10 solutions to common concerns and 10 actions from seminar participants
Cllr Richard Kemp, CBE and Chair of the Plus Dane Group offered ten ways for housing providers to champion the voice and needs of young residents and tenants and to build an organisational culture that promotes people and place before bricks and mortar.
1. Be a neighbourhood investor.
Housing providers are and need to see themselves as long term investors in communities, in good times and in bad and including over the next 10-15 years “where there will be no golden tomorrow” and where we have to do right by communities because it is the right thing to do. This includes embracing strategic leadership opportunities for shaping youth provision when statutory youth services are collapsing in many areas.
2. Put people first.
Housing is first and foremost about people, neighbourhoods and communities, not bricks and mortar. So housing providers need a coherent view of people, neighbourhoods and communities, the planned lived in space, before starting to build.
3. See young people as residents along with everyone else.
“We do nothing different with young people than we do with all our other residents.” They have an equal voice and are equal stakeholders. “We work with all our residents and all the community, of which young people are a significant and important part.” They are not apart or separated out. The business is driven by these underlying principles.
4. Respond to young people according to their need.
Many housing providers will have specific provision for young people as young as 13. “We offer a home, love and care; we support them in their GCSEs and in life’s decisions.” On a simple financial calculation alone this is much cheaper than dealing with escalating difficulties later. Second, young people as ordinary tenants may need additional support in their first tenancy with practical tasks of managing independently - cooking, budgeting, support networks. Third, young people in the area are all residents with a right to a voice on influence on what things are done and how they are done. “We don’t talk to them. We listen to them on their terms and talk with them.”
5. Be an ass kicker.
A key part of Plus Dane’s approach is working with local communities to develop neighbourhood investment plans. These are not about repairs, arrears or anti-social behaviour, though these issues may form part of the plan depending on identified local need. “Where we are a major stock holder we should be the player pulling people together with and for the community. Then we need to be the chief ass kicker to put pressure on people to do what they have agreed to do”. Young people are part of the neighbourhood investment plan in their own right with their own needs and because getting it right for them benefits the whole community.
6. Make it everyone’s business.
None of this process of setting a clear vision and mission and building in community connection costs much. “We don’t have specialist teams. It is in everybody’s job description.” Promoting the involvement and effective response to young people is everyone’s business.
7. Manage the money.
Too often small pots of other people’s money make small differences that don’t add up to much and respond more to an external agenda rather than local need. It takes time to bid for the money and to report against outputs and outcomes that may be incidental to community agreed priorities. Yet a neighbourhood plan can ensure small pots work toward a greater ambition. It is then easier to attract other money on the local community’s terms in response to their needs. “Be first to put in some money and then use this as leverage and show residents the multiplier effect of the investment.” Focus on the best use of the 97% of core income, not the 3% funny money with strings attached which may pull you in the wrong direction.
8. Show you’re accountable.
Arising from on-going participation of residents in the daily matters that affect them, Plus Dane has developed ways for young people along with other residents to be involved in governance and scrutiny. A Youth Board in Merseyside and Cheshire offers young people exactly the same rights to scrutiny as other residents, including scrutiny of the wider area plan, the neighbourhood plans and the housing association as a whole. They have the right to summon the chair and chief executive to respond to questions, to review progress and to contribute to wider strategic developments. “Plus Dane has a turnover of £55m a year. Not a penny is mine. It mostly comes from rent, grants or for services we are contracted to deliver. I account for public money. I am accountable to the residents for it. I am responsible to them, not them to me.”
9. Build this agenda into the culture and fabric of the organisation.
“Our journey is rooted in a post war history of housing cooperatives. Bottom up is in our DNA.” Necessity is the mother of invention. Housing associations need to be mindful of the opportunities in these difficult times to draw people in to work with and on behalf of the local community. This is about building a culture not bolting on an initiative. It is primarily about hearts and minds. It involves making this everybody’s business as part of excellent customer service, integrating expectations into job descriptions, supporting staff to develop skills, building in accountability and demonstrating visible leadership with, for example, leaders taking an active part in listening and responding to residents.
10. Know your place and your part.
Where you have property you should be doing something! A simple use of LIFE can guide a housing provider into what approach is best to take.
· Lead where you are the major stock holder.
· Influence where you have a significant number of properties.
· Follow where you are a smaller provider.
· Exit where you have so few houses that you do not have the scope to bring added value.
Next steps from participants
Participants considered what key actions they wanted to take to build on shared values, style of leadership and strategic planning. Some are given below.
1. Apply knowledge and skills gained from our specialist provision to our generic provision.
2. Look to directorate moving from permissive support to direct championing.
3. Engage the CEO directly and gain directorate buy in.
4. Demonstrate to directorate that this is the golden thread from front line contact with residents through to executive and Board leadership.
5. Take on and build on the neighbourhood investment plan model.
6. Retain clear purpose and priorities for youth engagement during a time of significant organisational change.
7. Ensure youth engagement is a central part of wider resident involvement, reaching those who are often left out.
8. Review the nature and intent behind some partnerships and seek to ensure focus is on community benefit.
9. Write the participation strategy, ensuring it is a process that is open and inclusive and gains buy in from stakeholders.
10. Ensure a sound business model within specialist youth provision and embed the vision into the strategic and operational management teams.
And the conversation moves on to Birmingham tomorrow for the last of the three events and with increasing optimism about the widespread intent and clarity of purpose among many Registered Providers to build for people and places and work in partnership within communities to assure support for younger residents.