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An update from Racahel Orr, Director, 14/07/20

Build, build, build and jobs, jobs, jobs

We have had two significant speeches from the men in charge of our recovery in the past two weeks. I think it’s fair to say there was some disappointment in the ambition of these – I liked the quote from Greenpeace responding to the £2bn for green homes saying, “is this the down payment?”

However, it’s clearly true that our offer – building homes, creating jobs, supporting communities - is going to be absolutely central for government in the coming months and years, which is a huge opportunity in very trying times. It’s also why the Homes at the Heart campaign is so important. PlaceShapers is a proud supporter and we will be doing all we can to promote and champion the campaign over the summer.

Additionally we will also be looking out for the detail on the Dominic Cummings planning reforms and working with others in the sector to talk about what more we can do together do to create much needed jobs and support people into work. Look out for details on events and ideas on this to follow soon.

Member roundtables

It was great to see so many members at some roundtables hosted by our new Chair, Matthew, to discuss our priorities for the next 12-18 months. I learned a lot about some of our member CEOs – how many are reformed accountants; how many are housing sector ‘lifers’ and that Jon Lord at Bolton at Home started his career as a sheep farmer!

Alongside personal anecdotes, the key things that people talked about were: a renewed, digital member offer; the green agenda; responding to Black Lives Matter; jobs; helping communities rebuild; the digital divide. Our comms network also had some great feedback and ideas about how we could deliver these themes. Our challenge now is refining these and deciding what and how we can have the most impact. The Board is meeting this week to discuss this.

HACT research

Our research with HACT will be published shortly. It has lots of very interesting reflections on how people have responded to covid and how we take these lessons forward. How place has become hyper-local, the challenges and opportunities of agile governance, new opportunities on resident engagement, new partnerships in place and lobbying for new space standards to name but a few.

APPG on housing and social mobility

Thank you to all of our members who submitted evidence to this enquiry, which is co-hosted by PlaceShapers and Communities that Work. We had 62 submissions which is fantastic. A big thank you too to some of the GEM cohort, young people on a year long training programme which is supported by InCommunities Housing, who are helping with the enquiry. The Inquiry is now focused on gathering oral evidence through online sessions with invited participants, which will take place between July 28 and August 12. #appg #HousingWork

In pre-covid days I used to mention members I’d had the pleasure of visiting in these updates. While I’m very much staying at home, I have been able to speak to lots of people about what they are doing. One anecdote stayed with me this week: Paul at Karbon Homes told me that they made an amazing 10,000 calls to residents when lockdown hit offering services and support. Only 400 people told them that they needed help, everyone else was being looked after by friends, family, or their local community. They were hugely grateful to Karbon for reaching out – and made for their highest ever NPS - but I think it’s wonderful too how much people to people connections have flourished these past few months.

Stay well everyone

Rachael Orr

Update from Charlotte Kay,  Business and Member Support Officer, 18/06/20

Back at the beginning of March we were putting the finishing touches on our plans for the forthcoming year. I was mighty proud of the beautiful colour-coded spreadsheet that our interim Director Paul Smith and I had put together and was looking forward to welcoming Director Rachael Orr back to the fold from mat leave. A whole year of events, member comms and activity had been lovingly mapped out ahead of our planned handover on Monday 27th March, with this level of planning what could possibly go wrong?  Cue Covid 19, we delicately ripped up our carefully curated plans and popped them in our social conscious recycling bin.

Things had started to happen and happen fast.  By the end of the first official week of lockdown we had already started to hear from many of our members, how they were getting on and what rapid adjustments they were having to make.  Practicalities had been quickly taken care of with most if not all office-based colleagues being moved to homeworking in a matter of days and most ahead of the official lockdown announcement and alternative arrangements made for other team members.

Unsurprisingly, to us as PlaceShapers thoughts had rapidly focused on the well-being of residents and what could be done to ensure their safety throughout the pandemic.  Tranches of wellbeing calls had already been made, initially to residents identified as vulnerable before being widened to encompass all residents.  Colleagues who were unable to fulfil their usual roles were redeployed to respond to the needs of residents and deliver frontline services identified by these calls.

The speed needs were met in the immediacy reflected the depth of the crisis and started to identify areas where additional support would be needed going forward.  We felt it was vital that we capture what all our members were doing so that the impact of their efforts weren’t lost and that we could learn from what was most helpful to residents facing many challenges in the face of the pandemic.

Working with our friends at HACT we convened a series of  virtual roundtables to give members the opportunity to come together, access vital peer support, identify what had gone well, what could be improved upon and what lessons we could learn to enable us to continue to support our residents as effectively as possible as the crisis unfolded.

The pace of the impact of the pandemic has been the most notable, in the first week of the roundtables many contributors appeared somewhat shell shocked, exhausted and bewildered by the sheer enormity of the tasks ahead of them.  They were well and truly in crisis mode which no business continuity plan could quite cover, in fact those plans very likely ended up in the same metaphorical socially conscious recycling bin as my multi-coloured spreadsheet.

However, as the professionals they are members soon rallied and came together to discuss exactly what could be learned from the multiple challenges presented to them and how they could apply this thinking to the so called ‘new normal.’  Quickly and amidst a lot of sadness and quite possibly the most difficult times of their career’s recovery plans started to form.

Resilience emerged as a key theme, resilience not only of residents but also our colleagues.  People were digging deep in spite of extreme uncertainty and a true sense of community was emerging.  Multiple examples of acts of selflessness were coming to the fore and incredibly as a united effort most rough sleepers in England were accommodated in over one weekend as part of the national ‘Everybody In’ initiative.   

If you can find good in the bad there is plenty of positives to take from the last three months.  Covid-19 has unified many in our determination to care for our communities.  There will be inevitable challenges ahead and it is very likely that it will get worse before it gets better.  But, we are determined to learn from our experiences and not to slide back into ineffectual practices as we embark on our planned recovery.  Armed with what we have learned PlaceShapers will be part of that recovery. We will continue to engage more effectively with our residents and shape our communities driven by our shared values as a voice for change.


Update from Rachel Orr, Director 03/06/20

PlaceShapers/ HACT research: Reimagining the role of place-based social landlords  

We are really pleased to be working with HACT on this research to reimagine the role of place-based social landlords during the COVID-19 response and recovery.  We want to think big and ask difficult questions together in the hope that we can use this awful time to re-emerge stronger. The next phase of the project are some focus groups for frontline staff to hear about their experiences and get their opinions. We would also love to hear from your Chairs. The focus groups will discuss resident engagement and partnership working in place in much more detail.  Sessions will take place on:

  • Tuesday 16 June at 2pm | Place based partnership working
  • Wednesday 17 June at 11am | Chair's Group
  • Thursday 18 June at 10am | Resident Engagement 
  • Friday 19 June at 10am | Place based partnership working

If you would like to join a focus group or to find out more please email Charlotte Kay stating which group/ groups you would like to attend. 

Calling all CEOs 

Covid response, we have been amazed – but not surprised – by the stories of the difference members have been making in their communities. From ‘big’ initiatives like converting buildings into health care centres through to the tens of thousands of acts of daily kindness, we can stand proud.

We want to make sure we capture this, so we can quantify the difference we are making in our longer-term conversations with politicians and policy makers.  Your organisation will have received via the communications network, a spreadsheet produced by HACT designed to capture this information. Please can you pass this request to the right person in your organisation to complete this data.  

Please complete what you can in the tab marked May by Monday 15 June (this is your data for May). HACT will give us the data for PlaceShapers each month. We’ll share this with you, combined with some research and stories. This will be yours to use locally as well as being amplified into a national picture.  You may have had the request direct from HACT in which case you only need to fill it in once.  The completed spreadsheet to be returned to  

Call for PlaceShapers to contribute evidence to APPG 

Following the success of our We Work report a couple of years ago, we are the co-chairs of the APPG on Housing and Employment with Communities that Work. It would be great if you could contribute your expertise to the national parliamentary inquiry into housing and employment. The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Housing and Employment aims to tackle the employment and earnings gap between social housing residents and people in other tenures. It is asking for written evidence from housing providers, residents and other sector organisations in response to its five questions by Tuesday 30 June. Find out more here.

Best Wishes

Rachael Orr



An update from Rachael Orr - Director - 21/05/20

Thank you to everyone who answered our survey monkey about our HACT research. We will be in touch with more details about the next stage of this project next week. For now, we wanted to let you know about our next roundtable and some sector campaigns you may be able to support. 

Roundtable - The Future of Community Investment

Our next roundtable will focus on The Future of Community Investment on Wednesday 27th May at 10am. As previously this session will be facilatated by our colleagues at HACT.  Drop me a line if you would like to join us.  

Partnership Working

Working in partnership across the network underpins much of what we do.  Read on to find out how some of our partners in the sector are supporting the people most affected by Covid-19 and the ways your organisation can help.   

More Than Homes  - The National Housing Sector’s Food Bank Initiative

The Trussell Trust has set up a ‘More than Homes Grant Fund’ to raise an initial target of £1m.  They are asking Housing Associations to donate and support the national effort, or a specific region(s).  Donating is simple. Individual Housing Associations choose to donate to the national effort or make donations to a regional fund(s) they would like to support via the Trussell Trust’s ‘More than Homes’ campaign page.  There is no suggested donation. We hope that all our collective donations, large or small, will have the ability to make a phenomenal difference to those who need it. To make a donation, click here or to download an information pack click here.

Homes for Heroes

An alliance of housing associations, offsite manufacturing firms and many others across the property sector has launched a call to the private, public and charitable sectors to join together to build low cost Homes for Heroes, to thank our heroic essential workers who’ve kept Britain going during the coronavirus outbreak. Find out more about it here.   Would you be willing to be listed as a supporter as part of the broad alliance of supporters, it doesn’t mean that supporting organisations agree with every word of the G15 document.  Being a supporter could mean one of the following things:

  • You are interested in building some affordable homes for heroes
  • You agree that society as a whole should be building more affordable homes for heroes
  • You agree with the concept of homes for heroes

If you would like to join the alliance please email 

Best Wishes

Rachael Orr



More Than Homes  - The National Housing Sector’s Food Bank Initiative

The Trussell Trust has set up a ‘More than Homes Grant Fund’ to raise an initial target of £1m.  They are asking Housing Associations to donate and support the national effort, or a specific region(s). 

Donating is simple. Individual Housing Associations choose to donate to the national effort or make donations to a regional fund(s) they would like to support via the Trussell Trust’s ‘More than Homes’ campaign page. 

There is no suggested donation. We hope that all our collective donations, large or small, will have the ability to make a phenomenal difference to those who need it.

To make a donation, click here or to download an information pack click here.


Did you know about the NHS Volunteer Responders programme?

Your residents could benefit from the NHS Volunteer Responders programme.  Health and social care professionals in England can refer vulnerable people who are self-isolating to NHS Volunteer Responders for help with tasks such as collecting shopping and prescribed medicines, driving people to medical appointments or transporting supplies between sites.

The scheme is already helping thousands of people every day and hundreds of thousands of volunteers are available to help. You can make referrals through the NHS Volunteer Responders referrers’ portal or by calling 0808 196 3382. The scheme is also open for self-referrals for people who have been advised to shield and those most at risk who are isolating at home from coronavirus.

These people can ask volunteers for short-term help by calling 0808 196 3646 between 8am and 8pm. Please pass this number on to patients who could benefit from this support.

You can find more information about the programme here.


An Update from Rachael Orr, Director 06/05/20

Today PlaceShapers have joined @OxfamGB and over 100 other organisations in writing an open letter urging politicians across Britain to act to protect carers from a growing poverty crisis.

Read the full letter here.

An Update from Rachael Orr, Director 28/04/20

It’s hard to overstate the scope and depth of discussion that we had during three roundtables with PlaceShaper members, co-chaired by us and HACT.

From how we value carers to business continuity planning, gas safety compliance to agile working and caring for our colleagues it was clear there are a huge number of issues in the minds of our members.

One of the most striking things for those of us in each of the events was just how quickly the conversation was moving on. In the space of just a week the extent to which thinking had shifted from the here and now to the medium and even long term was really marked. Where people were thinking about if their staff could juggle their work and home life they had moved to considering how to manage the dynamics when furloughed staff started back to work with a very different experience of the lockdown weeks and the impact this would have.

There was a lot of discussion about governance – small g and Big G – and as a result PlaceShapers will be convening a meeting for Chairs of our member organisations to hear their reflection on the past month and what it means for the future.

Of course, there was lots to think about in terms of business planning and the scenarios we forsee in the months and years ahead. This is starting apace for all, and it holds some very challenging projections

But this wasn’t where people wanted to focus their energies. Instead, it felt like we were a small part of a process of some deep reflection we know is happening across the sector. People are asking really searching questions about how they run their organisation, how they support residents and what their role is and will continue to be in supporting communities and local voluntary groups as we adjust to a ‘new normal.’

This is the focus of the next steps of our project, with opportunities for members to really shape thinking on how we can work to tackle the poverty and inequality we see and which we fear is going to get worse before it gets better.

Best Wishes

Rachael Orr



PlaceShapers Roundtable - Extra date added!

After a productive and fascinating roundtable.  We've put an extra date in

  • Weds 22 Apr, 2.30pm-4.30pm

Drop Charlotte an email if you'd like to come along

PlaceShapers are here and have a key role to play. We are going to play it.

An Update from Sinéad Butters, Chair 15/04/20 

When the crisis abates, what should we retain from how we are doing business now?

Housing associations are beginning to think about life beyond the coronavirus crisis.

Our Chair, Sinéad Butters looks at what that might look like:

An Update from Rachael Orr, Director 09/04/20

Dear PlaceShaper,

Further to my update last week I am pleased to confirm that we will be working with HACT to host virtual PlaceShapers roundtable sessions.  Together, we want to provide space to reflect on the last few weeks and start to think about what we can learn from our response for both immediate and longer term planning.

We have had a great response to our request for participants and will be hosting two virtual sessions on:

  • Thursday 16th April, 9am-11am  
  • Tuesday 21st April, 9am-11am
  •  Wednesday 22nd April, 2.30pm-4.30pm

If you would like to join please email Charlotte Kay stating which session you would like to attend and she can send you the appropriate access codes.

HACT will lead the conversation, where you can share your response to the pandemic with other members of the network so that, together, we can learn from it and identify our priorities in both the short and long term.

The roundtable will be part of a short research project to collate our response to COVID and see how this can be used as a foundation for us moving forward. We look forward to welcoming you one of the meetings in the coming weeks.  

Best Wishes

Rachael Orr



An Update from Rachael Orr, Director

Rachael is back from maternity leave, here is what she has to say.

Hello. I’ve had 8 months in a bubble that is the all-encompassing, exhausting and (mainly) wonderful world of maternity leave. It’s very tempting to retreat back there.  
Like everyone, I’m really not sure what to make of these strangest and most challenging of times, but I do know it’s really nice to be back working with some of the most inspiring people and organisations in the country.
I know you and your teams will have been working flat out in the last few weeks to keep customers and colleagues safe, not to mention setting everyone up remotely.  I know there are loads of new challenges to manage every day, and that every day feels about a week long at the moment.
But the PlaceShapers network is built on mutual support for each other so we’ve also been thinking about what we can do to help in the coming weeks.  
Our Board are meeting regularly. We will convene meetings of our network in smaller sub-groups.  We will set up a meeting of our comms network and make this available for any other comms staff.

Our community investment sub-group will also meet. Would there also be value in us setting up a virtual meeting of other staff to support each other, for example HR staff? Please do drop me an email to let me know.
We really want to work with you to capture the challenges, and learnings of this extraordinary time. We are proposing to set up a virtual roundtable on 15th or 16th April to discuss this. Please reply to this email stating if you would be interesting in taking part. In time, we will convene further discussions on what the ‘new normal’ might look like and our asks of Government as we come out of this crisis – but that’s for another day.  
We will work with others in the sector to lobby on key issues that are arising now. For example, many members are reporting that it’s very difficult to gain access to resident’s homes to undertake gas safety checks so we should be asking for new guidance giving us 18 not 12 months to undertake these checks. We will be working on this in the coming days.
Finally, these are hugely difficult times, but one thing that is keep us all going are the amazing stories of how people around the country are pulling together to support each other. I know there are hundreds of inspiring stories from across our network – daily examples of #WeCare, where our colleagues are going above and beyond on the frontline to support people.

Please can you tweet your stories and tag us, or even better ask your comms folks to get in touch so we can ensure the work we do is recognised and valued.
I’m really looking forward to working with you and hope to speak to you, (virtually, with a toddler calling MUMMY! and a baby screaming in the background) very soon.

Best Wishes

Rachael Orr 


The safety and wellbeing of our members and colleagues is our priority

In light of the latest Government advice relating to stopping non-essential contact with other people, all face to face PlaceShapers events have been postponed until further notice.   

We will continue to follow Government and Public Health England advice, which you can find here



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