5 Minutes with Yvonne Castle, CEO of Johnnie Johnson Housing Trust

Collingwood’s Head of Built Environment, Mark Goldsmith, had the pleasure of being introduced to Johnnie Johnson Housing Trust’s CEO, Yvonne Castle recently.  Having partnered a key national contractor of the Trusts on executive search assignments, here is what they discussed:

Mark:  From our previous conversation, and what is reflected via Johnnie Johnson’s website, the Trust certainly feels like a vibrant, fun place in which to work Yvonne.  What influence have you had in this and how does an organisation create this feel good factor?

Yvonne: It’s important to me that every individual enjoys their job.  You spend so much time at work, thinking about work, developing yourself for your work, that you need to love what you do.  You can only create an outstanding culture if you’ve outstanding people around you.  I’ve put a lot of effort into creating a highly performing Executive Team.  We’ve worked with world class Leadership organisations and we’ve visited world class organisations in order to learn from the best.  We’ve then spent time putting the learning into practice.  This has paid off.  We work really hard, but we also do have fun.  We build in social time to our Quarterly Strategy Days so that we can let off steam!  We’ve also invested in a JJ Development Programme for our 50 “Leaders” and we’re just launching our “MyAspirations” Programme for our rising stars – it’s a very exciting time to be at JJ.

Mark:  And you’ve touched on the fact that you recently restructured the senior team at Johnnie Johnson.  Has this involved a form of leadership development and how did you feedback on areas for change?

Yvonne: I had the opportunity to change the team as a well-loved colleague leaves us at the end of the year.  I always take these opportunities to look to see what the business needs – is it the same, or is it something different.  We’re in a fast changing technological world and we’re investing in digital technology to improve our services to our residents and our colleagues and to create more value within the business.  This programme needs to be fast-tracked so we’re not left behind and so I’m mid recruiting for a Director of Data & Digital Transformation.  It’s important that we have an expert who can deliver our ambitious plans. 

From a Leadership perspective, we have some fun when recruiting.  It’s vital to us that the successful candidate is going to ‘fit’ so we use different techniques which bring that out through the assessment process immediately.  It’s really exciting now as this recruitment will be all done on-line.

Mark:  Having been involved within social housing for so many years I expect you will be a good person to ask what are main pain points and barriers to growth which continually present themselves to providers?

Yvonne: You’re right Mark.  It’s important that we build new homes.  We’re a specialist in Independent Living and there is high demand for new homes that people can feel they’ll be able to stay in, living an independent life, for as long as they can.  Our new home offer is predominantly affordable and social rent, with a relatively small proportion of shared ownership.  This might need to change with Government Policy having a focus on home ownership, but there are a lot of people where owning their own home is not likely to be possible and we need to support that too.

We’ve had, is it, 10 housing ministers in as many years?  That doesn’t give a stable environment on which to build long term plans.  At this point there are other priorities for the Government – and have been for a while – previously Brexit, now Covid19.  The Government have set the rent policy for the next four years, but with many new Housing Ministers, it’s not clear if changes will be made.  This could affect our income projections and therefore our ability to build.  For those housing providers building homes for market sale – they are really struggling at the moment as house prices fall and now through Covid19, sales have ceased.

Mark:  Availability of suitable housing stock continues to be a key issue for our country.  What’s your view on this and how is Johnnie Johnson tackling the problem?

Yvonne: We’re currently designing our ‘home for the future’.  Something that is attractive to the ‘younger older’ population – a ‘downsize’ or ‘rightsize’ model.  There is a shortage of homes for older people, we treat our ‘home’ and ‘service’ offering as a joined-up package.  We don’t think of homes as just an ‘asset’.  Our new homes will be energy efficient. They will incorporate Technology Enabled Care (TEC) and Telehealth which gives 24/7 emergency access to our residents if they need it – a lifeline!

For our Independent Living scheme offering we’ll design with a community ‘hub’ feel – so that community services can come in for our residents to use and our residents can go out and about feeling part of a community.  We’re talking to Local Authorities about this type of living where access to GP’s, cafes, education and leisure facilities etc are close by – and the community provides a range of house type and tenure type.

A partnership we, along with two other Housing Associations, are setting up is with a start up called Invisible Creations.  People typically do not like putting mobility solutions around their homes as they lack a certain dignity.  Due to this, some residents only consider adapting their homes when their health has deteriorated to the point that they are putting themselves at risk.  We are due to start installing more aesthetically pleasing mobility solutions into homes imminently, with the main advantage being that the portfolio of products have dual purposes – for example, a toilet roll holder doubles up as support for people; shelving in the shower allow residents to hold their balance when entering / exiting the shower. 

Mark:  Prior to this conversation I noted you’re rolling out Astraline as an emergency helpline for vulnerable people.  What is your vision for this business and how do you expect it to grow?

Yvonne: Astraline is our 24/7 Emergency Telecare Monitoring Centre.  We provide this service for our JJ residents but also approx. 100 other Housing Associations across the country. We also have around 2,500 private customers – the likes of you and me – who might want this service ourselves or for our loved ones.  We also have a mobile response team that can support with lifting and just making sure that our residents are safe maybe after a fall.  We’re working with a Regional Ambulance Service to reduce their calls, through using our own responder team.  We’re ahead of most on the switch from analogue to digital by 2025 as we’ve invested in Astraline.  We’ve also a platform that’s very flexible which means as new Telecare/Telehealth equipment comes to the marketplace we can integrate it into our systems which provides our residents and customers much more choice.  This might be e.g. GPS / Alexa / Apple products.  We’re looking to grow.  We’ve already doubled our size within the last 3 years – this has been through acquisition as well as through competition.  We’re also considering a partnership approach as well at this point in time which will diversify the offer.  Our Vision is that through Telecare and Telehealth we can provide reassurance for residents and their families that we are there for them at the most crucial time when they need it.  It helps people stay in their own homes and carry on their lives independently.

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