis on being ‘Positive Resilient People’, clarifying our commitment to providing an open, supportive and creative environment which enables employees to deliver our vision and values but also to make grown-up decisions affecting their work.

This is the culture we are trying to evolve and, as part of this, our Positive Resilient People Steering Group helps us identify how employees are feeling and responding to things going on within the business.

The powerful message behind this is that the issue is so important to us – and the success of our business – that we have invested people’s time in it by creating a dedicated group looking at what is or isn’t going well, to ensure our teams are suitably supported. This allows us to gain an overview of where difficulties are and the opportunity to address them.

At the heart of all this work we have carried out, self-consciously conducting this exercise, is the recognition that people are any organisation’s greatest resource and must be valued accordingly.

Closure Order secured on a property in Three Rivers

Three Rivers District Council has been successful in securing a Closure Order at an address in South Oxhey under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014.

Three Rivers worked in partnership with Hertfordshire Police and Thrive Homes to gather evidence in support of the Closure Order. The council, police and Thrive Homes had received numerous calls from members of the public reporting arguments at the address, noisy visitors, domestic abuse, suspected drug use and drug dealing.

The Closure Order was granted at St Albans Magistrates’ Court on Thursday April 5 2018 on a property in Ballater Close, South Oxhey, Watford, Hertfordshire. No-one is allowed to enter the property for three months and anyone who breaks the terms of the Closure Order will face arrest.

The court was satisfied that all the necessary criteria for a Closure Order had been met, including:

  • that a person has engaged, or (if the order is not made) is likely to engage, in disorderly, offensive or criminal behaviour on the premises, or
  • that the use of the premises has resulted, or (if the order is not made) is likely to result, in serious nuisance to members of the public, or
  • that there has been, or (if the order is not made) is likely to be, disorder near those premises associated with the use of those premises,
  • Three Rivers urge their residents to help them in the fight against drugs and associated Anti-social Behaviour (ASB). They are working closely with partner agencies to put a permanent stop to these crimes. Securing the Closure Order is a significant part of helping them achieve that.

    Dr Steven Halls, Chief Executive of Three Rivers said: “We very much value our close working relationship with the police and Thrive Homes. By taking this action to close the address, we hope to and improve the quality of life for our local communities and provide some respite from the behaviour that causes such misery for neighbours.

    “Three Rivers want local residents to continue to report anything of concern via the non-emergency number 101 or, if a crime or ASB is in progress, dial 999.”

    Tips for April

    Tips for March

    Lawn Care

    Lawn Care
    • Don’t cut newly laid turf until the grass reaches 2in (5cm) in height. Turf can be laid but be careful not to compact the spoil.
    • Watch out for stones that have weathered to the surface of the lawn – they can damage your mower and regularly smash windows when flung from the mower.
    • Provided the ground is not too wet mow your grass if it shows signs of growth. Don’t shock your lawn by cutting it short straight away – the first cut should be higher than normal.
    • This is a good time to define the lawn edges with a half-moon edger and create a 3in gutter between the lawn the flower border. This will stop the grass encroaching on the border and makes it easier to maintain the edges.

    Trees, Shrubs and climbers

    Trees, Shrubs and Hedges
    • It’s still okay to plant deciduous hedging plants, shrubs and trees.
    • As a general rule, you can prune deciduous shrubs (shrubs that drop their leaves in the winter)between January and March i.e. before they flower in the summer. Some examples are Buddleja, Caryopteris, Hydrangea, Lavatera, fuchsia, and Ceanothus.
    • Some shrubs such as Buddleja are usually cut back very hard (stooled) to keep them at a manageable size.
    • March is a good month to plant roses especially if you live in colder areas but remember not to plant them where roses have been planted previously.
    • Prune standard and bush roses as they start growing but before the leaves start to unfurl.
    • Don’t pruning any spring-flowering shrubs until after they have flowered otherwise you will lose this years display.
    • Renovated deciduous climbers will be easy now – live stems will have buds so prune out the dead stems with no buds.
    • If you have any plants with leaves that are two colours (Variegated – often green and white) cut out any branches with leaves that are all one colour or the whole plant will eventually revert to only one colour and lose its interest.


    • Cutting off the old leaves from hellebores at ground level will expose the flowers and reduce the chance of foliar diseases.
    • Plant herbaceous perennials.
    • Divide and/or plant snowdrop bulbs while they still have leaves on them – this is called planting in-the-green and some bulbs preferred to be moved when the foliage is just dying down.
    • In mild areas you can sow Sweet peas outside.
    • Cut back ornamental grasses and other perennials to make way for new growth.
    • Plant summer-flowering bulbs.
    • Divide clumps of herbaceous perennials that you want to propagate. Good examples are those that have grown too big or that are flowering poorly.
    • Divide hostas before the leaves appear but don’t Divide hellebores until after they have flowered.
    • Keep deadheading winter bedding plants such winter-flowering pansies to prolong your display.

    Greenhouse and Houseplants

    Greenhouse and Houseplants
    • Deadhead amaryllis leaving the flower stalks to die down. If you keep feeding and watering them you may get further flowers in late summer as well as next winter.
    • Passion flower and jasmine can be thinned out to keep them tidy. Cut last years growth back to two or three buds from the main frame.
    • Prune back stems on pot-grown over-wintered fuchsias. Soft tip cuttings (these are the soft and bending stems) can also be taken from fuchsias this month.

    Thanks to the Grounds Maintenance team at VPS Grounds Services for this seasonal advice.

    Thrive acquires large development site in Watford

    Thrive Homes has today completed the purchase of a large site for residential development at 16-18 St Albans Road in Watford, securing more new-build homes for the organisation’s ever-growing development programme.

    The site is currently occupied by a car dealership. The showroom and car park, on each side of St John’s Road, will be replaced by a total of 90 one and two-bedroom apartments across an eight-story and 10-storey block.

    The current planning permission requires 30 of the proposed homes to be provided as affordable housing but Thrive intends to provide double this number as affordable (subject to funding), with a further 30 homes being provided as shared ownership properties for households who would otherwise be priced out of the local housing market.

    The completed development will include landscaping, gardens, communal outdoor areas, paved courtyards, balconies and secure cycle storage.

    A contractor is likely to be appointed on what will be Thrive’s largest development to date in early 2019, with the first completed units being ready for people to move into in late 2020.

    Jack Burnham, Development Director at Thrive Homes, said: “We are delighted to have been able to acquire this site, which will be our largest development to date.

    “These apartments will be in a prime position, with excellent public transport links and access to Watford town centre. Our intention is to provide double the number of affordable homes that would have been built on the site by increasing the number of shared ownership properties available to people who would otherwise be priced out of the local housing market.

    “We plan to start construction on the site in 2019, with the first homes being ready in 2020”.

    Thrive, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has an active development programme of over 500 homes across a range of developments in Hertfordshire, Bedfiordshire and Buckinghamshire. The organisation’s forward strategy aims to double its housing stock (currently 4,650 homes) over the next 10 years.

    Thrive Homes scoops national award as top place to work

    Staff at Thrive Homes celebrate being one of the country’s best places to work.

    Thrive was named Best Improver overall and ranked 73rd in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies To Work For 2018, in the ‘not-for-profit organisations’ category.

    The annual rankings – based on the views of staff – recognise the UK’s best employers, those who go the extra mile to create a thriving workplace where their employees can flourish.

    Thrive Chief Executive Elspeth Mackenzie said: “We are thrilled to have won this award and be placed in the ‘Top 100’ for the first time. At Thrive we take pride in our staff pulling together as one team, focused on our social purpose of providing good quality affordable homes.”

    Closure order granted for property in South Oxhey

    A closure order has been successfully granted for a property in South Oxhey following numerous complaints from local residents concerning anti-social behaviour and drug activity at the address.

    The three month order for the property in Muirfield Road was granted at St Albans Magistrates on Monday, March 5 under the Anti-Social Behaviour and Policing Act 2014.

    Hertfordshire Constabulary worked in partnership with Three Rivers District Council and Thrive Homes to gather evidence in support of the closure order which prevents anyone from entering the property for three months. Anyone who breaches the order can be arrested.

    Community Safety Sergeant Luke Mitchell said: “This operation has been a well-coordinated approach by members of the Three Rivers Community Safety Partnership and sends out a strong message that this kind of activity will not be tolerated in South Oxhey. This type of behaviour can have a hugely detrimental effect on others living in the area and we will continue to do everything in our power to tackle it.

    “Anyone with information about anti-social behaviour or drug activity in their neighbourhood is urged to please report the details to us so that we can take action to make your community safer. Your calls can make a real difference.”

    Roger Seabourne, Three Rivers District Council’s Lead Member for Community Safety said: “This case was escalating out of control and becoming a real concern to members of the community. It involved a lot of evidence gathering and partnership work. It’s the result the partnership and community thoroughly deserved.”

    For a closure order to be granted the court must be satisfied that the following criteria has been met:
    • that a person has engaged, or (if the order is not made) is likely to engage, in disorderly, offensive or criminal behavior on the premises, or

    • that the use of the premises has resulted, or (if the order is not made) is likely to result, in serious nuisance to members of the public, or

    • that there has been, or (if the order is not made) is likely to be, disorder near those premises associated with the use of those premises,

    Timely debate presents unique opportunity

    In her latest blog, Thrive Homes Chief Executive Elspeth Mackenzie reflects on the need for a considered approach to defining the future shape of our sector.

    With social housing issues grabbing their share of national headlines in recent months, it seems timely that we should turn the spotlight on what the sector will look like in years to come.

    The Future Shape of the Sector Commission – supported by Clarion Housing Group, L&Q and Network Homes – is looking at that very question, and it is interesting that it should be posed by the sector itself.

    With a Social Housing Green paper in the offing, this debate chimes with some of the work being done by the National Housing Federation around identity, the messages we need to convey, how we respond to views expressed by our politicians and the implications of the Grenfell tragedy.

    We have a unique moment of opportunity to discuss these issues – times are changing, and we have to ask some tough questions to remain credible and relevant in the new environment.

    Reflecting diversity
    At Thrive, we have been asking ourselves what the future of the sector – and our own organisation – will look like.

    A key subject of discussion is how we ensure we hear what our customers are saying so that we manage our responsibilities while recognising that we need to take the organisation in a direction that meets the needs of future customers.

    Of course, these are questions which all providers – big and small – should be asking themselves.

    Although it is commendable that these three large, well-established associations have initiated and promoted this particular debate on a national scale, we must be careful that the commission’s findings and recommendations reflect the diversity of our sector.

    Surely we don’t want to see smaller or niche providers, those at varying stages of their organisational development, becoming defined by a single vision of what a housing association should be and how it should operate?

    The need for housing at different price points is increasing, so we may need different partners or the ability to work differently with funders to deliver this in a market where unregulated organisations may encroach.

    Taking control
    It is good news that these questions are originating from the sector itself, so that we can truly be drivers and influencers of our own destiny.

    We do have to take charge of our own future – but acknowledge that there is not just one ‘shape’ that will deliver the desired outcomes for society.

    So it is essential that each association speaks up, to ensure our diversity of views is heard, as this debate will shape the new normality – and we will all need to feel comfortable within this.