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Tenants can be at the heart of local social change

rynhamLast September Chris White MP wrote an article about how housing associations are taking the lead in promoting social value.

In his new role as the first social value ambassador, he spoke of how housing associations understand ‘the impact that housing can have on people’ and how ‘they build relationships with residents in ways other organisations may find hard to achieve’.

There are lots of social housing providers that contribute a great social value to their communities but there are also many residents that are integral to this process and contribute their own social value to communities.

Social housing tenants and residents can get involved with their landlord in a variety of ways, often being able to choose from a ‘menu’ of involvement activities. The menu will include everything from giving feedback to community work to influencing at a strategic and board level. In my experience, those that are involved, both staff and tenants, keep coming back for more. This enthusiasm has led to success for many organisations throughout the sector.

‘Very’ was the word given to me by the chief executives of three housing associations in response to the question; how important are involved residents to your organisation?

I paraphrase, but here are some of the things that were actually said; Paul Fiddaman of Cestria Community Housing said, ‘Our tenants have such a positive impact in helping to shape how our services are delivered’, Roy Williams of Sovini Group stated ‘Customer empowerment helps us to continually improve the way we work as an organisation, improve the services we offer and enhance the communities in which we work,’ and Howard Toplis of GreenSquare Group said ‘Residents really are at the heart of GreenSquare and drive what we do across the organisation.’

Some powerful words from some important people. These are successful businesses, businesses that name tenants as important, active figures in the success of their organisations.

Tenants have earned this respect by carrying out thorough investigations into their landlords’ services that culminate in reports with recommendations for improvements that are reported directly to the board. These recommendations have led to significant changes in organisational practice.

At GreenSquare work by these tenants has led to a complete redesigning of customer surveys that has improved response rates, a reduction in costs associated with anti-social behaviour and the introduction of consistency in rents across the group, which has generated an additional £1.17m a year for the organisation.

At One Vision changes have included improvements to response rates following changed communication processes, and cost savings through a revised welcome pack. Tenants were also instrumental in identifying the need to bring gas servicing in-house.

At Cestria tenant-led changes have led to cost savings of £350,000 and the development of a new partnership with the local authority that has allowed the housing association to tap into new resources.

It is no surprise to the Tenant Empowerment Organisation (TPAS) that tenants are making positive changes at these three organisations, as they are the first three to have received the Quality Assured Scrutiny accreditation awarded by Chartered Institute of Housing, Housemark and TPAS.

By impacting at a more strategic level through scrutiny, tenants have been able to help their landlords improve, who in turn help the community to improve.

But resident involvement runs wider and deeper than that. A quick look at the TPAS Awards reveals successful initiatives where residents are making positive differences direct to their community in areas such as community cohesion, digital inclusion, joblessness, estate improvements, youth involvement and many more.

In fact, if we take just the three Tenant of the Year finalists as examples we can see the wide range of areas where residents can, and do, make social change. Between them, June Young, Len Saunders and Monica Barnes have made a difference by working on projects around community, wellbeing, road safety, multi-faith work, fun days, anti-social behaviour, translation, disability work, ‘back to work’ initiatives, community planting initiatives, social isolation and more. Encouragingly, the Young Tenant of the Year finalists are always just as prolific.

Up for a record four awards at the national finals in July is south east-based housing association Amicus Horizon. Their chief executive, Paul Hackett, has spoken publicly on how resident involvement ‘makes great business sense’.

Far from just making business sense, all social housing tenants can work with their landlords to unlock their potential for creating inspiring social change in their community while proving themselves as important to their provider doing exactly the same. All the organisations mentioned are successful and hold tenants at the heart of that success by feeding in, making changes and taking decisions, so, answer me this: why doesn’t every social landlord operate in this way?

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