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Friday, 24 October 2014

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Robert Porter went from broken home to career helping make homes

Robert Porter came from a broken home and was brought up in a children’s home.

Robert Porter
Robert Porter

It’s not something he dwells much upon, but it is certainly what helped to mould him.

It has given him what he calls a “passion” to help those who get a tough start in life.

It is what has driven him – as director of social landlord Derwent & Solway Housing Association – to try and create more positive communities on some of West Cumbria’s biggest housing estates over the past nine years.

As we sit chatting in the boardroom at Derwent & Solway, Robert confesses: “The things I went through in my early life have given me the passion and have driven me in this role to help make conditions better for people in similar circumstances.”

He stepped down from his position at the social landlord on Friday.

He has been promoted to be group director of communities for Your Housing Group, where he will have the responsibility of overseeing four regional directors.

Robert, 50, of High Street, Workington, says: “I came from a broken family and was raised in a children’s home but I don’t want to go too much into that.

“I didn’t go to university as most people would have expected me to. I only went to Whitehaven Secondary School. I never consciously had a career path or a plan but I always loved being involved in housing, working with the local people and community.

“I worked my way through the ranks and I’ve had fantastic support and encouragement off many individuals.

“I still have a home in the area, and my new role will incorporate Derwent & Solway so I will be keeping a watchful eye.”

Robert, who is married with children, started his housing career at Allerdale council in 1988 as a rent collector.

He joined Derwent & Solway when it was formed in 1999 and worked as a support service manager and central service manager before being appointed director in 2003.

“Things were very different when I started and there wasn’t a clear vision,” he says.

“There had already been three directors in the years before me and that was very destabilising for the team.

“I’ve always had an open door approach and been accessible to tenants, and treated everyone as individuals.

“I recognised that there was a lack of opportunity in the area in terms of such things as education and poor health, and through our vision I wanted to help regenerate the local communities.”

Under Robert’s leadership, the team achieved external funding in excess of £10 million to support community based regeneration. This has gone towards programmes such as Routes 2 Work, which was awarded a gold award from The Housing Initiative in 2008 and Drama, a scheme to provide people with affordable loans.

The social landlord has also won Cumbrian Business Awards in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and created employment for 25 local people.

But the scenario that sticks in Robert’s mind is the disastrous 2009 floods, which affected 1,000 Derwent & Solway properties.

He recalls: “The floods will always be something I remember because of the devastating impact they had, but I do also look back on that time with huge affection because of how West Cumbrian people responded.

“Their resilience was touching. It was a time which really tested us, but within three weeks we had our first properties dried out in Keswick and the residents back in before Christmas.

“We had everybody else back in within a three-month period, which was a huge achievement.”

He is struggling to hold back the emotion, as he adds: “My heart and my fondness will always remain in West Cumbria but by moving on I hope to replicate some of the things we’ve been able to do at Derwent & Solway.

“Doing this role has never been about me looking for any praise as I’m one to shy away from the spotlight, but it was a fantastic opportunity to help those people who really needed help.

“Workington and West Cumbria is place that is rich in culture and the people are fantastic, they should be very proud.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere else where people have had the same warmth and care for each other.

“I leave behind a team that is equally committed to the region and I’ve not doubt that, they, along with my successor, will continue to strive for customer service excellence, making a positive difference in the lives of our residents and the local community.”

A decision is yet to be made on a new director for the housing association.

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