Our Chief Executive, Bill Fullen, recently wrote a blog article for the Chartered Institute of Housing North East Conference.
It’s great to be asked to be part of the opening panel session at this month’s Chartered Institute of Housing North East Conference at such an important time for housing providers.
I’m writing this on a wet and miserable day that on the surface looks spectacularly uneventful. But we’re in the midst of the latest coronavirus related changes, so every day is eventful as we work out what the next raft of measures means for ourselves, our families or friends, and of course our businesses. I’m pretty confident that the challenges that come from these changes will dominate conversations during the CIH North East conference.
Each of the changes has had massive implications, not just for day-to-day living but also for sentiment throughout the nation. From a housing providers point of view, this change in sentiment has probably been more important than the actual changes in restrictions as summer gave way to autumn.
The most noticeable change in sentiment recently has been towards greater local decision making and accountability. We’ve seen local leaders, particularly from the north of England, stand up and demand greater control for their communities. The fact that our normally very London-centric broadcast and print media has echoed these calls is particularly noteworthy.
Like many people, I’m expecting many of the changes that were brought on by the pandemic to give rise to long-term shifts. But I say that not as a pessimist; I think the shift towards localism is a great example of how housing organisations are better placed than most for the challenges that Covid-19 continues to create.
There are few businesses that know their local area better than a housing association. I can almost guarantee that every one of them has a small army of hugely knowledgeable staff that know, not just about each town or village, but each street and house … and importantly the individual people and families involved.
That’s a massive asset and will help to make sure that housing associations can be at the forefront of any move towards greater local accountability and presence. The acceleration of working away from the office environment created by the coronavirus pandemic can only be a benefit to staff who now get to spend more of their time focussed on the community rather than commuting.
If there are any positives to take from the awful coronavirus crisis we’re living through, it is that the pace of innovation has if anything grown to combat the changes to our lives. The challenges we have faced has brought out some of the best in people as we pulled together to find solutions to whatever was thrown at us.
At believe housing we shifted to working from home in hours. We had even our contact centre colleagues working remotely before the government formally announced their lockdown position at the outset of the pandemic. I know many others managed similar feats. I’m pretty sure such a massive change would have taken months ordinarily.
Throughout the pandemic, for many our homes have been our sanctuary. The role of a good, high-quality and well-maintained home has never been more important.
Sadly, the importance of having support available to keep people safe in their home has been brought into sharp focus as well. From domestic abuse and suicide prevention, to advice on debt and welfare benefits, we’ve had to increase the support we offer to help customers through the pandemic. The staff who stepped up to the plate to provide that support, often in incredibly difficult circumstances, deserve all of the credit they receive. It’s a level of support that few, if any, private sector housing providers will ever be able to offer.
Thanks to our resilience and adaptability, housing associations are uniquely placed to bring more people into genuinely affordable, safe homes; with a dedicated repairs service on hand, come what may. We can use our construction programmes to help boost the economy in our local areas by renewing our focus on using local skills and suppliers. And we can provide targeted support for our customers if they struggle through the dark days and nights in a way that no private sector house builder is ever going to do.
We’ve got specially trained teams to help customers who are really struggling with the isolation and loneliness of the coronavirus restrictions just as much as they’re finding the financial strains challenging. We’re already growing and developing that approach as we can see that, sadly, demand is not diminishing. We’ve already saved lives through the support we’ve offered to our customers and I know what that means to everyone involved.
We’re already doing quite a lot, both as a sector and as individual organisations. But we know we can do so much more … More great homes to transform lives, more for our communities, more for our economy. We’re in a great position to do all of that, with just a little extra support from the right places.
If everyone expects more they can achieve more and we can transform lives together. It is this power of more that will let people realise what is possible – change perceptions raise ambitions and create vibrant communities
Difficult times often bring out the best in people and organisations. I still believe in a positive future and I think the opportunities for housing associations to lead the way in creating that positive future are more clear than ever.
The CIH North East summit will give delegates the opportunity to hear how we’re responding in these challenging times but more importantly it will look to the future and start to focus on recovery.