Chapter 4

Working at Guinness

Head office staff and superintendents

Date: 1948

The staff of The Guinness Trust at the head office.

© South Thames Press Agency

There are around 3,000 staff working at The Guinness Partnership today in a wide variety of roles; from developing new homes and repairing existing estates to helping our customers back into work and caring for people in our supported living schemes.

Staff in the early days

In their inaugural meeting in 1889, the Trustees hired their first two members of office staff, a clerk and a secretary. Both stayed with the Trust for 45 years, the Secretary, Mr Winch, retiring in 1934, the same year that the Senior Clerk, Mr Gray, died.

During the 1890s, the staff grew to 3 members at the Head Office and 14 estate-based staff. Many more were to work long tenures, including Secretary, Mr Leigh-Breese – or ‘Breesy’ as he was known  from 1931–1963; Chief Clerk, Mr Chappell, from 1935–1972 and typist, Mrs Thomas, who won the Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal, from 1952–1979. (Malpass, 1998)

Architects were also long-standing, with N. S. Joseph our main consultant architect for many of the earlier estates. His son Charles continued to advise the Trustees into the 1930s.

Guinness Trustees

Date: 1950

Trustees of The Guinness Trust in the 1950s. Including Mr O.S.Baker, Lady Iveagh, Lord Iveagh, Lady Elizabeth and Lord Boyd.

© Reportage Limited

Staff on the estates

Up until 1996 estates staff – including porters and wardens – typically lived where they worked. They were led by a superintendent: often former military men, it was their job to ensure the estates were well run and rents were paid. Secretary Leigh-Breese described them in 1944:

“Each estate is treated as a separate unit and is in charge[sic] of a resident male superintendent, who – in addition to collecting rents, visiting applicants for rooms etc – is responsible for the order, discipline and cleanliness of his Buildings; for the work of the staff under him; and for all stores received and issued. The position is one of considerable responsibility, a good disciplinarian is necessary and a man possessed of plenty of tact… The superintendent’s wife must also play her part, for tenants need to base their standard of conduct, appearance and cleanliness on hers.”

As well as maintaining high standards in their own estates, superintendents would visit prospective tenants in their current homes to ensure they would be “suitable tenants” and that their rent books were in order.

According to the Minutes of 24 July 1891, the wages for the superintendent at Brandon Street, London were 30 shillings per week without room or allowances, while the porters received 20 shillings. The superintendent’s rooms at the King’s Road estate in the 1950s can be seen below.

Lord and Lady Iveagh

Date: 1931

Lord and Lady Iveagh

The estate staff played a huge role in life at Guinness and were remembered by Donald Wheal in his memoir of growing up in the King’s Road estate.

“It was February and darkness fell early. The system was that the porter would come round as it got dark and call ‘All up’. This was not of course the superintendent, Mr Caple, in his orange rough tweed suit and bowler hat. On a normal duty night he was far above ensuring that all the children were out of the yard. This was the under-porter, Jock. ‘Aal-up!’ It was an opportunity and a half in the blacked-out yards in Guinness Trust. By slipping through the shadows, pressing ourselves into corners, hiding in the darkened entrances to the four separate blocks we were able to avoid detection until Jock decided he had done his bit and went back in his own flat.”

Donald James Wheal, The World’s End, 2005

Superintendent Caple and his wife were killed in the 1944 Blitz bombing at the King’s Road estate. The rebuilt block was dedicated in his name, Caple House.

Kings Road, Chelsea

Date: 2008

Caple House at the Kings Road estate in Chelsea.

Celebrating with the staff

1948 Annual Review

Date: 1948

Arrangements for the annual staff lunch.

The Trustees recognised the hard work that their estate staff were doing, and would treat the superintendents and their wives to an annual dinner, with an outing for the porters and their wives.

The staff were also often invited to the Trustees’ special occasions, including celebrating Benjamin Guinness’s – the third Earl of Iveagh and a trustee for 17 years – 21st birthday and Lord and Lady Iveagh’s diamond wedding anniversary. The thank you cards to staff are shown here.

Working at The Guinness Partnership today

By Guinness’s centenary in 1990, we managed 10,000 homes, and over the next 20 years were joined by 12 other registered providers, including Hermitage Housing in 2002, Midsummer in 2006 and Northern Counties in 2007.

Today, with 65,000 homes, our staff must work in a very different way to the staff of the early London estates, providing services for more than 120,000 customers across England. And instead of trips to the holiday home or dinners with the Trustees, staff enjoy Helping Hand awards to boost their charitable fundraising efforts and grants to learn new skills or develop favourite hobbies. We were awarded the Investors in People Gold Award in 2014, and our 3,000 staff are led by Chief Executive, Catriona Simons, with Neil Braithwaite as our Chair. Find out more about working for Guinness

Hear from some of our current staff

First Hand

David Mansfield on working at Guinness

View transcript

I’m David Mansfield and I’m a resident liaison officer for The Guinness Partnership, working in the south on projects in London. I look after the central area, so I look after King’s Road, Holbein, Draycott and all within the M25.

I’ve been living here all my life, at the King’s Road estate at World’s End. My Mum and Dad lived here all their married life, so did my Grandmother, so we’ve been on this, we’ve known this estate for a very, very long time.

I’ve actually been Chairman of the Residents’ Association here for about 14 years. At that particular time we were having new kitchens and Guinness asked me to come and work for them as a resident liaison officer and I’ve been working for Guinness ever since then, so coming up to 10 years.

It’s quite difficult to be an RLO on the place you actually live because people think you’re a mini computer walking around. I was asked what colour did I order for my kitchen at 9 o’clock at night in the local supermarket.

But it has been useful because I know most of the residents here, I know the residents that are vulnerable, so it’s been useful for the contractor as well. To have that information and to make sure people are looked after is really important when they’re having their home disrupted. So I take great pride in making sure that people are happy at the end of the work.

First Hand

Dave Wellens

David Wellens has worked at Guinness for an impressive 32 years.

Can you tell us what you do?

I work as a housing officer at the Darnhill office in Heywood, Manchester. My role covers a vast amount – from ASB to rehousing, repairs and welfare visits – and I am also the chair of the Guinness staff forum. No two days are the same.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on tenancy conversions and fire risk assessments. I’m also working with the local authority to help stop fly tipping in the local area.

What has changed since you first started?

I have met many new faces over time and seen lots of improvements on our properties to bring them into the 21st century. My role is also more varied – I now work on lots of housing issues instead of focusing on just one.

What has been your proudest achievement in your time at Guinness?

My proudest achievements are helping customers to hold their own tenancy and empower them to achieve their goals. I also love being on the staff forum, and offering guidance and leadership to the organisation and to colleagues.

First Hand

Denis Abdulgani

Denis Abdulgani has worked on our London estates for the past 30 years.

Can you tell us what you do?

I am an estate assistant and I cover three sites in Chelsea. I work with my team to clean the communal areas, including grounds maintenance and inside the blocks. At this time of year, the team and I are working hard on the gardens; as we are now well into the growing season.

Have you had other roles at Guinness?

I covered a manager at Draycott and Holbein House for about six months, taking in tenants’ rents and doing the maintenance.

Can you tell us about any particularly memorable moments of working here?

When Princess Diana came to Draycott Avenue to open the Alan Lennox Boyd centre, which is now New Horizons. I got to meet her and have a chat with her.

First Hand

Pam Dawson

Pam Dawson, Head of Development/Special Projects has been working at Guinness since 1990.

Can you tell us what you do?

I am a Head of Development within the Investment and Commercial, looking business strategy and working on specialist projects.

What are you working on right now?

I am currently working with our Guinness Care and Support team to develop new extra care housing schemes for older people to meet the needs of our ageing population. Working with the Exeter development team, we are building 60 new apartments at Riverside in Totnes.

How has Guinness changed since you first started?

When I joined, it was the Guinness Trust and two weeks after I joined we moved into the (then) new office in High Wycombe, which we are now leaving. I had been recruited because Guinness was embarking on a major development programme, so this was a really exciting and energising time, and I found myself working on major developments in places such as Colchester, Chelmsford, Basingstoke, High Wycombe, Aylesbury and Nottingham. Our ambition was to grow, and Guinness has grown dramatically in the 25 years I have worked here, through a healthy development programme as well as mergers.

How has your role changed in the time you have been at Guinness?

The whole process of developing new homes has become more involved and more complicated as government grants have reduced. When I started my career at Guinness local authorities had land and grants available and wanted to work with housing associations to create new social housing. We are now very dependent on our business plan and our ability to raise finance.

Can you tell us about any particularly memorable moments of working here?

The one that comes immediately to mind is when Guinness launched its Design Guide and the reception was held at St James’s Palace. I and three colleagues were privileged to speak with HRH the Prince of Wales. I have also met the Princess Royal and Diana, Princess of Wales whilst working at Guinness – these encounters tend to stand out.

First Hand

Mike Flannery

Our Head of Service Management, Mike Flannery, has worked at Guinness since 1978.

Can you tell us what you do?

I work in IT Services, heading up the Service Management Team who are responsible for maintaining our systems. Not quite anything with a plug on it but not far short!

Recently we’ve been focused on a major project to ensure that the details of all of Guinness’s 60,000 customer are all on the same housing manager system, so that we can manage customer accounts more effectively.

Have you had other roles at Guinness?

I started out as trainee housing manager in 1978, before becoming the Regional Housing Manager for Northern Counties Housing Association in the Manchester Office.

In late 1993 I was asked to lead the implementation of a new housing management system, and have worked in IT ever since.

How has Guinness changed since you first started?

In many ways: the size of the organisation, the number of people, offices, customers and properties. When I joined in 1978 we managed about 3,000 properties and now Guinness has 20 times that number.

Working in IT I would have to say technology. Back when I joined computers weren’t even on the horizon; we got our first PCs in 1995! As a trainee, I recall analysing day to day repairs expenditure across three housing schemes – Brandy House Brow, Worsley Mesnes and Lion Brow – there were no automated systems or even a spreadsheet to help, it all had to be done by hand and took four days to complete. This sort of information is now produced routinely at the touch of a button.

How has your role changed in the time you have been at Guinness?

I’ve had ten different roles in my time here and the nature of the work has changed greatly. A day in the life of a housing officer was very different – doing a lot of practical work on schemes investigating leaks, including one time we had to dig out under the floor of a block of flats in Urmston to make good a problem with a toilet. A very large hole was excavated and being a keen youngster I crawled in to take a look – I wouldn’t dream of doing that now!

How has the housing sector changed in the last 25 years?

The biggest thing for me was the introduction of the 1980 Housing Act, which introduced the Right to Buy and also the lesser known ‘Power to Sell’ – which was a version of Right to Buy aimed at co-ownership schemes.

Can you tell us about any particularly memorable moments of working at Guinness?

The introduction of satellite TV in the 1980s – you would not believe the number of meetings we had deciding whether we should allow satellite dishes to be attached to the outside of the properties.

Receiving my first mobile phone in June 1994 – “you’re never alone with a mobile phone”

The Millennium Bug in 2000 – a lot of time and effort went into ensuring there wouldn’t be any problems as a result of this date change. In hindsight you have to wonder what all the fuss was about!

First Hand

John Cockerham

John Cockerham, Director of Operations for Maintenance has been at Guinness since 1983.

Can you tell us what you do?

I have responsibility for all the Guinness responsive and void maintenance teams who work with our main contractors. For many of our customers the maintenance service is the most important service we deliver.

Have you had other roles at Guinness?

I have been at Guinness quite a while! I have been a housing assistant, housing officer (maintenance), assistant housing manager, housing manager, regional manager, operations manager, assistant director, director of neighbourhood services and now, my new role. Each one has been part of the delivery of services to our customers.

How has Guinness changed since you first started?

When I first started Bonnie Tyler was at No 1 in the charts with Total Eclipse of the Heart, Liverpool won the first division championship and CDs had just been introduced!

Guinness has changed enormously too; the number of affordable homes we provide, the number of staff, the geography we cover, the services we deliver and the way we do business. But the basic principle of what we are here to do hasn’t changed – providing homes for people who need them most.

How has the housing sector changed in the past 25 years?

Housing associations are still providing much-needed affordable homes and trying hard to keep pace with the number required across the country, so maybe not much has changed. The way that the sector tries to do this though – with increased use of private finance, less reliance on capital grants, reduced regulation and most importantly increased focus on customer service – is very different.

Can you tell us about any particularly memorable moments of working here?

Seeing the organisation grow and flourish to meet housing needs and deliver great services has been fantastic. Receiving compliments from individual customers about the work we do is also great.

First Hand

Ann Faulkner

Ann Faulkner has been working with Guinness for over 25 years.

Can you tell us what you do?

I work in Guinness’s Home Ownership Team. My job includes setting up new business contracts where we provide management services for other landlords, developing our new products, like market rent, and improving our existing home ownership service offer.

Have you had other roles at Guinness?

I’ve had many roles here – I didn’t intend staying this long when I started here but there have always been opportunities available when I’ve been ready for them. My first job role was clerk/lettings assistant at our office in  Manchester. I was then lucky enough to be sponsored to study for the Chartered Institute of Housing exam when I was a trainee housing officer. I went on to manage housing management teams in Rochdale, Blackburn and Leeds before I fell into home ownership in 1997, taking on the role of leasehold business manager in Manchester. This role then grew as Guinness grew and my team widened to include the home ownership team in Milton Keynes.

How has Guinness changed since you first started?

Well obviously it’s changed in size, and in geography. When I started at NCHA the furthest I had to travel was to Scunthorpe.  When I took on the management of the Milton Keynes team I had to buy a map!

When I started I had an electronic typewriter on my desk (soon to be replaced by a word processor). We had no email, so we had to talk to each other on the telephone or send memos (top copy to the recipient, white copy for sender and yellow copy for the file). We had one computer in the office to run off the arrears reports. You had to connect by dialling in off a phone on top of the printer.

What has been your proudest achievement in the time you have been at Guinness?

As Head of Home Ownership, collecting the Award for Excellence in Customer Service at the Affordable Home Ownership Awards in London.

How has the housing sector changed in the last 25 years?

We now have to be more efficient, competitive and business minded; there’s more emphasis on financial strength and survival in order to continue our vision to provide more housing for those who need it. What hasn’t changed is the passion and commitment of the people I have met working in Guinness and the housing sector as a whole.