Places After The Pandemic
Covid 19 could offer a once in a lifetime opportunity for housing associations to deliver more with their communities, change how homes are built and adapt services, according to PlaceShapers’ and HACT’s Places After The Pandemic report.
As a PlaceShapers member, SBHG took part in the report, along with more than 100 other organisations. The report shows how housing associations like us adapted during the national lockdown and played a key role as community anchors. It explores how social landlords are fundamentally reviewing their work and their role in places as we look to the future. Places After The Pandemic will be launched on Thursday 17 September at a seminar to discuss the findings and the next steps.
SBHG’s CEO Matt Campion said: “The report is hugely significant in highlighting the key role that housing associations in England played in supporting the residents and communities we serve during the pandemic. I am proud of the numerous ways we supported our residents and the way we quickly adapted our services.
Our residents are at the heart of everything we do and their safety and wellbeing is our priority. As a result of the pandemic, we re-deployed staff and identified our most vulnerable residents. Combined with this, we frequently called our most vulnerable residents – making a total of 4,366 welfare calls. We also provided practical support and guidance to 203 residents.
Although rent arrears have remained stable which is good news, we are concerned that this will be affected when the Government furlough scheme ends. We want to reassure our residents that we will work with them, provide support and remain in close contact with them during this time.
We have taken the opportunity to learn from the circumstances and have improved some services as a result. For example, our Lettings team created a digital tenancy agreement and implemented a digital sign-up process for residents allowing them to sign contracts remotely instead of visiting our office. Additionally, we have been holding online resident group meetings as well as ‘one to one’ resident meetings. These changes have enabled us to make our services more digital, enhance the resident experience, reduce transport emissions and ensure we are operating in a Covid secure manner.This is part of our commitment to respond to the needs of our communities during these difficult and unprecedented times. We’re more than a landlord.”
The report shows that, overall, in the first three months of lockdown, a sample of 42 PlaceShapers members made 300,500 welfare calls, gave advice and guidance to 57,000 people and organised 50,000 food deliveries. Members forged new partnerships with people and organisations in places to make sure support was there for everyone who needed it.
PlaceShapers Chair Matthew Walker said: “The crisis has reinforced our sense of place and the value we place on our homes and neighbourhoods. A decent, affordable home meant living in comfort during lockdown. It meant space to work from home and home school.
“The support social landlords offered became a lifeline for many in frightening, isolated times. Up and down the country we heard stories of the difference landlords made and how they worked together in the places they work.”
This report explores the lessons we’ve learned so far from the Covid-19 pandemic, including how local our view of place is and the importance of building strong, trusting partnerships in places.”
Andrew van Doorn, CEO of HACT, said: “As community anchors, housing associations are in a unique position. We work in place for the long-term. We have the capacity to affect the recovery and reset of communities across the UK now and in the future.”
“There are significant risks ahead of us that we will need to navigate. By working in collaboration, by evaluating and learning from our experience, by being bold in our choices, we will be able to accelerate change, maximise our resources and achieve greater impact as place-based organisations.”
The report concludes:
Place is hyper-local
A landlords’ role in place is often dependent on the number of homes in an area. During lockdown place became hyper-local. Solutions have had to be found at a very local level; signposting to services beyond an immediate vicinity became unviable. This revealed that important ‘actors’ in an area might be people a housing association does not ordinarily consider. For example, local corner shops have become vital community assets, as have grocers, chemists, parks and green space. The challenge has been to support communities and residents at this level, particularly if a relationship has been traditionally be held at a wider place level.
How we understand the home of the future and create spaces that meet an increasing need for multiple use (work, rest and play), has come to the fore. How we create both the spaces and places for the future needs careful and thoughtful consideration. How we deliver standards needed for space and not compromise due to expediency and cost will be challenging. How housing associations adapt their own businesses for this new reality and ensure that their housing management is responsive to the new uses of homes will be key.
A new sense of collaboration between housing associations is emerging and awareness that housing associations working together can accelerate change, stretch their resources, and achieve greater impact. New relationships have also formed, and housing associations have stepped into areas and activity that are new to them. As we move forward, strengthening and developing those relationships further is a key task. Turning new relationships into partnerships and collaboration, must be built into strategies and ways of working.
A new approach to Value for Money
The VfM approach with its focus solely in efficiency no longer feels ‘fit for purpose’ and PlaceShapers may explore with its members, the wider sector, and the regulator, how to move this forward to focus on effectiveness as well.
Having a hyper-local presence is about providing effective services to customers, but also engaging and reassuring them. In the last decade the trend has been to pull teams and services into central locations. With the successful adaptation of remote working, this may no longer be the case. The value of a more community focused operational model has been experienced and welcomed (by some for the first time). Housing associations need to think about how to accelerate this change, but also how to make sure they learn from the past. New operational models that are created need to be vibrant and fit for the future.
Twelve interviews with senior staff, predominantly Chief Executives, of PlaceShapers’ members
Held 5 themed focus groups, with 79 attendees in total, representing 49 housing associations
Drew on monthly data from 42 housing associations
About PlaceShapers (www.placeshapers.org)
PlaceShapers is a national network of more than 100 community-based social housing providers.
All members sign up to these five principles:
Our residents and customers are at the heart of what we do and have genuine impact on our organisations.
We listen and provide more than just landlord services because we care about people and places.
We build homes that respond to the needs of the communities we serve.
Working collaboratively and actively with our local authorities and other local partners enables us to improve and shape places at both a strategic and operational level.
We are run by members, for members and are committed to a diverse, values-driven housing association sector.
About HACT (www.hact.org.uk)
HACT helps housing providers drive forward their social purpose by generating actionable evidence to inform the development of new, smarter, and more connected ways of working.
We’ve being doing this for 60 years. Our ambition is to unleash the creativity and potential of social housing in communities across the UK.