On Monday 5th December, members of the RBH Executive Team attended the Communities, Regeneration, and Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee of Rochdale Borough Council to provide an update and to answer questions. The discussion focused on three main areas:

  • The next steps that we are taking following the inquest into the death of Awaab Ishak
  • How we improve relations between RBH and the Council and Councillors
  • Tenant voice and Governance

We want to share a copy of our opening statement with our tenants and employees. You can read the full statement below.

Good evening. 

We are grateful to the Committee for inviting us here today and giving us the opportunity to answer your questions. 

Before we do I want to take this opportunity to once again express our deep sorrow at the tragic death of Awaab Ishak. 

We know that our words will not take away the pain being felt by Awaab’s family, nor will they remove the hurt that is being felt here in Rochdale and across the country. 

We failed Awaab. 

We failed his family. 

And we failed this community. 

That is why we have already begun to implement the necessary changes to the organisation to understand how mistakes were made and to ensure this never happens again.

First, two weeks ago the Board removed Gareth Swarbrick from his post as Chief Executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing. 

Last week, the Board and representative body appointed Yvonne Arrowsmith as the interim chief executive and she will be in post from 12 December. 

Yvonne has a proven track record of turning around other housing providers. 

She will provide the strong leadership our organisation needs based on the principles of transparency and accountability. 

We recognise that it is vitally important to work more closely with Rochdale Borough Council. We have a shared ambition to deliver more and better homes for residents in Rochdale. The starting point is more regular meetings with portfolio holders, councillors and senior officers. I’m pleased to say that process has already begun. We had a useful meeting with Cllr. Meredith last Friday to brief him on latest developments and discuss more effective ways of working together. Our new Chief Executive and our Chair Alison Tumilty will now meet regularly with Council leadership. Our new chief executive, Yvonne Arrowsmith has also committed to come to a future meeting of this committee..

At an operational level, we are also working more closely with the Council. An RBH team has met with the Council’s Housing Standards team and agreed a system of reporting damp and mould cases.

We have also committed to place a housing officer in each of the Council’s neighbourhood Hubs teams where we have large concentrations of homes to link in with health professionals and children’s and housing services. This includes having a  desk in Smith Street in the Town Centre when it is due to open in the New Year.  I am confident this will help deliver a better service to customers.

There are several important updates to share:

It is our priority to tackle concerns of damp and mould in all of our homes. 

We have set up a specialist Damp and Mould Taskforce to prioritise the work and carry out remedial action to solve any problems. A team of technical surveyors are inspecting all homes in Freehold  for signs of  mould. Also, as part of any home visit all RBH staff are completing a full physical inspection of all rooms and taking photographs of any issues they may find. This is key to identifying all known damp and mould issues.

I’m also please to confirm that a £1.2 million renewal programme has started in Freehold today designed to deal with mould and improve ventilation and air circulation. The work includes installing new ventilation units in every home to help improve air circulation as well as installing new kitchen and bathroom fans to help improve ventilation.

Third, we accept the finding of the Coroner’s report that found that assumptions about lifestyle were made.

We got that wrong and we recognise we should have a conversation not make assumptions and we must treat all our tenants with respect.

We abhor racism in any shape or form and continue to make sure it has no place in RBH.

We believe more effective tenant engagement is key to developing a better understanding of what our tenants really need. We have unique structures in place to do this because we are a mutual, but we are doing more to strengthen tenant engagement. This includes putting in place a new complaints process which will be signed off by tenants. We will also shortly begin a series of workshops to look at how we can make tenants’ voices heard more loudly on mould and damp issues. We’d be very keen to have council representatives at the event.

Fourth, we have met with the Secretary of State and the Housing Ombudsman to discuss the findings of the Coroner’s report. 

We are working in lockstep with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the regulator of social housing to address their concerns and to improve the quality of our services. 

And finally, we have pledged to accelerate our work with the NHS, social care sector, and national government to implement the wider changes explicitly recommended by the Coroner.

I want to be clear to this Committee - and to everyone listening - that we are deeply sorry and that we are resolute in our commitment to root out the failings that exist in our organisation. 

We are rooted in this community and are fully focussed on delivering for Rochdale. 

That means rebuilding the trust of our tenants and communities.

And forging a stronger relationship with the Council. 

That process of rebuilding trust will take time. 

But we are determined to do it. 

And to deliver on the promise to all of our tenants. 

That they can live in safe, decent and secure housing.

Thank you very much.