A view from both sides
Anne Forshaw from Crawley Borough Council shares her valuable insight. Not only does Anne work in social housing, but she has also experienced HomeSwapper as a tenant.
My role at Crawley Borough Council is wide and varied; my job title is Housing Service Promotion Officer and I support Housing Management by promoting services available to tenants and delivering key messages to them – this can involve promotional events as well as publicity. Getting the regular email newsletter from the HomeSwapper team enables me to understand better how HomeSwapper is changing so I can promote this to our officers who meet tenants face to face. I also take on the role as administrator for HomeSwapper for the team.
Crawley is a thriving town in West Sussex. With Gatwick Airport on our doorstep, unemployment is low but many jobs are part-time or shift work. Housing is in demand – there are about 2,000 people on the housing register waiting for social housing. For existing tenants who live in housing that meets their needs, a transfer is usually out of the question, so a mutual exchange is their best opportunity for a move and HomeSwapper gives them a chance to find potential swap-partners.
We find it important to be clear as to how much support we are going to give to tenants to use HomeSwapper and who will do that. We’ve found that HomeSwapper works best when we advertise it well: as part of the local authority, our Housing Needs team promote HomeSwapper and mutual exchange to existing Social Housing tenants who apply to join the housing register. ‘Swapper Days’ are a good way of promoting HomeSwapper and mutual exchange in general, especially discussing their adverts with tenants.
In my opinion, the most vital advice for tenants is to use pictures, especially ones that show the property at its best. We advise them to put in as much information as they can about both their home and the one that they’re looking for. It’s important that we remind them to log in regularly and respond to questions promptly. Finally, we know that HomeSwapper works best when tenants are open to other areas and property types.
I have personal experience of just how HomeSwapper can improve lives. In our early fifties, we found ourselves living in a 3-bedroom council house with a large garden. The kids had all left home and we had no pets. Gardening was becoming a chore, and cleaning unused rooms had never been my forte! Our parents were beginning to struggle with their homes, and sorting out suitable sheltered housing for my in-laws involved a fair amount of stress for us.
We sat down and had that crucial downsizing discussion. Then we signed up for HomeSwapper. Being in the ‘trade’ I knew how it worked, but experiencing it as a tenant was enlightening. We had contacts from other users who had clearly not read what we wanted, and it was tough saying no.
We viewed several flats where families were overcrowded and desperate to move and felt awful when we said their home wasn’t quite what we were looking for. We set out to only view homes where users had included photos, and stuck to our guns about only looking at ground floor properties – we wanted to future proof our home and stairs didn’t feature in that. We realised we were being quite picky, but we intended this to be our last move.
After a couple of months, we realised we’d probably seen a good cross section of the homes available, so maybe we needed to broaden our horizons. Our ad said we were looking for a ground floor flat with a bit of a garden and within 15 minutes’ walk of the town centre. So how did we end up looking at a third floor flat with large balcony, that only had a picture of the outside of the block on HomeSwapper?! Not only that, as an affordable rent property, the rent was higher than we were paying for our house.
We’d gone looking outside the box. It did meet two of our criteria, location and size, so we agreed there was nothing lost in looking at it. We now live there!
I’m glad they didn’t post pictures as it would probably have been snapped up. I refer to it as our ‘penthouse’. There are large windows, the wrap-around balcony catches the sun in the afternoon and is big enough for a small garden sofa corner unit and pots to grow veg in. There is a lift, a door entry system and we are not overlooked by anyone.
It took a few weeks to process the paperwork as it was not all straightforward, but in the end, we signed up. To make moving day easier, we agreed with our removers to store our stuff in their van for a couple of days and we stayed in a local hotel. This meant both homes were empty to move into and we weren’t fighting to use the lift.
Our swap partners? Since moving they’ve now had another baby and are enjoying the space.
Thank you so much, Anne. Not only for your valuable advice on the benefits of actively promoting HomeSwapper to tenants and supporting them while they use the service, but also for so beautifully demonstrating why we advise courtesy, flexibility and considering all options when looking for a swap.