Bromford is one of the country's most dynamic Registered Social Landlords (housing associations). Based in the West Midlands, it operates over a large area from central England to the south-west. It has grown from being about the 30th-largest housing provider a few years ago to number six this year; outside London, it receives the biggest slice of government funding. And it is ambitious: it plans to treble the number of homes it manages to 40,000 by 2010.
Bromford believes in 'putting the customer at the heart of everything we do'. One of the key vehicles for doing this is its VIEWpoint customer panel, now about 100-strong. This is Bromford's sounding board for ideas, with feedback collected via post, e-mail and workshops. The panel has its own newsletter, and members get involved in decisions such as the appointment of new contractors. This has now progressed with the creation of VIEWpoint Plus, a forum for customers and board members in making decisions about the future of Bromford's business.
Another innovation: Bromford 'colleagues' used to go out to estates on makeover days to help with gardening, tidying up and mending fences. This year, it has invited customers to come into its offices and spend time at the call centre, or to shadow estate managers, finding out how Bromford works and having an opportunity to give their own input. There is a waiting list of people wanting to take part.
Bromford's customer-centric approach involves visiting customers at home to provide an assessment before they take up a tenancy; welcome visits; mid-term surveys; and even goodbye interviews when their tenancy ends.
Those who have used a particular service get a postcard survey follow-up. But in Bromford's world, it has been recognised that being merely 'satisfied' is not good enough. Customers have to choose between 'delighted', 'pleased', 'unhappy' or 'very unhappy'; fortunately, the vast majority - 84% - place themselves in the first two categories.
Bromford involves customers in its regular Big Breakfast workshop meetings, which bring together estate managers and other staff in small groups to get to grips with issues relating to the improvement of estates. Ideas are fed into an action plan.
Staff come from a range of backgrounds other than just conventional housing careers - the police, retailing, the civil service. All get special treatment, starting with a balloon over their desk and a jar of chocolates on their first day and continuing with a 'stay' interview every four years or every time an individual changes role, just to make sure they are still happy.
Leadership is not an elitist vocation at Bromford - anybody who manages anyone else gets the chance to attend a Liberating Leadership programme.
'Wobbly wheels' meetings are an opportunity for people to share their experiences and lessons learned.
An example of how seriously Bromford takes its values is that before a forthcoming merger with another RSL in the Cotswolds, a comprehensive 'cultural audit' was carried out to check that the two organisations would fit together.
Although the social housing sector is undergoing radical changes, Bromford has a strong vision of what best practice in the sector should be, and a desire to be at the forefront of implementing change. This is one reason why the organisation will have to grow by acquisition as well as organically, says chief executive Mick Kent. 'Our rationale is to have the firepower to be sitting at the top table alongside government. We need scale to do that, and we also want to develop leadership in Bromford that is second to none.'