Is there another way?

When film director Ken Loach opened Derwent Living’s latest and greenest housing scheme back in November, he didn’t just smile and cut the ribbon.

He talked passionately about how in the fifty years since he made the documentary Cathy Come Home about one family’s struggle with homelessness there were still exactly the same issues facing people up and down the country.

Despite economic and technological advances, the world has yet to move on.

He called for a quantum shift in government thinking and appealed for us to come together and get over the ‘greed is good’ mentality that contributed to such a shocking financial collapse in 2008 and still hounds much of the commercial, industrial and political system in the UK.

Ken’s ideas and aspirations are based around the concept of fairness and equality, social responsibility and the belief that working for a common cause would benefit us all. This sentiment underpins work that affordable housing providers like Derwent Living do. Organisations such as ours are not for profit, social businesses, driven by providing homes rather than profits for shareholders and huge bonuses for executives.

Good quality affordable homes

Our mission is very simple, to create and maintain good quality affordable housing for those who need it most. The strength of the business comes from the rents we receive and the value of the properties we own. It is a largely mutual enterprise where rents pay for services and new homes.

The people who work at the organisation are not in it for huge amounts of money either; they are mostly dedicated professionals wanting to work for a common cause where taking pay for a fair day’s work is reward for making a difference to people’s lives. The majority are motivated by doing community and social good each and every day.

The gap between the lowest and highest paid person is just 7 times annual income; a dramatic difference to the private sector and to some public authorities.

Between public and private sector

We sit firmly between the public and private sectors, but with the private market broken and the public sector in retreat; social businesses are a way forward. Without grant and public funding support we now find ourselves having to be much more innovative in terms of securing funding to allow us to provide new affordable homes.

Last year saw Derwent Living secure £45 million in pension funding from Aviva Investors, allowing the transfer of over 1100 mainly social rented properties from another housing provider.

This form of funding gives a steady return to the pension fund and is a better form of investment and borrowing than that on offer from the irrational and volatile private financial markets.

Politicians seem to think that the only way forward is to firmly divide the world into the public and the private. Is there not a third option? Might there be a future in which both public and private businesses can adhere to community values and where resources, shared wealth, innovation and social responsibility make a real difference to people’s lives?

Can we dare to think of a world which is fairer as a result?