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Paul Martin joined Bromford in September 2016 as a neighbourhood coach in the Burntwood area of Staffordshire – we grabbed him for five minutes recently to see how he is getting on.

Thanks for talking to us Paul. We understand you already worked in housing, so why Bromford?

Yes, that’s right. I worked for a Walsall-based housing association for seven years so I must admit I felt like I was ‘doing the dirty’ at first but it has turned out to be a fantastic move for me. What attracted me to Bromford was its trusting and supportive mentality towards colleagues – the whole ethos of ‘do the right thing, not the rule thing’ is right up my street. Whatever approach a company takes in interacting with its colleagues and customers can have a huge difference on the overall outcomes and this really does feel like something great is evolving.

And did you have much training to prepare you for the role? How did that help you?

Our first two weeks were pretty full-on, and I say ‘our’ because it really feels like the 12 of us who started at the same time have been on this journey together. It was mainly classroom and online learning to begin with before we ‘buddied-up’ with current housing managers and neighbourhood coaches out on patch and before long I was getting involved in conversations with customers and recognising what I would do differently in ‘coaching mode’.

The training was so beneficial but, for me, the real learning has yet to come. It’s going to be fascinating to see how our individual roles develop as each patch is different and will bring about its own unique challenges.

How much have you learnt about your own patch so far?

My Burntwood patch is really condensed and that brings clear benefits as well as some challenges too. I mean, everyone really does know everyone so it’s a bit of a balancing act separating the gossip from the fact but it’s really interesting and it brings out the investigator in me.

So far I’ve met people from all walks of life and I now know more about Burntwood than I ever imagined I would. It’s truly amazing how many talents and skills can be hidden behind a front-door and what I particularly love about my job is finding out about all of these. I’ve already met some fantastic customers as well as some demanding ones and that’s what makes the job so fun – the variety! There’s definitely never a dull moment.

Are there any particular customer stories that stand out?

When I meet customers for the first time, I usually challenge them by asking: “Tell me something interesting about yourself?” and more often than not I get the same response of “there’s not a lot to tell really”. But when I actually develop that conversation, every single time without fail, the customer has ended up telling me something brilliant.

One customer had taken every fence panel out around their garden one by one and refurbished them until they looked new – this gentleman had said earlier in the conversation that he didn’t have any skills! And another young lady who has very little spare money had a house an interior designer would be proud of through using her creativity on self-made decorations. The chance to find out about these skills and aspirations is really what gets me up in the morning; and if I can go home at the end of the day feeling like I’ve made someone realise how great they can be if they recognise the skills they possess, then I’ll generally sleep better that night.

And what about the challenges?

It’s not all sweetness and light and the opportunity to work with people who might be having trouble with their neighbourhood or managing their money is hugely exciting and a big responsibility to take on at the same time.

I’m currently working with a family affected by the Benefit Cap who are really struggling and I’ve had to have some really tough conversations with them about debt, arrears and getting in to work etc. Luckily the new neighbourhood coach role gives us the time and freedom to work closely with our customers and hence build a strong and trusting relationship that works both ways.

It sounds like you’re getting on well Paul! Have any final thoughts?

This is very much a job which is evolving as time moves on, and is being ultimately shaped by my communities – and that’s what makes it so rewarding, challenging and exhilarating. I’m confident that as I get to know my customers even better and that relationship gets stronger, I’ll start to see the rewards in my various communities. Stay tuned, as they say…

Great stuff Paul – good luck as the role develops!

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