Before his death from a heart attack in May 1994, Labour’s John Smith had already begun his party’s move towards the political middle ground. By the time his successor won a landslide victory in the 1997 General Election, there was no doubt that the old socialist attitudes towards funding of services, including housing, where a thing of the past.
Tony Blair’s New Labour embraced the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of the free market so central to Mrs Thatcher’s economic policy. Derwent Housing Association knew that it had to become more independent of public funding. Chief executive John Martin recalls: “We decided to generate monies in the commercial sector which we could use to improve our existing social housing or provide more social housing.”
Rogue dealer Nick Leeson was about to send the first shockwaves through the banking systems and bring one of its pillars – Barings Bank – crashing down with him. Meanwhile Derwent Housing began to take steps to ensure it was not reliant on one sector of the housing market, as assurance against any such catastrophic event that might be beyond its control.
Derwent continued to build on its work providing homes and services for people with specific needs and requirements and during this period it established its domestic violence refuge. In 1991 the Derby Domestic Violence Group set in place initiatives that led to the opening of Rebecca Court which for the next 20 years provided a safe place and support services to women and their children fleeing domestic violence.
From 1995-96 its gradual accumulation of properties saw the development of its shared ownership portfolio and its first steps into market rental accommodation, a new initiative that was to become increasingly important over the coming years.
Behind the scenes Derwent Housing Association was entering a period of stability with Dewi Morris acting as chairman throughout the ten-year period. Chief executive John Martin led a team consisting of business development director Brian Humphreys, finance director Ian Smith, operations director Kan Singh and corporate service director Paul Wisher.
Since its first developments for the elderly back in the 1970s with their residents’ committees, Derwent prided itself on giving its customers a voice and the chance to help shape the services and facilities it provided.
In 1995 this was put on a more formal footing with the formation of the Residents Federation which quickly became the Derwent Residents Consultative Committee (DRCC) which was to emerge as a powerful and valued sounding board for the company as it weighed up choices in years to come. In 2003 Derwent LINC (Linking, Information, Networking and Communication) was formed, a resident involvement initiative allowing residents to convey their views on issues that affected them and have a chance to be involved in decisions about their homes.
The winter of 1994 saw the first edition of the Messenger for residents in Nottingham to supplement the Phoenix newsletter.
In an era where the Internet was not yet at the fingertips of the average person in the street, a mobile office was developed which could be taken to different developments. It was used for mobile road shows and consultations among a wide range of events.
There was also a fresh new look for the Derwent Housing logo which had a makeover in 1995.
Joining the education debate
In the run-up to his election success of 1997 Tony Blair famously outlined his party’s three main priorities as ‘education, education, education’ – promising to create high quality schools and further education opportunities for all.
Whether he achieved his goals was a question that he would be challenged on for years to come but there was little doubt that more and more people were being encouraged to aspire to prolong their formal education, be it academically or vocationally.
Derwent Housing Association was quick to recognise a potential growth market and its willingness to diversify saw it take its first steps into student accommodation in 1997 as it took over the management of the 162 bed spaces at Kennington Court in Nottingham.
By the end of the millennium, as everyone prepared for the much hyped Millennium bug to wreak its havoc on computer systems across the world, Derwent’s student accommodation holding had grown so that it managed or owned nearly 600 bed spaces in Nottingham, Leicester and Loughborough.
Building up stock
Just as the first passengers were passing through the Channel Tunnel opening up new horizons for travellers across Europe, so Derwent Housing was also looking for new opportunities to explore different markets.
Alongside the development of its student accommodation Derwent’s other major area of growth into the new millennium was in market rental schemes.
Regents Court in Nottingham was followed by James Close in Derby as Derwent built a relationship with Toyota to provide a service for some of the workers attracted to the area by the Japanese car giant’s decision to establish its European headquarters on the edge of Derby.
Near the start of Derwent’s fourth decade, it only had around 40 market rental properties. By the end of 2002 market rental had increased to around 500 properties, and student accommodation mushroomed to over 1,500. There was also growth in general needs housing (from 2000 to nearly 3000). Management of accommodation such as NHS Trust housing was another market Derwent Housing expanded into, and would come to play a big part in the Derwent story in the future.
On the move again
By the end of the 1990s Derwent Housing Association employed 138 staff and was again outgrowing its offices. As a result of the lack of space at the Phoenix Street offices some staff were operating from offices on the other side of Stuart Street and there was a small Nottingham office in Aspley.
The decision had to be made to create a purpose built base at the new Pride Park area. Formerly an industrial area – the original site of Derby's railway manufacturing industry, along with gas works and gravel extraction – the area had become derelict and needed 10 years of extensive redevelopment to reclaim. By the time Derwent was looking to move the site was nearing completion, home to the city’s first bird reserve as well as Derby County’s new football ground.
Just as with the St Mary’s Wharf development in 1994, which had also been a derelict railway site, returning a former industrial site back into use was an excellent fit with Derwent’s ethos. The end result was the development of new bespoke offices at Centro Place to where Derwent Housing Association would move from Phoenix Street at the end of 2003.