Gateshead Council Digital Switch

Gateshead Council run their own in-house monitoring and response centre for all of their housing stock including general needs and specialist housing.

Gateshead Council run their own in-house monitoring and response centre for all of their housing stock including general needs and specialist housing. This includes approximately 3,000 community alarms in people’s homes in the area – a traditional telecare offer. Gateshead run a planned cycle of renewal for all of their properties and customers on a 10 year cycle, so when it came to preparing for the digital switchover they joined this up with their normal renewal programme to make sure they were ready. It also meant they had good knowledge of what was already in situ and could adapt their approach accordingly – from complete renewal for some properties to small tweaks to relatively new technology.

Gateshead developed a 5 year plan for digital switchover which included upgrades in properties, upgrading the ARC and platform, and upgrading community alarms. They set aside an additional £250k of capital funding to deliver the programme, and are currently in year 4.  This covered housing management and safety technology (e.g. fire alarms) as well as telecare solutions

So far they have upgraded most of the properties that they own and manage, and are making progress in upgrading and transforming the ARC. For the ARC the focus has been on creating a platform to improve how the ARC operates and to increase data capability both for running the services and also to create a future proof platform for greater exploitation of data and digital capability in the longer term.  The ARC will soon be paperless thanks to a new workflow system.

They left community alarms until the later stages of the programme and have currently renewed 500 community alarms in people’s homes. The team have established a procurement framework to make purchasing of equipment flexible and fast, allowing them to purchase technologies from a range of providers to meet different needs.

Over the course of the programme they have learned a lot, not least from the recent storms that hit the northeast badly and left some homes without power for 10 days. Speaking to Lorinda Russell who heads up the service in Gateshead she highlighted the key points below

  • charging policy and tenancy agreements: digital technology costs more and there are greater on-going costs for users. The Council has taken the decision to fund the equipment themselves, and they have reviewed their charging policy so that residents bear the on-going increased costs. Making sure tenancy agreements are clear about who is responsible for what has also been important.
  • communication and awareness: the council have written to all residents with basic information and advice so that people know that the change is coming and can be proactive about helping themselves be ready and can involve friends and family if they need help.
  • resilience: during the recent storms their new digital infrastructure was really tested. Gateshead had already taken the decision to include back-up SIMs and battery back-ups in every installation and the need for this was underlined in the recent disruption. For long power outages even the back-up batteries were not sufficient and back-up SIMS are not straightforward. Even with these extra measures, the digital system is not as reliable as the analogue system.
  • procurement: Gateshead have seen that there is real complexity in managing the supply chain, and a need to be really precise about your standards and requirements when purchasing new kit e.g. are ethernet cables included with the digital hub? Based on their experience they are now pulling together detailed procurement guides to really nail down standards.
  • planning: the information provided by the telco’s is patchy and can be difficult to find out which properties are being upgraded when, so Gateshead are pushing forward to keep ahead of the curve. They have also found that there can be the need for properties to be revisited if the kit goes off-line after the initial installation. Upgrades from suppliers can cause the kit to go off-line without warning; many people can’t restart their digital hubs themselves; this has been a hidden cost and increased the workload for busy installers.

Despite some of these challenges, Gateshead are in a great place and are starting to think about how some of the benefits of digital technology can be exploited medium term. The plan in Gateshead is that by 2025 they won’t have any technology in place that isn’t digitally compliant and they are well on the way to achieving this.