BLOG: Rainbow roofs: building hope and empowerment for LGBT+ social housing tenants
This lived experience blog, written by two LGBTQ+ tenants in north west England – Ged and Jude, is about Rainbow Roofs, a multi-agency customer/tenant-led group for LGBT+ individuals living in […]
Published: 28 Jun, 2023

This lived experience blog, written by two LGBTQ+ tenants in north west England – Ged and Jude, is about Rainbow Roofs, a multi-agency customer/tenant-led group for LGBT+ individuals living in social housing in England’s north west region. Created in 2020, Rainbow Roofs offers support and a sense of community to LGBT+ social housing tenants.

The year 2020. The year of Covid. Ask people about their memories of 2020, and most would answer with their recollections of lockdown; closed shops, face masks, depressing daily government updates of deaths, football played in empty stadiums, and postponed Olympics.

But, for a group of people living in the Northwest of England, 2020 will also be remembered for something far more positive;  something stirring that would bring hope and belief, arising from all the doom and gloom.   That was the year when Rainbow Roofs was born.

Rainbow Roofs is a multi-agency customer/tenant-led group for members of the LGBT+ community who live in social housing across England’s Northwest region.

Set up by Becky Leonard -Dixon, a proud bisexual woman who works in Customer Engagement for the housing provider Home Group, Rainbow Roofs (RR) has grown to become a precious source of support for social housing tenants who belong to the LGBT+ community.

But what makes RR so unique, and why is it so important?

To answer that, we must explore the reasons for its existence. Social housing tenants are often stigmatised as living in cheap, low-quality housing. Those tenants are routinely portrayed, especially by the media, as lazy, on benefits, in dirty houses, with overgrown gardens.

For most tenants, that is grossly unfair and can lead to those very tenants feeling ashamed, degraded, and isolated. But what if you are a social housing tenant and a member of the LGBT + community, another section of society so often marginalised and stigmatised? We only need to look at the figures for anti-social behaviour and hate crime to see that, in the twelve months to March 2022, there was a 56% increase in crime against the transgender community and a 41% increase in crime related to a person’s sexual orientation.

Back in 2020, there already existed an organisation called HouseProud North West, a regional network for social housing providers to improve the way they engage, support and deliver services to their LGBT + communities and their staff (usually referred to as colleagues).

What about the customers themselves, the LGBT+ tenants? Where was their voice?

Step forward, Becky and her vision of a group to provide that voice,  to build a platform for LGBT + tenants. And so, Rainbow Roofs was born.

RR began with a mission:

“we will influence change and are committed to progress.”

The group was to be customer-led, facilitated by staff, with online monthly meetings and occasional face-to-face meets where LGBT+ tenants and staff from housing providers could come together in person.

Under the outstanding and dedicated leadership of Chairperson Tara, RR quickly became a safe place for members to discuss hate crime and its impact on LGBT+ persons, housing for older people, celebrating local LGBT+ heroes, and tackling anti-trans and non-binary sentiments in society.

Jude, a gay woman and tenant of Onward Homes explains her introduction to RR:

” I was encouraged to join Rainbow Roofs during the 2020 lockdown, by a member of Onward staff, Suzanne, as I was isolating due to health issues. [With the group being online] it was a way of me having access to the outside world.”

The RR membership grew and became diverse, with healthy representation from the gay, lesbian, bi, trans and non-binary communities. The group gave a genuine voice to older and disabled LGBT+ tenants.

Jude continues,

“I have made some great friends and  associations with people from different housing groups . It also pulled me closer to my own housing provider and led me to become involved in Onwards Scrutiny board and their equality, diversion and inclusion forum.”

RR started to become more influential in having a genuine impact across the North West, appearing at local Pride events, where tenants and colleagues were able to celebrate alongside each other.

In 2022 RR was part of a HouseProud team who won Best Parade Entry Overall at Manchester Pride. In October 2022, members of RR appeared on stage at a HouseProud conference,  discussing anti-social behaviour; several members were nominated for/won local community awards for their work in the group. They were making their presence felt by being positive.

RR has provided a genuine voice to LGBT+ social housing tenants, which did not exist before its conception. It is essential that the housing sector can work alongside tenants to drive change, shape the future of social housing, and ensure that every community feels valued and safe. Not only safe in their home but safe to speak openly and freely without fear of prejudice or stigma.

Jude continues her story,

“Being in Rainbow Roofs has given me more confidence in myself , more experience. I have appeared on conference panels,  at events  such as the Chartered Institute of Housing conference, HouseProud NW’s anti social behaviour conference , I attend [England’s leading tenant engagement experts] Tpas groups and have appeared in videos discussing housing matters.”

Sadly, Tara has moved on from RR but has left behind a strong legacy for the LGBT+ housing community in north west England. A group fully formed, ready to face the challenges ahead.

As Jude says,

“I am pleased and happy with myself for being given the encouragement to become a more active tenant .It’s hard work and can be frustrating at times but being part of Rainbow Roofs gives me a get up and go to do better, not just for myself but for other tenants, like minded people and , of course, other members of the LGBT+ community. I hope to carry on with my work as long as I can.”

RR is special and vital to its members, as one of its mission quotes says

“we will stand side by side with all our community.”

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