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Focussed on being a brilliant landlord and providing good quality, energy efficient homes, with ambition for communities. 

Purple PantryPlaceShapers Chief Executive, Catherine Ryder, blogs.....

One of my priorities as the new Chief Executive of PlaceShapers is to get to know our members better and see first-hand the work they are doing with communities across the country.

So, an offer of a trip to Preston to spend time with Community Gateway Association colleagues and residents was too good an opportunity to miss.

Given Preston is a long way from my home town of Worthing on the south coast, I squeezed as much as I could into my day, and was joined by the rest of the PlaceShapers team, who also prioritise spending as much time with members as possible.

As the first of its kind in the country, Community Gateway Association (CGA) is a mutual organisation formed for the benefit of the community and founded on the ‘Community Gateway Model’ principles of mutuality, accountability andCourtyards engagement. It is owned by the tenant and leaseholder members.

I joined the Board of CGA in the morning to talk through the operating environment for housing associations and hear their reflections on the challenges they face and how they ensure they are delivering the best possible service to their residents.

The first stop for team members Charlotte Kay, Joanna Charlton and James Bryson was Purple Pantry, a scheme set up in 2020 to help households struggling with the cost of groceries. Purple Pantry provides food to many thousands of people in Preston every year, but also acts as a focal point for communities to come together. I know the team were impressed by the passion and commitment of everyone they met there.

We then met for lunch at The Courtyards, an extra care scheme for the over 55s, opened in early 2021. We took advantage of the excellent value for money and impressive menu at The Bistro to refuel on sandwiches, chips and even a fish pie! The Courtyards is a place that dispels every myth about housing for older people with care needs. The whole place, including the self-contained apartments, is bright, vibrant and stylish. There is loads to do, including a hairdressers and roulette wheel, and, partly because The Bistro is open to non-residents, it has a lovely buzz.

In the afternoon we took a trip to the Preston Vocational Centre (PVC) to meet Martin, who runs the Centre, and have a look around. PVC is a subsidiary of CGA and offers training for young people and adults who are not in employment or training. The skills on display at PVC, including bricklaying, plastering and tiling, were as impressive as the outcomes for those who’ve been through the training programme. Many of the young people they train, including CGA residents, go on to apprenticeships and successful careers in a trade, providing the skills the house-building sector is often desperately short of. I think this is what you’d call a ‘win win’.

We all came away in awe of Martin and his team, but also eager to go back and have a crack at some bricklaying ourselves.

Going from Purple Pantry, to The Courtyards, to PVC, gave us a real sense of the breadth of the role of CGA and how deep their roots are in Preston.

For me, the day summed up what place-shaping organisations are all about, and left me feeling more determined than ever to ensure politicians and stakeholders understand the impact organisations like CGA have in areas like Preston.

Of course, they are focussed on being a brilliant landlord and providing good quality, energy efficient homes, but the ambition for their communities and their commitment to the Gateway Model is so inspiring to see in action.

A massive thank you to CGA's Engagement and Communications Manager Sian Coulton for being our brilliant guide for the day, Chief Executive Rob Wakefield and Board Chair and tenant David Yates for inviting me to speak to the Board, and everyone else in Preston who gave us such a warm welcome.