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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.

The past three weeks have been a response to the ongoing crisis. We have been planning in terms of hours not days, as well as worrying about how we take care of our residents, our staff and each other.

We have moved as many staff as possible to working from home and worked with contractors and maintenance staff on how to carry out their duties safely.

We’ve worked with our staff to call our older and more isolated residents. New partnerships have been forged with councils, charities and the local community to deliver food and other essentials to the people who can’t leave their homes.

Much worrying has also been done.

But, above all, we’ve been absolutely inspired by the work of housing associations across the country.

From care staff working day and night to repairs staff becoming food delivery drivers, teams of people working with local authorities to house rough sleepers, colleagues helping build new hospitals and so much more.

Keeping our frontline heroes going are the armies of people ensuring that all the technology works and the countless managers working 14-hour days, worrying about how to keep their teams motivated.

I’ve never been prouder to work in this sector.

But now things are starting to feel a little different.

To be able to lift our heads up a bit and start to think about what’s to come – not just this afternoon or tomorrow, but next week or even next month.

We might even have a bit of head space to think about what we are learning from this crisis and what we want to hold on to.

When the ‘new normal’ returns, what do we want to keep from how we are doing business now? This is a question I’m looking forward to discussing with PlaceShaper members at two roundtables in the coming weeks.

How we have transformed our business and what we go back to are a key questions.

“This is a once in a generation moment to ask ourselves if we’re making the right choices about what we do and how we do it”

But, actually, this moment is far more than that. It goes way beyond ‘will more people work from home and will we need a smaller office?’

This is a once in a generation moment to ask ourselves if we’re making the right choices about what we do and how we do it.

We are frantically remodelling our business plans and trying to guess what the future holds for us. We know it’s going to be really challenging on so many fronts – but we also know that social landlords are far more financially resilient than most organisations in the voluntary sector.

The chancellor’s financial rescue package was welcomed by charities, but they know it’s a drop in the ocean. The sector estimates it will lose around £4bn in three months – against the £750m announced in support.

So the big questions I know PlaceShaper members are starting to ask are: how do we help? How far do we go? How long can we – should we – keep funding and putting other support in place in our communities?

Is this part of the new normal that we want to aspire to? What’s the best way to support community groups in the long term?

“I know we can come together to make and renew commitments to our communities that I hope will last years, not weeks”

I’m going to be thinking about this a lot and taking soundings from our membership about their thinking.

I know we can come together to make and renew commitments to our communities that I hope will last years, not weeks. To support local charities and voluntary groups with shared endeavour that really does make the difference.

PlaceShapers are here and have a key role to play.

We are going to play it.

Sinéad Butters

Sinéad Butters,

Chair, PlaceShapers
Chief Executive, Aspire Housing

 

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