The sector’s best kept secret? How social housing providers enhance inclusion in their communities
Last week, CaCHE and Policy Scotland co-hosted the Scottish Housing Policy Conference 2019, the theme of which was ‘Housing and Inclusive Growth: Revitalising Connections’. In this blog post, Conor Hill, Research and Policy Officer at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), reflects on a panel discussion on how social housing providers can deliver and enhance inclusion in communities.
I was delighted to attend this year’s Scottish Housing Policy Conference, focusing on housing and inclusive growth. I was even more delighted to have the opportunity to participate in one of the parallel sessions, chairing a panel of representatives from social housing providers (and SFHA members) which aimed to answer the question: ‘How can housing providers enhance inclusion in communities?’.
The panellists – Lesley-Anne Junner, Linstone Housing Association; Alan Glasgow, Dunedin Canmore; Anthony Morrow, Sanctuary Group; and Brian Gannon, Thenue Housing Association – shared valuable, practical examples of the ways in which their associations engage with tenants and communities and enhance inclusion. Although different in their approaches and services, some key themes emerged across the work of all four organisations.
As I reflected on the examples provided by the panellists, it became clear that the relationships the housing providers established with their communities were as important as the services they provided. Without building connections based on trust with these communities, people may be reluctant to engage with services.
Lesley-Anne also highlighted that it’s just as important for housing providers to trust their tenants. When speaking about Linstone’s Community Flat project, she explained how empowering tenants to take charge of their own services and allowing them to run their own initiatives from the flat without the supervision of the housing provider has contributed to the initiative’s success.
“Start with what’s strong”
Asset-Based Community Development is based on the principle of empowering communities to use the wealth of skills, knowledge, and lived experience they already possess to make positive change. Anthony explained that it’s this principle that drives his community work: “Start with what’s strong, not with what’s wrong”.
In Asset-Based Community Development, action is taken by communities, rather than things being done for or to them. This approach has delivered clear results. Anthony gave the example of a weekly community breakfast in Priesthill which Sanctuary supported some of its tenant volunteers to set up. Two years later, every aspect of the breakfast is run by volunteers, and invaluable connections have been built among the many members of the local community who attend.
Small changes, big impacts
Brian told the conference about the action Thenue has taken to improve access to digital services and to enhance digital skills in its communities. These initiatives have had impacts beyond the digital realm. For example, using the digital skills they have learned, tenants have been able to save money by shopping online or searching for better energy deals. This, in turn, has had a positive effect on rent arrears.
While we can often imagine the digital world in isolation, Brian’s examples show the far-reaching impacts that building confidence with and improving access to digital services can have for tenants and communities.
The panellists at the session clearly demonstrated the positive effects that social housing providers can have for tenants. However, one theme that emerged was that we, in the social housing sector, don’t necessarily do enough to share this!
Alan provided examples of a huge number of services available to tenants in Dunedin Canmore homes, from meet and greet events in neighbourhoods to a service which provides second-hand furniture and white goods to help people get started in their new homes. The challenge is making sure that people are aware of the fantastic range of services that are available to them as social housing tenants.
In addition to raising awareness among tenants, one audience member remarked that we should do more to share the work of social housing providers with the wider sector and with policy-makers. Those of us working in the social housing sector know the impacts that housing associations and co-operatives have in their communities, but it’s vital that we continue to share these impacts. Only by making the case for continued investment in social housing can providers continue to deliver the services so vital to the lives of tenants.
At SFHA, we hope to help to make this case more clearly by commissioning research on the social and economic impact of social housing providers in Scotland. This research will establish a baseline of impact, and develop indicators which will form part of an SFHA tool for measuring impact. We hope that others in the sector will join us to deliver this exciting project.
I hope that, as a sector, we can continue to work together to enhance inclusion in communities, and to share our successes and inspire others to do the same.
Conor Hill is Research and Policy Officer at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.
Views expressed by authors may not represent the views of CaCHE.
Date: May 1, 2019 11:29 am
Author(s): Conor Hill