As Fortem near the end of an eight-year project, to improve energy efficiency, lower fuel poverty and support the decarbonisation agenda for Hull City Council, we spoke to the two driving forces Julian Wright, Operations Manager at Fortem and Ben Hanson, Head of Strategy, Market Intervention and Growth, at Hull City Council – who were behind this ‘model contract’ – share their thoughts and reflections on what made it work so successfully.
As part of the Councils Affordable Warmth Strategy, Fortem has delivered improvements to over 2000 homes in the area. On behalf of Hull City Council, Fortem upgraded resident’s homes with external wall insulation, new roofs, new windows, new doors, new rendering, and new loft insulation. Where necessary, they have also made improvements to access and egress including steps and ramps, plus structural elements, timber, and steelwork. These improvements are making homes look better and more importantly feel warmer, giving a new lease of life to these properties and making them fit for another 25 years’ service.
This programme of works, which Fortem are delivering for social housing properties across a range of non-traditional housing styles with Hull City Council as the client, marks a total investment of over £50 million with all the works being delivered to the relevant building standards including PAS 2030 and PAS 2035. Residents of the newly refurbished properties have reported they have already seen their heating bills reduce and can feel they live in warmer homes.
A good contract stays in the drawer.
Crucially this long-term project has been delivered in partnership between Hull City Council and Fortem and it’s that partnership that has made the project such a success. Ben Hanson commented “The contract has partnership built in. The long-term nature encourages partnership and as both parties are on a level footing it enables both parties to have a stake in the success of the project.” Ben went on to say that “This is a model contract, which I’d like to replicate in other areas.” Julian Wright agreed that this is a model contract but went further, he said “Put the contract to one side for a moment and this is about the people involved”, “Every person on this contract regardless of if that’s from Hull City Council, Fortem or their supply chain partners all want to work together and is asking how they can help” he explained. “This attitude goes all the way to the top of every organisation involved, everyone is trying to create a better service for the residents, working together with shared goals as one team.”
The conversation turned towards the residents and how they have received the project. “Resident feedback, is that they are very satisfied with the work.” “They have also commented that they are able to speak to whoever is in front of them and it feels like talking to one team, it really feels like a very solid partnership.” Ben reported “There is no client, contractor divide”. Julian explained from Fortem’s point of view; “There’s a complete joint approach, we go and visit residents together and as a result of our resident’s engagement, compliments outweigh the complaints”. Julian continued “I’m not saying we get it right all the time but where we have a complaint, there’s no finger pointing, we resolve it as a team, and we learn from it.” “It’s fair to say that residents are at the heart of everything we do, and our number one priority is the customer experience and we have put in place a robust complaints and compensation process with learning loops which are then cascaded to the entire team.”
Julian outlined the commitment Fortem have made to resident engagement. “The residents are the focus and reason behind everything we do.” “To ensure we coordinate the works delivery with the residents and take every opportunity to engage with the, we have brought in three full-time experienced Resident Liaison Officers (RLO’s) who are dedicated to this project. We have also put the three RLO’s through an enhanced customer care course, provided by TPAS. Along with open days, weekly newsletter, a resident’s web portal and our other engagement channels, the three RLO’s are at hand every day to support and ensure disruption is kept to a minimum. The RLO’s also make daily visits to our work sites and talk to residents making sure they feel safe and secure in their homes while the work is being carried out.” “We have helpful animations online to assist with explaining the work we are undertaking which is constantly updated as well as specific processes in place for safeguarding vulnerable residents.”
Julian continued to talk about the quality of the work that Fortem has provided for Hull, commenting “I can’t tell you how proud I feel when we complete the work and walk away from these properties. I’m so proud of the team and our contractors, leaving the properties in a state of repair that keeps the tenants warm, safe, and secure for the next 25 years.”
Ben added “During the lifetime of the partnership, it’s fair to say there have been some tricky non-traditional properties that have been improved. Properties loved by the tenants which were technically difficult. Properties that were potential demolition jobs have now found another 25 years of life through works completed by the partnership. Throughout the project we have all worked to drive costs down and the quality up. Ben continued; “We’ve always been in the business of creating places for people to raise families and grow old. It’s driven from a health and wellbeing position.” “Nowhere is this more evident than creating energy efficient homes, so people are warm, happy and healthy.” Julian added “That’s something you can walk away from and be happy with and we always strive for improvement”.
Ben commented; “The contract stays in the background, everyone involved is asking, what is the right thing to do? This works because Fortem is listening and provide an agile and immediate response.” Julian shared that this is because “our subcontractors are very responsive, it’s a culture instilled deep within the team and wider partnerships. We capture customer satisfaction polling at the end of our works to help inform our continuous improvement process, making sure we aim for perfection every time.”
“It’s not just about Fortem and Hull City Council, it’s about the contractors and residents and everybody involved working together having an open, honest relationship. I’m so lucky that that Hull have the same attitude and want to work in partnership.” Julian said.
Ben added “It’s a very joint effort, even going to talk to the elected members together to discuss the schemes.” Julian stated, “There are hundreds of little things that everyone does, we’ve only really spoken about the big things but it’s all the little things that everyone just does that makes this work. I can’t speak highly enough of everyone involved.”
Ben said that throughout the contract, “The values and behaviours align across all the companies involved.” Julian responded with “Everyone cares, if they don’t, I don’t want them on this job.”