BITMO Board Member Paul Truswell “council housing is in my DNA”

 Paul Truswell has been a member of the BITMO Board since 2014.  He came to Leeds almost exactly 50 years ago. During that time, he served as a Councillor for 26 years, a Member of Parliament for 13 years and worked as a journalist and social services manager.

Tell us about your background.

You could say that council housing is in my DNA.  I was brought up on a very large Sheffield council estate by low paid parents.  My mum was a laundrette attendant (think of a Yorkshire version of Eastenders’ Dot Cotton).  My dad was a steel foundryman.  They and my brother moved into that newly built council house in 1949 and a Truswell remained a tenant for the next 72 years. 

I cannot imagine what life would have been like for our family without the security of having a decent and affordable roof over our heads. That background has made supporting council housing and tenants one of my greatest political passions.

What are the challenges facing people in this area?

We know people in Belle Isle face huge inequalities in terms of factors like health, housing, income, illness, disability, and education. 

The recent talk about a cost of living crisis ignores the fact that many local people have had to contend with those pressures for years. These have obviously grown much worse in recent times, partly as a result of higher bills for things like fuel and food, but also cuts in Council, police and NHS services.  In partnership with other services BITMO is playing a key role in supporting residents.

How did you get involved with BITMO?

I became a Councillor for Middleton Park Ward in 2012 and a Council nominee to the BITMO Board in 2014.  When I stood down as a Councillor last year I was asked if I would consider being co-opted onto the BITMO Board.  Given my passion for promoting council housing and supporting tenants, I agreed.

What are the benefits of tenant management?

When the Council carries out its tenant satisfaction surveys, BITMO generally comes in the top two or three housing management areas.  That can’t be a coincidence.  Having a team of officers overseen by a Board largely comprised of tenants brings a dimension to managing the estate that doesn’t exist elsewhere.  The highly valued caretaker service is a prime example of how the Board reflects tenants’ priorities.

Board members have a huge responsibility.  Tenant management can only work effectively if there are committed people who are prepared to volunteer, to get to grips with the detail and the issues facing BITMO and its tenants, and to challenge its paid officers constructively where necessary.  In my 10 years on the Board there have been some real stalwarts who have been very effective at doing that. 

What would you say are BITMO’s achievements?

Managing, repairing and improving properties is obviously BITMO’s prime purpose. This includes setting and monitoring budgets, coping with increasing funding pressures, holding contractors to account and dealing with complaints.

But the BITMO Board strives to go well beyond a basic tenant/landlord relationship.  It provides a very wide range of services and activities at the GATE and in the community that support the needs and wellbeing of residents – often in partnership with other public services and third sector organisations.  That includes providing support like affordable meals, training, benefits advice, activities and tutoring for young people, access to computers and digital skills, local environmental and social projects, and enhancing green spaces like the Circus… to list just a few of BITMO’s many tenant-centred initiatives.

What do you see as BITMO’s future if tenants vote to continue with a TMO?

There’s no rocket science involved.  To maintain the trust of tenants BITMO needs to build on its strengths, such as the sort of initiatives listed above.  It equally has to recognise those aspects of its activities that need improving through listening closely to tenants and responding to their needs. As an organisation led by tenants it is well placed to respond to those challenges.

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    BITMO News for Belle Isle Tenants – July 2024

    4th July 2024

    You can listen to BITMO News for Belle Isle Tenants here:

    You can read BITMO News for Belle Isle tenants here.

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      BITMO News for Belle Isle Tenants – June 2024

      You can listen to this email by clicking on this link:

      You can read the email by clicking here.

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        53 rent weeks this year

        by Stephen Oldham, BITMO Income & Tenancy Manager

        Did you know that this year has 53 weeks between 1 April 2024 and 6 April 2025?

        What does this mean for me ?

        Your rent will be charged 53 times between 1 April 2024 and 6 April 2025.

        Rent and other service charges are levied weekly and run from Monday to Sunday.

        Will it affect how I pay my rent ?

        It will depend how you pay your rent.

         If you pay by Direct Debit your payment will be slightly higher to take into account, the extra week. This is done automatically.

         If you claim Universal Credit, you will only receive 52 weeks Housing Element as per DWP regulations. This means that you will have to pay extra to make up for the shortfall.

         If you pay by other methods, please amend the amount you pay to reflect the 53rd week.

        What do I need to do ?

         Nothing if you pay by Direct Debit, the amount changes automatically.

        • If you claim Universal Credit you will need to pay for the week the DWP do not pay. The extra amount you pay will depend on how much your weekly rent is. This will be between £6 – £10 a month.
        For example: for a weekly rent of £82.26, you can pay in monthly instalments of £6.86 (dividing £82.26 by 12 months).

         If you pay by other methods, you will need to increase the amount you pay.

        How do I calculate my monthly rent for the 53 week financial year ?

        • To calculate the correct monthly figure from 1 April 2024, you will need to multiply the rent by 53 (weeks), and then divide it by 12 (months). For example: for a weekly rent of £85:
        £85 × 53 = £4,505. Then £4,505 ÷ 12 = £375.42

        If you need more information contact Rent Team on 0113 378 2187 or email us at . Please contact us if you are struggling to pay your rent or other bills. There are also some useful money advice agencies below.

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          A Big Volunteering Thank You!

          by Jo Wood, BITMO Community Development Co-ordinator

          This week is Volunteering Week, it is an opportunity to celebrate and say thank you to the individuals who give their time to a cause that means a great deal to them. Before I joined the Community Development Team I knew little more about volunteering at BITMO beyond my Friday breakfast and toastie. I thought I would share with you some of the ways volunteers support the work of the organisation and our community:

          Community Kitchen: Preparing meals for the community, Volunteers prepare a hot meal on Tuesday for the children who attend the tutoring group and the community, toasties every Wednesday, sandwich packs through the school holidays and off course breakfast on a Friday.

          School Uniform: This is a developing volunteering opportunity. Volunteers support the Community Development Team to offer free school uniform to the community. This is beneficial in so many ways: helping people to save money as well reusing uniform that is in good condition which otherwise would go to landfill.

          Gardening: There is the West Grange Community Garden, Belle Isle Community Orchard, Fruit picking groups, tree watering. Getting out in the fresh air is a great way to improve your emotional and physical health and the joy of planting something, watching it grow and then being able to eat it is amazing.

          Retirement Life: Volunteers support the groups that runs out of 26 and 58 Belle Isle Circus and Broom Nook. Bingo, providing breakfast sandwiches and meals, art groups. This can be a vital point of contact for some of our more isolated tenants.

          Ancestry: The Ancestry Group continues and meets every Friday at 26 Belle Isle Circus. The group is going strong after many years.

          Litter Picking: People give their time to keep their areas free of litter. People often call into the GATE to collect purple bags to use in the disposal of the rubbish they gather.

          Repair Café: From sewing fixers to cobblers, from electrical to jewellery fixers. Our army of fixers is growing and diversifying. This is brilliant – it means we can save people money as well as throwing items aeay that are still useful.

          Foodbank: The Volunteers at the Friday Foodbank are not BITMO Volunteers but without their vital support people would not have access to food.

          There will also be many people who volunteer at other places across Belle Isle as well as across the City.


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            Listen to BITMO News for Belle Isle Tenants – May 2024

            We are pleased to be able to offer a version of the BITMO monthly email to Belle Isle tenants that you can listen to.

            You can read the tenant email here.

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              BITMO News for Belle Isle Tenants – April 2024

              Every month BITMO sends an email to tenants with updates about BITMO services and local events. April’s edition covers:

              • Stronger, safer, greener Belle Isle
              • Getting rid of waste and unwanted items
              • Community Development News – repair café, GATE programme
              • Who is responsible for fences?
              • Help with CVs and job interviews

              You can read the April email here.

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                BITMO News for Belle Isle Tenants – March 2024

                Every month BITMO sends an email to tenants with updates about BITMO services and local events. March’s edition covers:

                • Warmer Homes in Windmill Road 
                • News about your rent 
                • News from BITMO’s GATE 
                • Belle Isle Gala 
                • Tree planting – can you help?
                • Belle Isle Makeovers

                You can read March’s edition here.

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                  BITMO News for Belle Isle Tenants – February 2024

                  Every month BITMO emails tenants with updates about BITMO’s services and news that may interest Belle Isle residents. You can read the email here.

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                    A positive mood at BITMO

                    by BITMO Chief Executive, Deborah Kelly

                    We are in a positive mood at BITMO at the start of 2024. Lots of hard work is coming together to launch our enhanced service offers. First off, we are improving how we approach kitchen repairs. Where we can’t match kitchen units and worktops, we will replace all of them, if that will extend the life of the kitchen significantly.  Belle Isle tenants have made it clear that they don’t want to have to put up with mismatched kitchen units. This will save us money in the long run as the frames are usually in perfectly fine condition.

                    We’ve worked through the list of landlord and tenant responsibilities on repairs and identified over 30 enhancements to the standard repairs offer. Examples are repairing or replacing outside doors and unblocking sinks.

                    Our Winter Warmth Campaign this year proved very successful. Having carried out thermal imaging surveys; we’ve approached the households whose homes are the least energy efficient and who are on benefits to offer a package of goods to help them stay cosy in the winter months. We have given warm goods like blankets, hot water bottles worth a total of £10,000 to 114 Belle Isle households.

                    We have a regular food offer three days a week, cooked by food safety trained volunteers from a new restaurant quality kitchen and a new food bank that runs every Friday.

                    As well as our Repairs Café, and Cinema Club, you may not have known that we provide free English and Maths tutoring and a hot meal once a week to primary school aged children. This is part of our effort to improve the life chances of people who live in Belle Isle. Our financial inclusion offer has generated £267k of extra income for our residents.

                    We have launched a tool library, that will help people in maintaining their homes and gardens. Tenants can borrow things like stepladders, hedge trimmers and push lawnmowers. On top of this we are delighted to report that in most areas customer service and performance are going from strength to strength. We have raised our game in terms of rent collection, from being near the bottom of the housing offices in Leeds a few years ago to being at or close to the top.

                    There are chances for Belle Isle tenants to work with BITMO to improve the area. You could become a BITMO shareholder, a Board Member, volunteer to help run community activities, take part in estate inspections or link up with your neighbours for things like walking groups, litter picking or a summer fun day. There’s the Belle Isle Gala coming up on Saturday 6 July at Windmill School from 12-3pm. You are welcome to just enjoy the day, but you could also volunteer to help or to run your own stall. To find out more call Tracey or Jo in our Community Development Team on 0113 378 2190 or 07891 270094.

                    Strong and improving customer service and performance is supported by strong and improving staff satisfaction. Completing an annual staff satisfaction survey is an important part of our two-way communication at BITMO. We have regular one-to-one meetings between staff and managers, team meetings and written briefings. An annual survey provides the chance to focus at a team level on the parts of work life that improve staff loyalty and commitment and those which take away from it. BITMO staff tell us that they are engaged (81%), empowered (75%), well managed (88%) and that BITMO really supports their wellbeing (85%).

                    This year we will be asking Belle Isle tenants to put their faith in us to continue to provide landlord services through a ballot in September. We hope that we are doing enough to earn that privilege.

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                      Free food and activities all summer

                      For the third year running, BITMO is offering free food and activities for three days a week for the whole summer.

                      There are events every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

                      You can read more about what is happening on each day here.

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