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New Freebridge chief executive: 'Tenants can help us improve their lives'

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The new head of West Norfolk’s largest social housing provider wants to help improve tenants’ lives and is urging them to be part of shaping that drive.

Anita Jones is a little over a month into the role of chief executive of Freebridge Community Housing, which owns and manages almost 7,000 homes.

She succeeded Tony Hall, who had been in post since Freebridge was formed in 2006.

Freebridge Community Housing chief executive Anita Jones (42045069)
Freebridge Community Housing chief executive Anita Jones (42045069)

Mrs Jones, who is 47 and lives with her family in Downham Market, has been in West Norfolk for 25 years and is determined the help grow the contribution and impact of Freebridge.

Improving tenant outcomes is a key focus and the organisation is “right at the heart of the conversation” with the borough council, Queen Elizabeth Hospital and other town centre partnerships.

“One of the things I’ve really been impressed by is the customer focus our teams have - going the extra mile to make that difference,” said Mrs Jones. “And I hadn’t realised how extensive our investment was in community work.

“I want to see how can we grow that community effort. So many organisations say that want to but you rarely get to see it. Since I’ve arrived I can see that it runs through the DNA of the organisation.”

Freebridge Community Housing chief executive Tony Hall, right, has announced he will retire this autumn. Pictured with him is chairman Andy Walder (26163029)
Freebridge Community Housing chief executive Tony Hall, right, has announced he will retire this autumn. Pictured with him is chairman Andy Walder (26163029)

The hope is that more tenants will want to influence the way in which Freebridge operates by becoming shareholders. Each share costs £1, but tenants do not have to pay this as it is paid from a special fund set aside by the organisation.

“I would like to encourage more tenants to take the offer up,” said Mrs Jones. “A good number of tenants are shareholders. Freebridge has a very open AGM which enables the organisation to talk to tenants and shareholders alike and get their feedback.”

The “incredibly diverse” population, the architecture, the landscape and the opportunities of West Norfolk appeal to Mrs Jones. The quality of life is key too.

“That’s particularly something that I want to ensure our tenants are able to tap into. It’s incredibly important that they have the opportunities to access that in some way,” she added.

The board, Mrs Jones says, is keen to push the boundaries of what a housing association does in order to grow its role within the community. That board includes West Norfolk Council leader Brian Long, which Mrs Jones sees as a positive thing, because it will continue to benefit partnership working.

“We are all striving for the same thing in the same footprint so understanding is key,” she said.

The new chief executive has joined just as Freebridge is beginning to form its next five-year strategy.

“I won’t say to you that there is no room for improvement. There are a number of areas we have ambitions to improve in such as the type of tenures.

“Going forward, our challenge is to use our resources to build more homes across West Norfolk, not just continue the regeneration work that we have undertaken so far.”

Hillington Square in Lynn (23937149)
Hillington Square in Lynn (23937149)

By far the largest regeneration project is the multi-million pound transformation of Hillington Square Estate in Lynn - a previously uninspiring, slabby flats complex built in the late 1960s to cater for an overflow of people from London.

The final phase of the project includes - for the first time in the eight-year scheme - demolition and rebuild plans which have been greeted with some disquiet.

Objections surround the proximity of the new builds to neighbouring historic streets, parking issues and noise nuisance during construction.

“I’m sorry that the residents are saying they are frustrated but we will get on top of that”, said Mrs Jones. “Nobody wanted to look at Hillington as it looked. I think everyone can agree that the regeneration of that area is a positive.

“I’m really proud of what we are proposing to do there. The level of investment is significant for an organisation like ours and its incumbent on us that we get it right.”

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