Unity in action – Partners in Housing

Steve Scown looks at the merger of two specialist housing
providers and how it has helped service development.

Right from the outset both organisations were clear that
whatever happened we did not want to lose our focus on services for people with
learning difficulties. Far from adding client groups to their portfolio, by
creating New Dimensions Group, we have combined and maintained our focus.

As anyone who has experienced the creation of a group
structure will explain, it is not a quick process, nor is it one entered into
lightly. So why did two well-established providers decide to go down this
potentially rocky path, and what do they think the particular benefits will be?

The requirement by our funders to provide more service for
less money would surely become allied to the demand to develop new models of

Looking back, this getting-to-know-you phase, proved a
crucial foundation for there was no manoeuvring for posts and no thought of a
personal threat, resulting in an openness about issues and no problems at board
or management level.

One potential area for tension that was quickly ruled out
was concern that we could be in competition for the same business. This was not
the case as New Support Options presence was within central south England and
New Era’s was predominantly in the South West, the Midlands and North England.

A number of similarities and complementary strengths became
increasingly apparent. New Era, as well as a provider of direct support, was a
major provider of housing for people with a learning difficulty, whilst New
Support Options worked as managing agent with 13 housing associations.

It is clear that without the ‘low pressure’ courtship, the
decision-making and transition, would not have been as smooth and painless as
it eventually proved to be.

There are real concerns that smaller organisations will not
be able to cope with the demands made upon them from Best Value, Supporting
People (the government’s new programme for funding supported housing), and the
improved care standards framework.

The achievement of economies of scale has always been part
of the equation; however there has also been a clear determination to achieve
advantages of scale. Savings have enabled a level of investment in learning and
development, marketing, research and information technology that could not have
been otherwise achieved.

The marketing and business development team will support the
remodelling of existing services through person-centred planning, a clear
requirement of the recently published white paper on learning difficulties, Valuing

The need to access and source accommodation for people wanting
a more independent lifestyle is almost certainly the most difficult issue now
facing provider organisations. Whilst there is little doubt that today’s volume
of registered care homes is unsustainable, the key issue is how quickly and to
what extent this change will come about.

New Era and New Support Options are no different from many
similar sized providers in so far as residential models of service form the
largest part of their portfolios, approximately 85 per cent in terms of

It is worth noting that both organisations have also
developed a range of other services including supported living, domiciliary
support and some innovative models of day services.

The challenge is there for our colleagues in finance: to
enable the flexible use of our fixed assets!

Our expectation is that there will continue to be a demand
for residential services, albeit somewhat reduced. These services will be
required for people with complex needs who require high levels of support.

The agenda for providers is now clear: with the aspirations
of Valuing People, the improved care standards framework, Supporting People and
the training requirements. It is also confirmation that organisations like New
Dimensions will be better placed to positively meet the challenges ahead.

If I had to summarise the main achievement of creating the
New Dimensions Group, it has been our success in designing and shaping our
functional support teams to be delivered in such a way that local managers can
act ‘locally’ and deliver ‘person-centred’ services.

1 Department of health, Valuing People: A New
Strategy for Learning Disability  for
the 21st Century, The Stationary Office March 2001.

Steve Scown is director of marketing and business
development for the New Dimensions Group.

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