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Hafan Cymru: Providing Refuge and Support that Makes a Difference Across Wales

Hafan Cymru is a charitable housing association that provides accommodation and support to women, men, their children and young people across Wales, offering a complete package of support provided to help people with a wide range of needs.

Siân Morgan joined Hafan Cymru as Chief Executive on 4th January 2016, and she is ultimately responsible for all day-to-day management decisions and for implementing the business’s short and long-term plans on behalf of the Board of Management, whilst also acting as a direct liaison between the Board and Management of the Association.

We spoke with Siân about Hafan Cymru’s beginnings, its cause, and the difference it makes for hundreds of lives across Wales.

 

The foundation of Hafan Cymru in 1989 is quite inspirational – what can you tell us about its beginnings?

Hafan Cymru was formed in 1989 as a Registered Social landlord. The business grew out of an initiative of the Women’s Aid movement in Wales at a time when refuge was the only form of accommodation or support for women living with domestic abuse. The business was and is one of the key leading providers of housing and support services across Wales for women, men and children experiencing violence against women and domestic abuse, and our mission then was to work to prevent abuse and homelessness and to promote the independence of those they supported through a range of individually tailored support interventions.

Over the past 29 years, the business has needed to develop and expand from its original intent in order to respond to the changes in legislation and service needs. This has seen the business grow in terms of employees and contracts and the constitution changing to enable support services to be delivered to men facing domestic abuse.

 

How has the company changed since then?

The business now delivers over 60 contracts across Wales, providing the much-needed support services to men as well as women and children, providing refuge, safe houses, temporary supporting houses and floating, outreach support, Mensheds project, SPECTRUM Project and Training Services.

The business has also diversified the skill set and is able to deliver employability support to help people prepare themselves for the world of work – this also helps our clients who are ready to move on in life and live independently and we have been building a range of skills in other areas such as mental health and specialist domestic abuse support.

 

In what ways have you influenced or aided Hafan Cymru since you became CEO in 2016?

Previously, the business had been run like a cottage industry and it had not moved with the changing landscape, nor had it changed its business model to reflect the move away from ‘grant in aid’ to open and competitive tendering. Somewhere along the way, something broke and there was a disconnect between the leadership’s concept and what staff did with that concept. Complacency had set in, processes and procedures were not followed, a blame culture had evolved, and bullying was evident!

When I joined the business in January 2016, I did not expect to find a business that was failing due to lack of leadership, financial controls and complacency. It was clear to me that between the reality of the marketplace and the business’s ability to act within that reality, something fractured until it was nearly too late to fix.

It was a difficult time, particularly in the first 12 months, and I experienced a number of barriers and blockages from within the business. However, I did successfully tackle the cash flow issues with the support of the Head of Finance, who in my opinion had not been allowed previously to implement much-needed financial controls in order to ensure there was tight cost management and transparency. Together we introduced new financial processes and procedures to tighten up the cost expenditure of the business as we were bleeding money!

My next approach was to review the organisational structure and reduce the high overheads that Head Office was carrying. I worked closely with the Board of Management to agree on an organisational structure that would ensure we had the right skills in the right place with the right processes and procedures. I involved the trade union to ensure they understood the drivers for change, notified the Welsh Government of the plan that had been developed to help turn the financial situation and met with our Bank to ensure they were on board as we were facing severe cash flow issues and at real risk of going out of business. Thankfully, we now have a business that thinks and behaves commercially, we are winning new lucrative contracts, recently achieved investors in people standard and received a glowing report from our external auditors and all this has been achieved within an 18-month period.

It was a very challenging 18 months, but also exciting and incredibly fulfilling. It has been extremely rewarding to see a business that was almost dead kept going and one that continues to move in the right direction, going from strength to strength.

 

What does a typical workday entail for you?

I like to arrive at work earlier than everyone else to give me the peace and quiet I need to plan out my day, however, no two days are the same due to the nature of our work and you never know what can happen so 9 times out of 10 my original plan has to change!

Some days I have the space to be able to read through legislative documents and respond to consultations, however the majority of my days are usually spent in meetings with partner organisations, holding meetings with my executive team and meeting with staff (which I find inspiring as I am able to check in with specific projects and learn new perspectives). I also need to prepare regulatory responses, write papers for our Board of Management and attend external meetings and conferences of note.

There are times when there are not enough hours in the day, particularly if we have a number of events taking place across Wales, tenders be developed, Board or Committee meetings and the AGM taking place, and this can mean juggling a lot of balls in the air at the same time, but luckily, I thrive on challenges and thoroughly enjoy my role.

Our business delivers a much-needed service and I am fortunate to have an excellent team within the business and this is evident from the positive feedback we receive from our commissioners and stakeholders alike.

 

What are your top recommendations for building a solid Learning Culture?

Staff need to feel listened to and understood plus see that action has been taken and commitment and promises delivered on.

When I first joined I visited all our locations across Wales, I listened to our teams then found quick wins following my visits which demonstrated I had taken their thoughts and views on board. Building an environment of trust was key, demonstrating that I not only listened but was able to take forward action. I encouraged reflection on the way we did things and find ways of improving and sharing best practice across teams, empowering staff to take forward ideas and look at new ways of doing things, listen to clients/colleagues and speak the truth to enable decisions to be taken on a ‘right-first-time’ approach. Understanding the talent in the business was also key and how we captured knowledge transfer, so we could build for the future.

 

What emerging challenges do you face regarding the welfare reform?

The issue of quality and capacity of service provision as this is linked to the substantial reduction in funding for support services and the continued threat for further reduction in funding. Welsh Government has provided funding to help limit the impact on public services in Wales, however, the administration of welfare benefits is not devolved to Wales and the Welsh Government will not be able to continue to carry the financial costs and will look to absorb costs, which means there will be an effect on these services going forward and it is likely we will face further cuts! We are continually planning and horizon scanning to ensure that we are prepared for future opportunities and also potential funding cuts.

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