The history of Care & Repair in Wales began in the late 1970s. Concern about the circumstances of older people led to the early research about housing for older people. Successive studies and house conditions across the UK pointed to older people occupying disproportionately poor housing. Home Improvement Agencies (Care & Repair) developed in the UK in response to the growing awareness of problems faced by older homeowners living in housing that was statutorily unfit for habitation, lacking basic bathroom and kitchen amenities, damp, in serious disrepair, unhealthy and sometimes dangerous.
In 1979 a clear precursor to Care & Repair was developed in Ferndale in the Rhondda, where a project was organised to deal with the needs of older home-owners for repair and improvement work and the opportunity presented by funding through the Youth Opportunities Programme were imaginatively brought together. Trainees were able to carry out work for older people, under the supervision of an architect and a craftsman and as part of their training within the Programme.
This pioneering work was followed by the Assisted Agency Initiative, which would provide funding for the development of eight Care & Repair/Staying Put Agencies in Wales. In 1985, parallel to this and utilising Urban Aid, Cynon Valley Home Improvement Agency was set up as a joint initiative with Cynon Valley County Borough Council, the Building Societies’ Association and Cynon Taf Housing Association.
Care and Repair England, through its Regional Officer for Wales, had responsibility for the development of the new Welsh projects. The office was based with and supported by Corlan Housing Association. In 1987, with funding from the Welsh Office, Corlan created its first Home Improvement Agency in Cardiff. At this time, the vision was born that in Wales that all older people in Wales should have the choice to remain in their own homes, wherever possible. Taking forward this vision was the basis of a conference held jointly by the Welsh Consumer Council, Care & Repair Ltd (Wales) and the Welsh Office in December 1990- called “Care & Repair in Wales- the Way Forward”.
Throughout the 1990s, government funding grew to enable existing Agencies to develop and new Agencies to form. By 1993, there were ten agencies established throughout Wales, nine of which were managed by housing associations. By the end of 1995, twenty agencies had been established.
The approved government funding framework remained in operation until 2003-2004 when the Welsh Government announced it would provide ‘enhanced funding’ for Care & Repair Agencies to provide sustainable core Care & Repair services across the country. Resources made available for the movement increased to £4.9 million in 2009/10. Since then, there have been slight reductions in response to difficult economic climate, but funding to sustain core Care & Repair services remains in place with an allocation of £4.65 million in 2013/14. From small beginnings, Care & Repair has developed into the organisation that it is today with a Care & Repair Agency in each of the twenty two local authority areas in Wales.
The focus of Care & Repair has always been as a client-centred, problem-led service and not solely on building or repair work. This holistic approach has been a key factor in the success of the movement.
The original agencies with 2.5 staff have grown to organisations 6 or 7 times that size delivering a diverse range of services, with funding not only from government grant, but from other sources such as housing associations, local government, local Health Boards and charitable donations. While there are some common threads, linking the 22 Care & Repair agencies in Wales, each agency has also developed because of local need and opportunity, local authority or other stakeholder requirements, and the skills and resources available.
Partnerships will become more and more important in the future, as will the challenges of financial austerity. Agencies will need to embrace new opportunities for funding, taking paths such as social enterprise development, collaboration across Agencies, and efficiency savings. While challenges will be difficult, the ethos and services of Care & Repair remain trusted and valuable both in social policy terms, and in terms of reducing demand and delivering cost savings within the statutory sectors of Health and Social Care.