Spotlight on Acis Group: Much more than bricks and mortar
With their headquarters in Gainsborough and offices in Nottingham and Sheffield, Acis Group is a registered charity whose core business is to provide social housing and employs around 350 members of staff.
We paid a visit to their Gainsborough HQ and spoke to CEO Greg Bacon, and Partnerships and Insight Manager Sean Brennan, to find out more about the company and to hear why they are no longer just a bricks and mortar business.
Acis took over from the West Lindsey District Council (WLDC) housing team in October 1999 with 3,800 houses on the books. Over the years this has increased to some 7,000 homes, they aim to build between 150-200 new homes per year. Initially the business model relied on traditional council and social tenant rents, but by working with local developers, such as Lindum Homes and Gelder Group, they progressed onto building shared ownership and finally onto outright ownership homes.
During 2013, Acis moved into the student housing market, acquiring existing accommodation and supplementing that by converting other buildings – they currently have around 1,100 units in Nottingham and Sheffield. Currently delivered by an external joint venture, the group will be bringing the management of student accommodation back in house in September 2022.
2016 saw the government-imposed rent reductions which cost Acis £200 million in reduced revenue. The company had already been thinking of ways to improve their social responsibility and they took this opportunity to diversify and to include more social purpose activities around the community. Acis pride themselves on providing housing for life, encapsulating their vision statement of: “Better homes and better services for better lives”.
This new vision led Acis to taking over from Lincolnshire Home Independence Agency in November 2019 and the creation of Acis HomePlus, delivering home adaptions on behalf of Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) and local authorities across Lincolnshire.
This initiative is available not only to Acis tenants, but serves the most vulnerable in the wider community to enable them to stay in their own homes. The pandemic impacted the whole of Acis and while physical visits were suspended, a welfare system was quickly put in place called EP19 to keep Acis connected to their most vulnerable clients. This remains in place even after the pandemic.
A further development in the company has seen clients being able to live, learn and work with them.
- In 2020 Acis bought Riverside Training into their portfolio to deliver adult education, skills and employability support. The programme has grown from 2.8 FTE employees and three contracts to around 20 FTE employees and contracts in over three counties. Covering 23 local authority areas, this significant growth was enabled with funding from the Greater Lincolnshire LEP, Lottery funding and funding from the Department of Works and Pensions.
- Other initiatives also include Restart with Jobs22 and Kickstart which has helped place Acis as a significant provider across Lincolnshire. The employment programmes are aimed at getting young people and those in long term unemployment back into work.
- Faced with potential closure, Community Learning in Partnership (CLIP) was recently brought into the Acis family. With sites in Market Rasen, Mablethorpe and Gainsborough, this community interest company specialises in teaching people basic level qualifications, GCSE level qualifications and life skills. They also provide a one-year access to higher education course.
So, what is next for Acis? They have plans to convert Market Rasen House in Market Rasen into ten apartments which will be suitable for tenants who require additional support and those with hidden disabilities. The project will also deliver on an aspiration to create a social enterprise, with an allotment in the grounds offering therapeutic support for residents of Market Rasen House as well as offering local produce to the local community. Work and is due to start late 2022 with an anticipated nine-month build schedule.
Another flagship project is the development at Bowling Green Road in Gainsborough, which will create 138 units, 60 of which have been ringfenced for older persons accessible accommodation and the remainder are affordable rent, shared ownership or outright ownership. The project has been costed at over £20 million, aided by a £2.1 million grant from the Greater Lincolnshire LEP from their Single Local Growth Fund and further funding from Homes England. First handovers on the development are due in September with the scheme due to complete in 2024.
Acis are an active Team Lincolnshire ambassador and we are delighted to hear of collaborations with other members which include Lindum Homes, Greater Lincolnshire LEP and both Bishop Grosseteste and Lincoln Universities, of which Acis offered formal workplace experiences for both graduate and undergraduate students. They also champion mental health and partner with Gainsborough Trinity Foundation to share the message.
We ended our time with Greg and Sean by asking them what they liked best about working at Acis and what was their most proud accomplishment.
“The best part is the variety of work, no two days are the same. I have found working at Acis a humbling experience being able to help those most vulnerable and hidden from society.
“I am most proud of the Bowling Green Road development. We had some negative comments at the outset about being able to deliver the project, but through over five years of hard work and determination we have succeeded. I am also looking forward to seeing the Market Rasen House development progress.”
“The best part of working at Acis is the team I work with. I admire their determination and work ethic and I have learnt much from them. They push and challenge me daily to empower and improve myself.
“I am proud of everything I accomplish at Acis, but I am particularly proud of helping to organise the company Acis Fest just six weeks after starting with the business. This is a yearly festival, held at one of our sites, which celebrates our clients and staff members. We welcomed 35 new CLIP staff members in August and it is important they feel part of the family.”
If you would like to read more about Acis or would like to get in touch you can do so here.