MP Danny Kruger asked 'How can we empower and strengthen communities for the long term?' Here is what PlaceShapers has to say...
A place-based recovery to strengthen our communities
PlaceShapers members put our residents at the heart of what we do. Our members are community anchor organisations who work in places for the long term and see their role extending far beyond building and managing homes. They work with people and communities to create jobs, provide community spaces and services and support local charities and community groups.
In the past three months, PlaceShapers members, in common with other housing associations, have made hundreds of thousands of calls to residents. Selwood Housing Group are a typical example: they had made 2,000 calls by April and 10,000 at the time of writing. Staff have provided or connected people with services, been a friendly ear for those who are isolated and ensured all residents felt cared for. People have delivered food parcels and medicines, made activity packs for children and elderly people and been a core part of the community efforts to respond to coronavirus.
And we have witnessed how amazing this community response has been. One member, Karbon Homes, made 10,000 phone calls to older and vulnerable residents. Only 400 people said they were in need of services that weren’t being provided by friends, family or the wider community. Nevertheless, all were hugely appreciative that their landlord was ensuring they had the help they needed.
These personal connections, and the coming together of people and organisations in places, must be core as we seek to recover.
PlaceShapers members are now thinking hard about our role in the recovery. Building high quality new homes at rents people can afford is the central part of our offer. But we can and will do so much more.
Below are our recommendations on how we can empower and strengthen communities for the long term. We have then outlined some additional information and details on schemes our members are currently running which we refer to. We believe place-based social landlords have a pivotal role to play to help our communities rebuild, and we intend to do all we can to play it.
- The recovery must be place based. Anchor organisations such as councils or housing associations should be supported to coordinate responses in places, bringing together public, private and voluntary sector actors. Working together, practical and emotional support as well as employment opportunities can be developed and offered. The new hub in Peterborough is one model for delivering this
- Government should invest in connecting or convening organisations and spaces to ensure individuals and organisations can work far better together in places
- With many firms rethinking their need for office space, we have an opportunity to develop a raft of new shared workspaces and community spaces. Brokering the ownership, management and running of these spaces will be critical and social landlords can play a key role
- We should be looking to develop a new generation of community leaders. There are lots of outstanding people doing amazing things in their communities, and they should be offered mentoring, support and resources to help their community recover.
- Government support on job creation should be local. Most housing associations already have employment support programmes as well as strong existing relationships with employers and the people who require support. These programmes can be rapidly scaled up with additional funding. Linked to this, the DWP, in particular, should look at smaller regional or sub-regional delivery opportunities in place of the wide regional areas currently set out
- Mentoring and developing soft skills are crucial in supporting people in to work. Providing opportunities for people, especially young people, to develop these skills and be productive, even if they are out of work, is vital. Businesses should be supported or incentivised to provide such opportunities and see this as their CSR
- Social landlords provide huge support to the NHS through prevention. Many run services to help people stay independent longer and alleviate pressure on the NHS. Such programmes should be better linked into wider health provision in places
- Local levies on procurement contracts of 0.5% or 1% should be considered to fund new projects, employment support or job opportunities in places. The Realise Levy run by the Aspire Group is a model which could be replicated, with all funds raised supporting their Realise Charity
- The ESG agenda should be scaled up. We know there are many investors interested in ethical investment – and many social landlords are seeking funding from ethical partners. Giving tax breaks or incentives to ethical investors to invest would entice more to do so. Social landlords, working with partners, could then do more with this investment.
Place-based collaboration has been vital in responding to the coronavirus crisis, and it will be vital in our recovery. We need to facilitate and invest in existing partnerships and develop new ones. In many areas, the LEP is a useful forum for joint working and discussions on employment, the economy and job creation, but they do not include civil society. Similarly, VCS collaborations often find it hard to engage with businesses. New models are emerging and should be resourced, scaled and replicated.
In Peterborough a new hub has been created to support people who aren’t classified as vulnerable to coronavirus but who need some extra support. Staff from Peterborough Council, Cross Keys Homes and local charities and community groups have worked together to be a single point of contact for those who need help. Having worked to provide emergency support during lockdown, they are now developing the partnership. Based on the safer communities partnership approach, they will continue to be a single point of contact for people, but now with charities, CCG, adult social care and business all also linked in.
Collaborations of this nature can help facilitate access to funding. Many social landlords have started or heavily invested in hardship funds. These were often set up specifically to support residents – but many are also offering grants to local charities and community groups.
Other social landlords are raising funds through procurement. The Aspire Housing Group’s Realise Levy asks all of their suppliers to contribute a minimum of 1% of the contract value to help fund their Realise charity programmes. Aspire started this model as they spend over £20 million with suppliers, some of whom give back to their community, while others don’t. By introducing the levy, before a contract is signed, they can work with all suppliers to help fund programmes which support people in their communities. One of the programmes funded by Realise is a job creation scheme to help fund apprentices’ salaries – so businesses paying the levy could benefit from it too. This approach to procurement could be adopted wholesale in places, with the levy money raised spent on local community projects and job creation and the funding administered locally.
Place-based collaboration should extend to shared workspaces and community spaces. Many organisations are rapidly transitioning to a homebased working model, which is likely to see significant vacant office space. We think the value of shared office shared spaces should not be undervalued. Most of us learned significantly about our jobs and the world of work from others in our office or workplace. It is very hard to replace all of this learning and soft mentoring, with a digital offer. Therefore, office hubs or shared workspaces where people can learn from each other must be supported and funded. A number of housing associations, including South Yorkshire HA, have already moved to an agile working model and invited other organisations to share their office. They should be consulted on what works best as a model for others to follow.
We should also be providing new community spaces. Social landlords already own and manage thousands of community spaces, from community centres to cafes, and we can do more, working with others. We also need to develop a new generation of community leaders to run projects and programmes from these community spaces, supported by an improved place-based infrastructure.
Support into work
The opportunity for a place-based response to post-coronavirus unemployment is huge. Unemployment will hit some communities worse than others and will have different sector specific drivers. Social landlords are rooted in communities and have strong existing relationships with residents and employers.
Social landlords already run a raft of employment programmes, often offering additional and personalised support. The Good Work programme at South Yorkshire Housing Association supports people, including those living with severe mental health conditions, find work. Raven Housing Trust runs the Pathway to Employment scheme which is designed to take a holistic approach, providing wrap-around, long-term support to remove the barriers to employment. We often find that the support offered needs to be long term, in recognition of the fact that some people have a long ‘journey’ to go on to get into work. Schemes like these should be invested in addition to – or in place of – top down national schemes.
Social landlords are exploring how they can support young people who are unemployed through the new Kickstart programme. But we know this scheme will not be suitable for all. In the short term, making sure that this period of unemployment is productive – in terms of acquiring skills and confidence – will open up future employment opportunities. Chelmer Housing Partnership are already doing this, facilitating programmes of work such as resident associations, gardening work and estate walkabouts – such programmes are purposeful, can build up community cohesion, and endow skills or spark an interest in possible new careers.
There is also a wealth of research about the value of one to one mentoring schemes. North Star Housing Association runs a young women’s mentoring scheme in Middlesbrough linking businesswomen with 14-18 year olds in school to mentor them into work or further education. These schemes could be delivered far more widely at relatively small cost. Again, there is a role for place-based brokering and delivery here: we know that many organisations and individuals want to do more to help others, but they need more help to connect with those who need it.
Ensuring health is part of a joined-up community offer
Too often, social landlords find it difficult to engage with a work in partnership with their local health services. This means huge opportunities for solving problems together are missed. A number of members run support services for older people to help tackle loneliness and isolation. Karbon Homes runs Silver talk which is a telephone befriending service run by two paid staff and staffed by volunteers, including many Karbon residents. It started as a low level health intervention to ensure older people could stay in their homes for longer. Warrington HA run Lifetime a “youth club for the elderly” which runs everything from Zumba classes to advice and support. It helped 15,000 people in a year and has 1800 are active members. More schemes like these can have a key role in preventing pressure on the health service and should be far more joined up in their provision.