Square Building Trust tenants to be surveyed

Square Building Trust tenants are to be surveyed about the services provided by our managing agent Bernicia and these have been sent through letter boxes in the last week or so.

A survey is carried out every few years to measure the satisfaction rates tenants have for any works carried out by Bernicia.

It allows the Trust to compare satisfaction rates against each survey period and helps us look at where improvements may need to be made if necessary.

The survey is being run by an independent survey company M.E.L. Research.

Vice-Chair of the Trust and lead on tenant involvement Kris Grey said: "It is very important that we hear from our tenants as it's key to helping us understand not only what is working well but also areas which may not be working so well.  The Trust has always been proud of its record of providing high quality affordable housing and maintaining our housing stock so we need to know how tenants feel about the services they receive."

The survey can be completed on line if people prefer - the instructions on how to do this are in the letter - or they can complete and return the printed survey in the envelope provided free of charge.  The deadline is Monday 7 February 2022.

There is also an opportunity to be put into a prize draw for a £100 shopping voucher when anyone completes the survey.


New Chair appointed to Trust

At the AGM on September 28th 2021 the Trust recognised the work of the out-going Chair, William Southern, who joined the Trust in 1996. 

Bill brought a wide range of expertise and knowledge from his career in housing with local authorities to the Trust committee and the members praised his leadership since he became Chair in 2001.

He will be succeeded by the current Vice-Chair Peter Matthew.

Bill said: “Although I feel it is the time to hand over the role of Chair, I will continue to be a member of the Committee and support the future efforts and aims of the Trust. 

"I would like to thank everyone who has enabled me to carry out my role as Chair, particularly Peter Matthew, John Blakemore (Trust Secretary), Keith Armstrong (Treasurer) and our Committee advisor Colin Garbutt.  I would also like to thank our managing agents, Bernicia.”

Peter & Bill handover

Bill is pictured (right) with the new Chair Peter Matthew (left).

Trust marks another successful year

Despite the major challenges presented over the last year due to Covid, the Square Building Trust (SBT) Committee heard at its AGM how the Trust managed to respond to tenant’s immediate needs and maintain a good financial position.

While the Trust’s cyclical maintenance plan was unable to be achieved due to the restrictions of Covid on both the workforce and tenants, the Trust underlined its commitment to providing quality housing which is maintained to a high standard.

Out-going SBT Chair (see story) William Southern said at the meeting: “We recognise that the past year and the previous year have been very challenging and unprecedented for both our managing agents, Bernicia, and our tenants.  While the Covid restrictions have prevented us from doing much of our regular cycle of work, we want to reassure tenants that we are not losing our focus to ensure our homes are well maintained and fit for the 21st Century.

“Our annual Estate Tour, which we managed to organise in August this year within Covid constraints, gave us the opportunity to listen to tenants and hear their views on a range of issues which we will be looking at in further detail.

SBT Executive Sept 2021

Left to right: Bill Southern (Chair), Jeannie McMillan (Bernicia), Peter Matthew (Vice Chair), Keith Armstrong (Treasurer) and John Blakemore (Secretary).

Important Information about rents

4 February 2021

From 1 April 2021 rents will be increased in line with government policy and we want to tell you more about this in advance of your formal notification.

Government policy allows rents to be increased by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) + 1%.

CPI is a national measure that is calculated by taking price changes for certain goods and services and averaging them. The CPI rate used is from September of the previous year, in this instance September 2020.

CPI for September 2020 was 0.5% which means rents can be increased by 1.5% for the year commencing 1 April 2021.

Rent is our primary source of income and enables us to deliver a good level of investment and service. However, to maintain this and do more for our tenants, rental growth is necessary.

All of the income we receive from rents is reinvested in existing homes and services and in providing much needed new homes across the North East. The last year has certainly proved how important a good quality home is.

We need to keep investing to make sure homes remain well maintained and safe and become more energy efficient.

First and foremost, we are committed to making sure the rent you pay remains affordable now and into the future.

Therefore, the CPI + 1% increase will be applied from 1 April 2021.

In terms of money this means that the average rent of £77.41 charged in 20/21 will increase to £78.48 from 1 April 2021.

The rents remain fully eligible for housing benefit and the housing cost element of Universal Credit. We offer a number of ways to pay and advice and support is available when help is needed.

Very soon tenants will receive formal rent increase notification which will set out the new rent and charges from April 2021.

This year we’ve worked with tenants to produce an improved notification that includes a lot more information about the help available and how the rent is spent.

Please read the notification carefully and make sure you inform any organisations who need to know about the changes

If you’re concerned about the rent increase and would like some advice on claiming benefits or managing your money, please call Bernicia on 0344 800 3800.

 On behalf of the Square Building Trust Committee.


Square Building Trust AGM September 2020

This year has been a strange one for most of us but for the Square Building Trust it was the first year in its 91-year history that it was unable to meet face to face for its annual general meeting (AGM).

With everyone geared up to use Zoom we managed to carry out this important annual milestone event.

The members of the Committee heard that despite a challenging year we were in good financial health and were continuing to provide essential services to our tenants.

While our cyclical maintenance and improvements programme such as replacing kitchens and bathrooms had to be put on hold due to the restrictions of Covid-19, we still managed to maintain essential repairs.

Bill Southern, our Chairman, said: “While we’ve been held back due to the pandemic I am very pleased that our managing agents Bernicia have been able to continue to provide essential services to our tenants and I want to thank all of the staff at Bernicia involved in managing our properties throughout this difficult time.”

Thanks were also given to the financial teams at both Bernicia and our auditors, Tait Walker, for preparing the financial reports for the AGM.

The Committee also re-elected the Trust’s officers with Bill Southern continuing as Chairman, Peter Matthew as Vice-Chairman, John Blakemore as Secretary and Keith Armstrong as Treasurer.

The Committee also welcomed its newest member, Neil Storey.

The Trust is continuing to support its tenants and we look forward to a time when Covid-19 restrictions no longer delay our long-term plans to improve and maintain our properties.

SBT AGM by Zoom 8.9.20

Vice Chair, Peter Matthew (highlighted) guides the Trust's committee members and advisors through their first ever socially distanced meeting by 'Zoom'.


23 June 2020

It’s been almost 3 months since I last wrote to you. At that time I explained about the measures Bernicia had put in place in response to the, then, developing Coronavirus (also known as Covid-19) outbreak.

A lot has happened in the last 3 months and unfortunately it’s inevitable that some of us will have experienced the worst consequences of Coronavirus. At Bernicia our thoughts go out to anyone who has been affected by the virus.

Lockdown has been difficult but absolutely essential in controlling the virus. By playing our part and, sticking to government guidelines we’re now in a position to start getting a little more back to normal. This means we can start resuming some of the services that had to be temporarily changed or limited because of our effort to control the virus and keep people safe.

As Square Building Trust’s managing agent, the following information is intended to give you an update on what you can expect as Bernicia starts to return to normal service delivery.

I must stress that we’ll continue to follow government guidance as it’s published, which may mean changing our plans, so please check our website www.bernicia.com for any updates.

Health and safety

I really can’t stress enough how important this is. Keeping you and our staff safe whilst delivering services remains our utmost priority.

A lot of our work is done inside your homes therefore before we visit or enter your home we’ll continue to ask if you have any Coronavirus symptoms or if you are self isolating or shielding.

When we’re in your home we’ll maintain safe distance and where needed we’ll wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

You can also help by answering our questions, providing clear access routes through your home by opening all doors that lead to the area where we need to be and maintaining safe social distance by moving and staying in a separate room. We’ll complete work or conduct business quickly and wherever possible within one visit.

Our safe systems of work have been developed to fully meet government guidance on 'Working safely during Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Other people’s homes’.

Office access and phone lines

Our office in Ashington will remain closed to the public. Over the next few weeks some staff will start returning to their work places and alongside this we’ll consider how we can safely start to receive visitors in our reception areas.

In the meantime if you need to deliver anything to us for example a letter or keys, post box facilities are available at the office.

Telephone lines continue to operate as usual, so please ring 0344 800 3800 and one of our Contact Advisors will be there to speak to you.

As services resume, telephone lines are likely to become busier so please be patient if you do have to wait a little longer for your call to be answered.

Alternatively, visit our website www.bernicia.com which is regularly updated with news and information.


As explained in my last letter Bernicia’s own Property Maintenance Division have taken over your repair service after, sadly, Burridge ceased to trade. Because of the Coronavirus outbreak we had to temporarily move to an emergency and urgent repair service and scale back on undertaking non urgent, routine repairs.

Now we’re in a position to start to reintroduce our full repairs service, including carrying out non urgent repairs, using the safe systems of work described earlier. In reintroducing our full service, we’ll:

  • Continue to prioritise emergency and urgent repairs.
  • Undertake repairs to external areas such as walls, fences, gates, roofs etc. This started again on 21 May 2020.
  • Make appointments for repairs that had been suspended or held. This process commenced on 1 June 2020.
  • From 15th June offer appointments for any newly reported repairs.

Over the last 3 months a back log of repairs has, inevitably, been created so please be patient while we work through this. This may mean waiting a little longer for appointments for newly reported repairs.

Safety checks and appliance servicing

Our servicing programme has continued. This has been, and remains, vitally important to make sure the appliances in your home are safe.

We’ll work around self-isolation periods and those who are shielded. Sometimes due to the type and age of appliances, the risk of not carrying out the service can be high. I can assure you that in these situations we are able put in place safe working practices, including for people who are shielded. We absolutely respect and understand the extra risks people who are clinically vulnerable face and rest assured

our safe ways of working have been designed to reflect such needs.

When your service is due please continue to let us in and be assured we have, and will take every precaution to make sure we work safely in your home.


If you’re having difficulty paying your rent please get in touch, I’m here to advise and support you.

If you can’t get out to pay your rent, I can help you find another way to do this.

If your income has reduced or changed and you‘re finding it hard maintaining payments, I can help you claim benefits and signpost you to advice on how to manage your money. Bernicia can even help you get into or ready for employment.

Moving home

Moving home is now possible and we resumed our full lettings service on 21 May 2020.

If you’ve been offered another Square Building Trust or Bernicia home and are self isolating or shielding we’ll work around these periods to ensure you get the home you need.

When you’re to be offered another Square Building Trust property we’ll need to visit you to check your current home. This will be done by a prearranged appointment and our staff will use safe systems of work when in your home.

Anti-social behaviour

Cases will continue to be prioritised to ensure we deal with the most serious of  these.

Face to face interviews will still only take place in extreme circumstances. As most information can be taken over the telephone or exchanged via email, limiting interview situations will not stop cases being managed and progressed.

Please continue to report anti-social behaviour or any concerns you have. Antisocial behaviour is taken very seriously and you shouldn’t suffer because of it.

Landscaping and cleaning

These services will continue as normal, however there may have been some changes to programmes and visits due to our contractors not being able to share vehicles.

Moving forward

On behalf of Square Building Trust, Bernicia has continued to deliver a range of services throughout this difficult time and we’re extremely grateful to you for your support and understanding.

Whilst some restrictions have been relaxed, our approach will continue to reflect our primary aim of keeping our tenants, customers and staff safe. We also need to be mindful that if the virus isn’t controlled, additional measures could be re imposed.

It really is up to us all to stay alert, control the virus and save lives.

Therefore we’ll continually review our methods of service delivery against government guidance as we move, in a thoroughly planned way, towards resuming full service delivery.

We’ll update our website with any further changes and let you know personally if there’s anything fundamental that directly affects you.

The outbreak and risk of Coronavirus remains a concerning situation and although we’re all working through this, there remains many difficulties for us to jointly overcome.

Please be assured that Bernicia will continue to do as much as it can to support tenants, customers and communities.

Remember always follow the government guidance which can be found on www.nhs.com.

I would again thank you for your patience and cooperation whilst we reintroduce your services and hope this letter finds you safe and well.

Yours sincerely
Sharon Firmin
Housing Officer


1 June 2020

A special video featuring the life of the Square Building Trust founder Rowland Lishman was prepared for Local History Month for the Old Low Light Heritage Centre.

To view the video click on the link below which will take you to the OLL youtube channel.


IMPORTANT - Information for Tenants

19 March 2020

I’ve some important information that we (Bernicia) need to share with you.

Firstly, unfortunately PF Burridge have ceased to trade therefore Bernicia’s Property Maintenance Team will take over as your repair contractor with immediate effect.

Secondly and more importantly I need to tell you about what has been put in place with regard to service delivery as the Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) develops.

First and foremost we want to assure you that the health, safety and wellbeing of Square Building Trust’s tenants and residents and our own staff is an absolute priority for us.

On a daily basis the government is issuing and updating information on how the spread of Coronavirus can be contained and delayed

In relation to your own wellbeing please follow the government’s advice which is always up to date and can be found on www.nhs.uk. Advice is also provided through a government media campaign so listen out for any new developments

As Square Building Trust’s service provider we need to make some changes to the way we do things. These changes will, understandably, bring some limitations to normal service delivery but are designed to ensure that we keep you and your home safe and that we are there when you need us. They are designed in accordance with government advice, particularly in relation to limiting social contact, as we all try to do our bit to help manage the Coronavirus outbreak. These changes apply to both Square Building Trust and Bernicia tenants.

The following questions and answers are designed to tell you about what’s been put in place and what you can expect during this difficult time. I must reiterate however that this is our approach at this current time, things are changing constantly in response to government advice and our staff resource levels, so you are advised to also check our website for the most up to date information.

Will your office still be open?

Our office in Ashington is now closed to the public. If you need to deliver something to us, for example a letter or you need to return keys, post box facilities are available at our Ashington office.

Telephone lines will operate as normal, so please either ring 0344 800 3800 or visit our website www.bernicia.com if you need to report something or require any information or help. As your Housing Officer, for anything urgent, you can contact me directly on 0191 238 3181.

What will happen with repairs service?

We are focussed on maintaining this critical service. For a period of time we will be scaling back on non-urgent repairs, but still operating an emergency and urgent repair service. Urgent repairs will be limited to things that might turn into emergencies if we don’t fix these.

Our emergency service will still operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

If you still want to report non urgent repairs we can record these but we’ll not be able to currently offer you an appointment or give you a timescale for completion.

What if my heating is due to be serviced?

Making sure heating appliances are safe is extremely important therefore we’ll carry on as normal with our servicing programme.

We’ll need access to your home so please continue to let us in and be assured we have taken every precaution to ensure our staff can work safely in your home.

Will I have to disclose if I am self isolating or have any symptoms related to the virus?

We’ll ask you a series of questions before and at the time we visit your home. Please don’t be offended by these, our only intention is to make sure risks of transferring the virus are minimised.

Will communal areas still be cleaned?

At present there will be no change to this service, our contractors will continue to visit with safe working practices in place.

How will I pay my rent if I can’t leave my home?

There are a number of ways to do this without having to worry about social distancing.

You can pay over the phone via the Allpay automated service by ringing 0330 041 6497.

If you don’t like automated services you can ring us and we’ll take your payment.

You can also make payments through the Allpay website www.allpay.com or by using the Allpay app or text messaging service.

The easiest and safest way to pay your rent is by direct debit, you can do this directly through Allpay or if you need any help just give us a ring.

What happens if my income is reduced?

We recognise the impacts of Coronavirus are far reaching and people may be affected financially, for example if businesses reduce services or close.

If you face such circumstances please get in touch, you may be entitled to help towards your rent or may need some advice on what can be done to help manage your payments. The important thing is that you keep us informed, we are here to help.

I’m waiting to move to another Square Building Trust property, will this still go ahead?

We’ll continue to repair and relet homes as they become empty. So if you are to move home this will still happen but with safe working practices in place.

What if I am a victim of anti-social behaviour?

Cases will be prioritised as we may be only able to deal with the most serious of these.

Face to face interviews will only take place in extreme circumstances, again with safe working practices in place.

Most information can be taken over the telephone or by email or letter therefore limiting interview situations will not stop cases being managed and progressed.

Moving forward

 At this point no-one can fully predict how Coronavirus will develop therefore we’ll review the situation on a daily basis and make adjustments to manage this and restore business as usual when its right to do so.

We’ll update our website with any further changes and let you know personally if there is anything fundamental we need to tell you about.

The outbreak of Coronavirus is a very concerning situation and we are facing difficult times, rest assured we are, and will continue to do as much as we can to support tenants and residents of Square Building Trust.

We thank you for your patience and cooperation whilst we work through these difficult times and hope you take care and stay well.

Yours sincerely 

Sharon Firman
Housing Officer

Tenants Newsletter Competition Results

The question was "Which famous Scottish poet wrote the words to the popular New Years Eve song - Auld Lang Syne?"

The answer was Robert Burns (we also accepted Rabbie Burns!).

The prize of a £25 shopping voucher and goody bag went to a gentleman in Howdon Road.  The runners-up, who both won goody bags, were a lady from Wheldon House and a lady from Howdon Road.

We hope you continue to enjoy reading the Tenants Newsletter. 

Robert Burns

90th anniversary competition

As you may recall we ran a special 90th anniversary competition on the back of the recent Square Building Trust tenants newsletter.

The question was - In what year was the Square Building Trust set up? - and the answer was 1929.

The first winning correct entry picked at random to win a £25 voucher and 90th anniversary goody bag was a lady from All Saints Court - so congratulations!

The two next correct entries who won a 90th anniversary goody bag each were a gentleman from Howdon Road and a gentleman from Henderson Court - so well done to them too!SBT goodies_3194


To thank everyone who took the time to enter the competition we gave them a Square Building Trust pen and post-it-note.

Trust celebrates 90th anniversary

The Square Building Trust, established in 1929 in response to poor housing conditions in the town, recently celebrated its 90th anniversary.

SBT commitee 90th

Pictured: Members of the Square Building Trust committee

The trust marked this significant milestone with a special service at St Columba’s UR Church in Northumberland Square on Sunday 24 March led by the Revd. Trevor Jamison.

The trust was started by the men and women of the Northumberland Square Presbyterian Church bible classes after hearing a talk about the terrible housing conditions in the town.

Under the direction of North Shields businessman and bible class leader, Rowland Lishman, they decided to have a fundraising campaign selling ‘shilling bricks’ and remarkably reached their target in only one week.

Six months later the first new family houses were built off Hawkey’s Lane and this was followed a few years later in 1936 by 48 flats and a nursery on Howdon Road.

The Trust has continued over the years to build several housing projects, including specialist accommodation for adults with special needs and for people with disabilities.

All of the properties are now managed by Bernicia which became the Trust’s managing agent in 2014.

Trust chair, Bill Southern, said: “It is remarkable what those men and women were able to raise during a time of extreme economic hardship and indeed many of them were themselves unemployed.

“In our 90th year we celebrate those pioneers of the past and also look towards the future. The Trust has remained true to those early ideals while still meeting the needs of our tenants in the 21st Century.”

Members of the Trust Committee, staff from Bernicia and descendants of Rowland Lishman attended the service with the congregation of the church.


Peter Matthew & Lily Gardner SBT 90th

Pictured: Peter Matthew (Vice Chair, SBT) cuts the anniversary cake with long-term tenant Lily Gardner

Trust shares its heritage on Open Day

The Trust was invited to put on a display at St Columba’s Church for the annual Heritage Open Day which took place over the weekend of 8th/9th September.

As well as the usual display stand, there were also archive documents and press cuttings from the last 80+ years since the trust began in 1929.

Also on the display was a photo of the Trust’s first Honorary President, the late Margaret Grey. After the open day this photo will be hung permanently in the Lishman Room at the church where the Trust meets every quarter.

Heritage open day_01 Heritage open day_02

Significant investment for historic flats

The 48 one and two bedroomed flats on Howdon Road in North Shields were some of the very first built by the Square Building Trust, being completed in 1936.

Although the Trust has had a long-standing scheduled annual maintenance programme in place for these popular properties, in 2016 it was recognised that a significant investment was needed to address some of the exterior and landscaping issues which had arisen over time.

In partnership with our managing agents, Bernicia, we undertook a tenant consultation process including an open day in July 2016 to collect views and ideas from residents on the various options as well as providing feedback forms to all residents with a specially produced newsletter to update on the programme.

Howdon Road 1413

A proposed budget of just over £200,000 was identified and this enabled us to replace all of the upper storey railings, refurbish the underside of the balconies and other external decoration and also significantly improve the door entry and stair areas in each of the blocks.

Howdon Road 2034

It also allowed us to improve the flat’s external environment particularly at the back of the properties such as putting in bin store screening, tidying up the gravelled areas and amending some of the planting alongside the adjoining land.

Bill Southern, Chairman of Square Building Trust, said of the improvements: “We pride ourselves on being a listening and responsive landlord, providing good quality homes which people want to live in. I believe these works at Howdon Road have been very much welcomed by our tenants and make the flats an attractive option for those seeking this kind of property.

“I am also very grateful to Bernicia for their project management and of course the tenants for their most valuable input.”

Howdon Road 2084

Trust celebrates success at 89th AGM

The Square Building Trust board celebrated another successful year at its 89th Annual General Meeting on 30th January.

Although our development ambitions are challenged by a number of factors, we have achieved a number of improvement and maintenance goals for the year.

Our continued investment in our major scheme at Howdon Road and improvement plans for other properties such as Wheldon House are progressing and we aim to ensure we are providing excellent quality homes for our existing and future tenants.

Our relationship with our managing agents Berncia continues to develop well and we have received first class support and advice from officers on a range of issues.

The board heard that our financial position was very healthy and we continue to look at opportunities to invest wherever possible.

The board also heard an interesting and informative presentation from Monica Burns, External Affairs Manager from the National Housing Federation. Monica outlined recent national initiatives and the challenges and opportunities for smaller housing trusts and praised the board for its good governance procedures and plans for supporting and developing the board’s roles and responsibilities.

The Chairman, Bill Southern, took the opportunity to highlight the recent sad passing of the Trust’s first Honorary President, Margaret Grey, who had served for over 66 years as a member of the committee. Her commitment and insight was particularly recognised.


Pictured: (back L-R) Jeanie McMillan (Director of Housing Services, Bernicia), Peter Matthew (Vice Chair, SBT) and (front L-R), Bill Southern (Chair, SBT) and Keith Armstrong (Treasurer, SBT)

Heritage Open Day display at St Columba's URC 9th & 10th September 2017

The Square Building Trust exhibition was on display as part of the Open Heritage events taking place all over the region on the weekend of 9th/10th September.

The display was seen by visitors and congregation members of St Columba's Church which was open to the public on Saturday.

As well as information about the Trust and its work, the Church also displayed photographs of the Men's Bible Class, which under the leadership of Rowland Lishman began the work of the Trust during the depression in the 1920s.

HOD display

The Square Building Trust 88th AGM – 31st January 2017

Members of the Committee and representatives of our managing agent, Bernicia, attended the 88th AGM of the Trust.

A review of the Trust’s year including achievements and developments was presented at the meeting as well as the year’s accounts. We have had another successful year and continued to maintain our homes to high standards and achieved high satisfaction rates from our tenants. We have also strengthened our governance and business planning with the acceptance of updated Rules and Standing Orders and the development of a five year business plan.

We continue to be in a strong financial position and have invested significantly in a number of our properties over the last year, particularly the supported living units and at Howdon Road. Our Chairman, Bill Southern, praised the support and advice of the staff team at Bernicia and their on-going help in developing the skills of the Committee.

We look forward to the coming year and renewed our commitment to develop opportunities to meet the housing needs of local residents where it is most needed.

SBT officers & Jeannie2
Pictured at the AGM: Jeannie McMillan (Bernicia), Keith Armstrong (SBT Treasurer), Bill Southern (SBT Chairman) and Peter Matthew (SBT Vice Chairman)