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Many people in Gainsborough’s south west ward have been living in poor quality housing because of high deprivation levels and high dependence on remote private landlords.

A high level of churn in tenancies and the low availability of wraparound support to people housed by private landlords have contributed to further instability for vulnerable people.

But a 10-year partnership between West Lindsey District Council and the ‘people first’ organisation P3, a registered charity, social enterprise and registered housing provider, is increasing the provision of high-quality, sustainable housing that is affordable for Gainsborough’s communities in the greatest need. (Case study continues below).

The partnership has enabled P3 to lever millions of pounds of social investment to purchase homes, refurbish them, and rent them. A new, impact-focused lettings policy has been developed to let them.

The initiative will reduce exploitation by private landlords, increase access to homes let and managed at affordable rents and support and fund other community initiatives. It is also creating strong incentives to landlords to improve the standards of their homes – and to rent them through the partners.

The partnership was catalysed through a grant funding agreement which committed £1m from WLDC, and the transfer of 11 properties, to the charity. P3 is also raising £4m in social investment. £2m has already been secured from Social & Sustainable Capital (SASC). This capital is being used to purchase homes and refurbish them to a high standard.

Already (at time of writing, September 2021) the charity is in the process of purchasing 18 houses in addition to those transferred. And it has created a new, coordination worker role to enable wraparound support services to tenants rather than basic and short-term support, is saving the council considerable money on enforcement and is creating employment, training and apprenticeship opportunities around its home refurbishment programme.

Its ultimate goal is to purchase refurbish, manage and rent 110 houses over the lifetime of the project with the majority purchased in the early stages of the project.


Housing was one of five priority areas addressed at the E3M Alchemy Gainsborough event, which brought together over 70 participants over two days in July 2019. They explored ideas which could harness the power of social enterprise and social investment to help tackle some key challenges in the town.

Participants sought to complement the extensive work which had already taken place and was ongoing in support of Gainsborough’s bid to The Local Access programme (the bid was subsequently successful – more details here).

The event demonstrated the transformative potential of West Lindsey District Council and local stakeholders in working together, building on what is already there and what has already been done, to co-create sustainable social enterprise solutions to the challenges faced by the town.

Before Alchemy, some data had been collected and analysed around selective licensing levels in the South West ward, giving evidence and a business case for a new approach.

Two working groups were convened at Gainsborough Alchemy to examine ideas to improve housing provision. During the event, participants also heard from Sunderland’s community-led housing provider, Back on the Map, and Lisa Ketly, Sunderland City Council’s Empty Property Officer. Another presentation featured Hull-based Estuary Homes CIC with Lisa Hilder describing its multiple revenue streams and how it is creating community assets.

Alchemy participants examining housing examined an idea to acquire, refurbish and let properties in the South West ward.

“Alchemy helped us to pull the information we needed together,” says Diane Krochmal, Assistant Director, Homes and Communities at West Lindsey District Council. “We collated evidence of housing and associated issues, some of which had been masked by the private rented sector: a poor quality living environment which had impacts on mental health, domestic abuse, a lack of community cohesion. Other local authorities were using Gainsborough to house some of their homeless residents, so many people living in the areas were transient and could not put down roots.

“At Alchemy, and afterwards, we developed a set of objectives including the social outcomes we wanted to achieve. Then we secured approval from members to progress to a partnership to create a clear pathway to offer appropriate housing which is affordable, managed by a social landlord, but available to residents excluded from the housing register. This would make better use of the area’s housing stock, maximise the supply of better quality housing, and retain and recirculate housing benefit and Universal Credit payments in the social economy here in the area.

“Our key objective was to partner with a social housing provider whose ethos and purpose were aligned with ours. Alchemy helped officers and members understand the potential for a new approach.”

How the partnership was developed

Gemma Bukel is Director of Strategy and Innovation at E3M member P3, a trusted housing and support provider to over 45 local authorities in the UK. Bukel attended Alchemy Gainsborough and offered her help, if required, to West Lindsey District Council and to local housing provider LEAP.

For the partnership to succeed and create long-term impact, WLDC needed a partner able to lever in social investment – which P3 could. A few months after Alchemy Gainsborough, Bukel and P3 were asked to submit a business plan.

“P3 gave us a comprehensive plan showing how working together would address the objectives we set out,” says Krochmal. “They showed a real understanding for Gainsborough, of the capital requirements and how to achieve the social impact we aspired to.”

Transparency and honesty proved crucial in P3’s and WLDC’s relationship as solicitors “went backwards and forwards” to finalise a grant funding agreement, adds Krochmal. Contractual agreements were finally signed off in March 2021, at which point WLDC transferred 11 properties to the charity along with its £1m capital input (which came from the council’s Private Sector Renewal Fund and from capital reserves).

“The biggest barrier was the question of ‘why give this entity £1m?’ says Ian Knowles, WLDC’s Chief Executive Officer. “But I could give a secure pitch to members: we will get the money and at least £4m more, back. As you would expect it took time to do the necessary due diligence and research into P3’s financial position. They provided robust evidence that they had the funding, through social investment, available – and they would still be around in 10 years’ time.”

A commitment to this timescale was never in question, says Bukel. “we’re here to stay. We operate other housing-related projects and services in Lincolnshire to address quality of housing, community cohesion and social inequality, where we’ve made 30 year commitments.”

Beyond the investment it was about establishing a responsible landlord, adds Knowles, “to support our community, so residents can enjoy living here and want to stay in the area for the long term. And P3 is clearly about making a difference for people, not just property; it has the same objectives and ethos.”

The charity is in the late stage of completing on 18 properties in addition to the 11 transferred, so its portfolio now numbers 29 homes. Of these, 6 were previously long-term empty homes which will be refurbished to a high quality.


Even with transparency and purpose-alignment between WLDC and P3, the process to finalise the grant funding agreement and address legal queries was time-consuming, “and more complicated than any of us expected,” says Bukel.

“Much of this was procedural: queries about state aid, for example, alongside details about restrictions on use of the grant funding. We could demonstrate minimal risks, and provide evidence that P3 was the only organisation capable of delivering our element of the project at this current time. This meant there were no procurement issues.

“But since we started working towards a formal agreement the housing market has changed massively. House prices shot up in the area and we needed to remodel our figures, which had been based on the assumption of purchasing and refurbishing homes for around £50,000. Even with higher prices, demand from buyers has shot up too – many are pure speculators wanting to flip houses at a profit, quickly.

“Covid also impacted on timescales. Conveyancing is now taking record amounts of time, tradespeople are in high demand and there’s been a shortage of building materials. With some of the houses we are buying just shells, we need to be able to carry out refurbishment to a high standard as quickly as possible. But we have a framework of several local suppliers alongside our own maintenance infrastructure.”

What makes the partnership a success?

We’ve already mentioned purpose-alignment and trust. P3’s relationship with local supported housing providers LEAP, and other members of the Gainsborough Local Access Programme’s Board, are also vital to the success to date of the partnership.

“We play an active part in the GLAP board, which has been meeting every fortnight,” adds Bukel, “and we are delighted that LEAP has also secured social investment to purchase properties in the south west ward. LEAP does really brilliant grassroots community work. And our frank and honest relationship with Di Krochmal means we can address and talk through any issues. WLDC is a great local authority – we work with many – with a positive ethos, and is proactive: it wants to get things done and make an impact.” (Case study continues below this short video).


  • Increasing access to good quality homes let at affordable rents
  • Reducing dependency on private landlords
  • Creating a strong “social contract” and better alignment between people, the community and the council
  • The “local multiplier” effect: rents and housing benefit or universal credit income get recirculated within the local community and economy, rather than extracted
  • Surpluses generated through the project will fund other community initiatives
  • Job creation: employment of a coordination worker to enable the provision of wraparound support services to tenants
  • Creating employment, training and apprenticeship opportunities around a home refurbishment programme
  • Reducing enforcement costs
  • Links with other housing and supported housing projects
  • Links with the local social economy ecosystem
  • Visible improvements to public spaces and civic amenities
  • Incentivising landlords to improve standards and rent their own properties through the project.

What next?

Case studies of purpose-aligned partnerships

Examples of successful public service community partnerships delivering a variety of public services. See them here.

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Example documentation, contracts, processes and agreements you can access – or use as a checklist as you progress your partnerships. These practical models and outlines include a set of social value imperatives.

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