New GEM Graduate Zak Greenwood tells of his journey to Pillgwennlly
Zak Greenwood recently graduated from Canterbury Christ Church University and has since joined the marketing and communications team at United Living in Swanley, Kent, under the Graduate Employment Recruitment (GEM) Graduate Programme.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been getting to grips with exactly what it means to work as a 21-year-old in the UK’s housing sector. As a new United Living recruit under the national GEM graduate programme, I’m working with the marketing and communications team to promote the work that is underway to build much needed new homes and refurbish existing social housing stock across the country.
I graduated in September with a degree in English Language and Communication from Canterbury Christ Church and it is a privilege to partake in this highly successful graduate scheme, which United Living joined last year. GEM is a two-year programme designed to give new starters management and leadership training, progressing to a Chartered Institute of Housing qualification. United Living are currently the only construction company to participate in the programme, amidst a number of housing associations.
Whilst I am based at United Living’s head office in Swanley, Kent, a key part of my new role is getting out and about to meet site managers, find out more about current developments and keep my eyes open for newsworthy content and stories. As such, I’ve already visited a number of United Living’s construction sites where new homes are either being built, or existing homes refurbished, for the benefit of local residents and their communities. These visits are helping to develop my knowledge of the sector and giving me a broad understanding of how United Living function as a company. Even in such a short space of time, my eyes have already been opened to some of the realities in terms of challenges that the housing sector is facing.
Today, while there is a great need to build more new homes, many old social housing estates across the country are also calling out for regeneration. I recently travelled to Cardiff to meet with Area Manager Mark Perry and his team in the South Wales region, to see how they are progressing with the Pillgwenlly estate project. This is a major £7.5 million regeneration scheme that is being delivered on behalf of Newport City Homes. It is the largest project of its kind for United Living’s Wales team.
The aim for the project is to greatly improve the living environment, security and safety for residents by opening up and enhancing the existing infrastructure of the estate.
In previous years the estate has become notorious for harbouring high levels of anti-social behaviour, including drug dealing and prostitution. United Living, alongside Newport City Homes, is therefore working not only to improve the estate aesthetically, but to transform the entire area and help reduce crime by revising the layout of the estate. This means demolishing components such as bridges which previously connected housing blocks together and encouraged anti-social activity. Work is also being done to open up small avenues and hideaways, enabling an open plan which should again discourage anti-social activity.
Having heard the stories about regular anti-social behaviour prior to my arrival, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Yet I was immediately struck by how the project team had established a genuine and cooperative relationship with the wider community. The team in South Wales understand that to make progress on this project, they must have a reciprocal relationship with the residents. They have been achieving this by staging social events that encourage positive interactions, such as a street art day with the younger locals which has given the opportunity for aspiring artists to get creative on a wall-sized canvas which will be used as a mural within the estate. It is clear to see that United Living are not just a construction company, but one that proactively plays its part in addressing challenges and giving back to the community.