Civica‘s Justin Fisher looks at how housing associations are developing better relationships in the wake of the Grenfell fire
After the independent review of building regulations and fire safety, a new Golden Thread policy is calling for accurate and up-to-date information on buildings and their construction. Aside from the issue of gathering data, this presents a new challenge: how can organisations keep residents informed and encourage them to contribute to the discussion?
Since the Grenfell Tower fire, housing organisations have been trying to reassess the safety of their housing stock while the Government has been developing legislation to ensure this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen again.
The emerging legal landscape has led to big changes within many housing providers. Some are putting new team structures in place. Others are committing to ambitious plans for renovations. And at the same time, these organisations are trying to communicate to residents everything that’s happening. Our first Civica roundtable on the future of social housing set out to ask: how can housing organisations encourage people to get involved and have their say?
A complicated, urgent situation
The legislation is still emerging, but housing associations realise it’s best to get ahead of the game. For many, now seems to be the time to act and get everything in order before the legal landscape changes permanently.
Every organisation and building will need different levels of maintenance or renovation. And getting residents more involved in the process is a common challenge across the sector.
Each resident is different. Even within different categories, there can be huge diversity. For example, retirement housing could encompass a 50-year age range, from 55 to 105.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to engage people. In fact, there are often significant barriers to engagement in conversations about the building – particularly when finances are involved.
Laying out the golden thread
At the time of the Grenfell disaster, housing organisations had a haphazard assortment of data. They didn’t know what to collect or how long to keep it. Information often came from multiple sources and wasn’t standardised. And when it was collected, it was often classified in unhelpful ways – for example ‘wall finish: other’.
Today, new build houses have a well-established data trail. But on older assets, the information is still incomplete in many cases. In the legislation, organisations will also need to consider who this information is being presented to – residents, landlords, first responders – adding another layer of complexity.
The progress so far
Many housing organisations are still establishing their processes. Organisations have a different mix of housing types and locations, so each will have to develop the best solution to meet their needs.
For example, Anchor Hanover has properties across the country in 93% of local authorities. Regular in-person meetings with resident representatives just aren’t practical. Instead, the team need to rely more heavily on digital tools. In contrast, Your Housing Group has a more concentrated geography and puts a strong focus on estate walkabouts.
Housing providers have a wide array of tools to engage residents, including surveys and forms, meetings, panels and boards, dedicated phonelines and estate walkarounds. And today, there are an increasing number of online communication methods to choose from. Some organisations use existing tools like video conferencing, while others are developing their own tools like custom apps for estate teams to fill in during safety checks, logging conversations with residents as they go. However, many organisations will admit there’s much more to be done.
Learning to take forwards
The roundtable session brought together representatives from a variety of housing organisations. Despite their differences, there were some common goals for the future, including:
- Focus on the truth – even if it’s hard. Honesty is always the best approach, and the only way to ensure a long-term relationship with residents.
- Use a variety of tools for communication. Residents are a diverse bunch and one method won’t capture everything.
- Keep learning about best practice. For example, the NHS shift to foundation trusts brought a new focus on the patient voice – other sectors have been through this journey already.
An ongoing journey
Housing organisations have some big challenges ahead to meet the standards in the Golden Thread policy and emerging legislation. And many organisations feel that it’s not enough to simply meet the standards – they want to exceed them.
Helping residents to understand what’s happening and contribute to the discussion will be vital in the months and years ahead. As the situation evolves, the sector is learning what tools to use and what strategies to employ to make sure that the resident voice is heard loud and clear.