CEO on the frontline: Charlie Norman

With long awaited proposals for supported housing funding being finally released by government, some of the uncertainty has gone. However as Mosscare St Vincent’s CEO Charlie Norman explains, things are not yet sorted.

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Arriving at the Plessington Court scheme, Charlie greeted us with a real smile and enthusiasm.

She explains she grew up close by to the scheme and that it “has a place close to my heart.”

Charlie is the first in our new series of features called CEO on the frontline, where we join a Chief Executive as they get out of the board room and down to the coal face.

The scheme is much busier than usual, with word getting round that Charlie is coming. The staff weren’t ready for it, with one member running around wondering if there were any more biscuits in the cupboard.

Charlie visits some of the residents in their rooms.

One is a lady called Joan, who has seen her happiness improved markedly, welcomes Charlie into her flat like an old friend.

Joan, who is 90 years old, has great great grandchildren and hoping to make use of potential new technology Mosscare St Vincent’s are implementing to keep in touch with her family.

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Another resident, Eric, is someone who has lived in the scheme for 25 years – giving him the quality of life that wouldn’t be possible elsewhere.

Charlie explains why it is so pivotal for her, and other Chief Executives, to get onto the frontline: “It is really important to get out and see what is happening in schemes and in the community.

“My colleagues are dealing with lots of different things every day, for example Sarah the Scheme Manager here was telling me that sadly one of the residents passed away last week and she was the first one to find that person.

“It is often a weekly thing to deal with things like that but there is also the fun side of running a scheme such as this one.

“I think it is great for me not to be stuck in a board room half the time thinking about strategy but actually getting out and seeing the difference our people are making.

“Speaking to people like Joan, hearing how brilliant their lives are living here, how much they think of Sarah the Scheme Manager and how much difference it has made to them living here is just brilliant.

“That is what it is all about!”

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After visiting a couple of residents one to one, she joins the rest of the group in the communal area where she takes questions on issues from future funding to staff levels.

She says this also shows the importance of engaging with residents face to face, rather than just a tick box exercise in the form a consultation.

She said: “I came here ten years ago and there were a lot of complaints about the reception area and how it felt for the families when they came here to show a relative around.

“From that we decided to do a complete redesign of the building and very much involving the residents and the scheme manager.

“It is about ensuring we keep on top of where is important to direct funds. Big part of what we do is older persons and independent living – so it is really important to come out to the supported housing schemes and see what is happening.”

Staff are the lifeblood of the scheme, buzzing around us while we are there and ensuring the needs of every resident is met.

Charlie said she values the staff here saying they are the ones that make the “big difference” vowing to residents she will not cut staff to the scheme.

She said the last 18 months waiting for a decision on the LHA cap and supported housing has been a “rollercoaster of a ride” but she is pleased (despite some mixed feelings) about the decision government have come to.

“My first reaction, after punching the air, was to spread the good news to my MSV colleagues, many of whom have been on the LHA Cap campaign trail, working hard to get this inappropriate policy withdrawn.”

But Charlie adds there is still much work to be done and “we have to keep going and working hard”.

She added: “Our concern is setting the new rent at an appropriate level as scheme charges can vary wildly dependent on the cost of running, type and age of scheme.

“We have to be able to cover the costs of these schemes and ensure they are viable now and for future use.”

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Charlie says there is also a need to tackle the situation young people find themselves in, as well as older people’s housing or domestic abuse victims.

“My 20 year old daughter is lucky, currently studying at university for a Fine Art Degree, she has the loving support of her family behind her. But that’s not the case for many.

“A couple of years ago a young lady called Rosie wrote to me and talked about her scary first night at the Foyer aged 16.  She came from a background of isolation and fear and her first night at the Foyer was overwhelmed by a feeling of loneliness, of having no one in the world who cared.

“But, with the support of the Foyer staff and other residents, she soon settled in and found her path.  She excelled in her studies and went onto Bristol University.

“Her words were ‘I have learned to love and to take care of myself’. Rosie’s story really spurred me on to campaign – as a mum and as a housing professional.

“How could we not support these young people?”

Charlie says she won’t stop campaigning alongside PlaceShapers and the National Housing Federation to ensure a fair deal for all. But for now, at least, there is a bit more happiness to go around.

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