Although it was only created in April through the amalgamation of two of the region's largest housing associations, Midland Heart is proving that with more than 80 years of previous experience, it is still passionate about communities, Neil Connor explains
For more than 30,000 Midland residents, home is where the heart is.
Whether their housing needs were previously provided by Prime Focus, Keynote or one of their constituent parts throughout the last eight decades, these customers are now waking up in homes provided by Midland Heart.
The remarkable journey that has led to the formation of the region's largest housing organisation has seen individual lives transformed and new life breathed into estates and communities across the Midlands.
It is a journey that began with charity work and slum clearance in the 1920s, and has developed into a £1.1 billion business spearheading the government's social exclusion agenda.
Midland Heart is not standing still and has set for itself ambitious goals which will see it develop into one of the top ten performing housing associations in the next few years.
But with a dawning of a new era, the housing and community investment group is taking time to reflect on its history.
Richard Clark OBE, the new chief executive officer of Midland Heart, has been involved with the housing association movement for over thirty years.
He said: "I believe that the history of Midland Heart's constituent housing associations demonstrates some of the best aspects of the housing association movement, including adaptability and flexibility, expertise in housing development and management, an ability to create innovative financial packages, celebrating diversity and placing customers and communities at the centre of all we do.
"Yet perhaps the most telling outcome of our 80 year history is the retention of the best ideals of our founders - Midland Heart remains passionate about communities."
Previous achievements and past milestones point to a bright future for Midland Heart, which has its origins in 1920s Birmingham.
The city had 40,000 back-to-back homes that had been built before 1851. Initially charitable donations and endowments formed the basis of funding for social housing, but increasingly loans and mortgages gained through the Public Works Loan were becoming available.
The Copec House Improvement Society was formed in 1925 through a Christian conference held in Birmingham (Christian Conference on Politics, Economics and Citizen-ship - Copec) and was supported by the Cadburylinked landowners Bournville Village Trust.
The housing association reconditioned hundreds of properties in Birmingham and also created many new homes by converting public houses.
Throughout the 1930s it managed more and more houses while campaigning for slum clearance.
Copec met new challenges during the war years when it rebuilt its damaged stock, reinvented itself as a charity and then positioned itself at the forefront of new thinking behind the land fit for heroes.
It was at this time that Midland Heart developed its long-standing partnership with the local authorities, as Copec was appointed by Birmingham City Council as the managing agent for properties awaiting clearance.
Forty years after Copec began pushing the housing issue to the top of the agenda, other Midland housing associations began to tackle poor living conditions.
The Coventry Churches Housing Association was created in 1965 by Christian-based groups in the city.
This organisation was, in effect, a rehousing agency for the large numbers of people in Coventry who were desperate for a home.
The association embarked on a programme of converting run-down inner city homes to tackle the problems of poor housing, high rents and overcrowding.
Coventry Churches pioneered new schemes in the housing sector, such as helping a small amount of people buy homes by guaranteeing bank loans to bridge the mortgage gap.
A direct line can be drawn from Coventry Churches through to Touchstone and then the Keynote Group.
Meanwhile in Birmingham, Birmingham HT and the Midland Area Improvement HA were created.
Birmingham HT later joined with Copec to create one of the largest housing associations in the West Midlands - The Birmingham Copec Housing Trust. This new body, formed in 1970, managed 532 homes with a stock value of £1.5 million.
Hestia, Wolverhampton HA and St Chad all merged with the housing association in the 1970s to form Focus, which would become Prime Focus in 1991.
The constituent parts of what would become Midland Heart were brought into the state housing apparatus through the creation of generous capital and revenue subsidies made available through The Housing Act 1974.
New ways of delivering sustainable housing services were being pioneered in the Midlands at this time.
And in the 1980s Coventry Churches, Copec and Midland Area in particular moved into home ownership provision, usually establishing subsidiaries to provide homes for out-right sale or sale on a shared ownership basis.
Copec and Coventry Churches piloted challenge funding schemes, as the Government prepared to revitalise the housing sector once more with The Housing Act 1988.
Before this Act, Midland Heart's constituent parts were managing around 10,000 homes with a value in today's prices of around £300.
Following the Act, billions of pounds worth of regeneration cash was secured through private finance.
However, the period up to the turn of the century also saw heightened merger activity as associations battled increased risks associated with the housing slump through economies of scale.
Harambee/Black Star and HAMAC HAs, which were formed in the late 1980s, joined the Prime Focus group in 1996 and 2001 respectively.
In 1994 Coventry Churches merged with Normid to create Touchstone HA - an association with over 8,500 homes.
Focus was formed as an umbrella in 1990, with Hestia, St Chad and Midland Area. It became a unitary association in 1991 with 8,000 homes across the Midlands. However at this point Midland Area decided to withdraw.
The Midlands three big housing associations - Midland Area, Touchstone and Focus -flourished under the new management culture which had now become an integral part of the sector.
Performance indicators and targets, mission and consultation statements and increased emphasis on accountability was introduced into the daily vocabulary of associations.
Focus launched its Social Investment Agency concept in 1997, which helped it develop new ways of tackling social exclusion. It later launched the award-winning Foyer scheme in Birmingham, which was followed by a similar Touchstone scheme.
With the creation of Prime Focus in 2001, the SIA was already controlling £610 million in property assets under the leadership of chief executive Richard Clark, who was made chairman of the National Housing Federation in 2003.
Touchstone and Midland Area formed Keynote in 2001, a new organisation managing a £500 million property portfolio of 16,000 homes. Midland Area's Tom Murtha was appointed chief executive.
Midland Heart was created with the merger of these two new organisations in April this year, thereby creating a housing association with assets valued at over £1.1 billion and a turnover of £114 million.
The new body has important responsibilities to go with its massive portfolio.
It is now one of the largest housing associations in the country, managing three per cent of the UK's social housing. One in ten households living in a housing association home in the region is a Midland Heart tenant.
There is still much for Midland Heart to do. The development of 2,000 new homes and an extra £10 million investment in priority communities over the next ten years has already been planned.
Midland Heart has set itself the task of delivering even higher standards through its four independent, yet mutually supporting social businesses: Touchstone, Focus, Urban Heart and Focus Futures.
With Focus Futures spearheading developments in the care and support sector, and the other components cementing relationships with local authorities to provide homes for wide-ranging communities, there is certainly much work to be done.
An ambitious action plan is already being drawn up which will see the housing association imaginatively develop new ways of improving choice and service delivery at grass-roots level.
Customers' changing needs and expectations will be put at the centre of Midland Heart's priorities to enable the organisation to make a real difference to their quality of life.
At the core of these new objectives, is a desire to put the customer at the centre of decision making. By working in partnership with Midland Heart, residents and whole communities can experience empowerment over their neighbourhoods and properties.
In this way, the sense of pride that is shown by Midland Heart's management will be shared by the communities they serve, so that all can be 'passionate about communities'.
Tom Murtha, the new chief operating officer of Midland Heart, said: "We want to work with our customers, residents and partners to bring about real improvement to the communities in which we work.
"That will ensure that they are places that people chose to live."