Resident Ambassadors Val & Jim | Why communities need to come together

It’s estimated by the UK Government that 19 million people volunteer at least once a month! In neighbourhoods up and down the UK, these volunteers are ensuring people get the support they need. From lifeguards to food banks, vaccination centres to shelters, us Brits tend to look after each other – but this can differ from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. We spoke to Resident Voice Index™ Resident Ambassadors Val and Jim about how communities can give their time and come together.

In the first of our Resident Voice Index™ reports, ‘Neighbourhoods & Communities’, results showed that the proportion of respondents that cared about community involvement was significantly higher than the percentage who felt that they actually belonged to their community. There are clear differences in neighbourhoods across the UK around how much residents feel they have community spirit. So, how can communities come together?

Take the time

We’ve spoken to Val and Jim a few times about the huge difference getting involved can make to neighbourhoods. They have noticed that times are getting harder for some in their community – sometimes just stopping to have a chat can help you to understand where the issues are and really help a person out.

One of the ways they get involved is with their local town council, delivering free Sunday lunches. Val explained:

“A two-course meal gets delivered to about 150 people every Sunday. They don’t pay a penny.” When they are delivered, “People come out and if they want to talk a little bit, we just say: ‘how are you?’ If they want to talk, they have a little talk with us. I think it’s getting back to a few years ago, like what the community used to be when everybody pulled together. It’s not this group or that group trying to fight the other, or the one to be more popular. It seems like we’re all just working together.”

“Not just less food banks, less need for food banks would be better.”

Jim, Resident Ambassador

Tackling isolation

Volunteers and services that regularly check up on people in their community are more able to see if somebody is struggling or vulnerable. In some cases, it can save lives. Jim remembered a scary time when a volunteer, “Delivering Sunday lunches found someone had collapsed in the house. They got the emergency services there to help them. I got the word about to let people know that if you’re isolated, come to us because we are there to help you – and I think that did help a lot.”

Community need is rising

“It is happening more now,” explained Jim. “People are vulnerable. I think there really is more need, especially when it’s close to Christmas time and the winter. Our organisation asked for anybody to donate blankets. I mean, it’s not just bad now, it’s been bad for a while. About six/seven years ago, we held an event in Middlesbrough with the housing association. We heard from people about children who took turns to go to school because they only had one uniform. Now our local food bank has school uniforms on rails and people can go pick them off the rails.”

Val added, “People are realising more that there’s a lot of people out there who haven’t got the money.  People are going out of their way to make donations, whereas before they wouldn’t have put a tin in.”

Together we’re stronger

“Every organisation where we live now works together,” Jim told us. “There’s no outliers, we’re all just all together. It’s just not Covid that’s brought this on, it happened before. I’m a town councillor and when I joined, I joined to get rid of the clutter; it wasn’t right. It feels right now, we have a new town clerk and everything is going brilliantly.

“We’re having an event in the town and everybody in the area is getting together to put on this one event. It wouldn’t have happened a few years ago, but it is now and it’s absolutely brilliant to see. We’re all coming together and we’re all doing one thing.”

The Resident Voice Index™ Cost of Living report is coming. We’ve heard from social housing residents across the UK about the effects that the cost of living crisis is having on them and their households, as well as what could improve for neighbourhoods. There is much that can be learnt from the way in which Val and Jim’s communities come together. By piecing together residents’ personal experiences, perceptions and feelings in the Resident Voice Index™, our aim is to help policy makers, housing providers and residents to make positive change happen.

Resident Ambassador Lucia | Communication is key

In all our conversations with residents throughout the Resident Voice Index™ project so far, one of the key wishes that has been shared with us has been for those involved in social housing to improve how they communicate. Poor communication and poor customer service can leave residents feeling unheard and frustrated. We spoke to one of our Resident Ambassadors, Lucia about her vision for better communications in social housing.

Lucia’s housing provider is one of the largest in the country. It has a lot of resources and looking to the future, she believes that it would do well to funnel some of those resources into improving resident communication.

Direct communication

One of the things we spoke with her about was more direct contact between senior leadership and residents. She suggested, “If the board members, like the Chief Executive could come and explain things like the costings for the year: ‘This is what we’re spending money on because of this.’ At the moment, there isn’t that level of transparency.”

Expecting this isn’t a pipe dream. You just have to read about our other Resident Ambassadors, Val and Jim’s experience of resident inclusion, working with their board to hire staff.

The Community Support & Life After Lockdown survey

The Community Support & Life After Lockdown survey asked social housing residents to speak about how their relationship with their housing provider had changed since March 2020. There were a reasonable number of responses that spoke about poor communications and feelings that the pandemic was used by some providers as an ‘excuse’.

Words relating to better communications such as “contact”, “phone” and “support” were in the top ten answers.

Community Support & Life After Lockdown survey word cloud

Getting involved

Discussing some of her recent activities, Lucia explained that she was, “Pushed to action because the relationship wasn’t good enough to begin with and that’s why I’m speaking out more, because the initial conversations that I had weren’t getting anywhere and I think that’s really powerful. I decided to get involved when I saw that nobody was listening to me.”

After doing some research about her provider she found, “Their report and a meeting online with senior leaders talking about what they have done over the last year during the pandemic. That’s how I found out that they have this programme where you can get involved. I did it just because I didn’t feel heard.”

“I said that I would like to get involved in whatever’s happening in the community. Soon they (my provider) will have residents inspecting buildings – I love this idea and I want to be part of it. Whenever repairs are happening, inspectors will walk with me or another resident and look at the stuff that’s being done. I think it’s the best opinion that they can get, because I know best what’s happening in this building!”

“I think if my housing provider and the residents work a little bit closer together, lots of things can be sorted.”

Lucia, Resident Ambassador

Lucia felt compelled to get involved with her housing provider to try and break through where communication was lacking. It has led her to sign up for more projects and get stuck in wherever she can.

Have you been inspired to get involved and improve the way your housing is run? We’d love to hear from you! You can get in touch and tell us your story here: info.residentvoice@mrisoftware.com

The Community Support & Life After Lockdown report: Key findings

The Community Support & Life After Lockdown survey was launched in November 2021. It asked questions that aimed to gain an understand of the experiences of social housing residents during the Covid-19 lockdowns and what they believed could change for the better. Over 4,100 social housing residents in the UK took part. Here we break down the key findings from the full report.

The Community Support & Life After Lockdown survey

Once the Resident Voice Index™ had been tested in the Neighbourhoods & Communities report, it was time for the project to turn to more timely questions about the lives of social housing residents. 

The prospect of another full-scale lockdown in the UK seemed unlikely at this time. So this survey was an opportunity to capture some of the feelings about that extraordinary collective experience whilst it was still remembered well.

The survey explores three central themes:

  • Loneliness – feeling consistently lonely, but not the same as being ‘alone’
  • Resilience – the ability to withstand shocks and bounce back
  • Optimism – a positive outlook in general or towards individual circumstances

Other questions also explored the sources of support that those who responded received during the lockdowns, their relationship with their housing provider and suggestions for what could positively impact communities.

Loneliness

When looking at loneliness, key findings were:

  • In late 2021, those asked were more than twice as likely to be lonely than not lonely (56% vs 26%)
  • Before March 2020, 38% of people reported being lonely, which increased to 56% after the lockdowns
  • Almost 4 in 10 people reported an increase in their overall ‘loneliness score’ because of the lockdowns

It was to be expected that loneliness would increase over this time period. However, the high levels of loneliness prior to March 2020 reveal that this is an ongoing issue that needs focus and support. 

Resilience and optimism

Survey takers were asked a standard question for measuring resilience both before March 2020 and in late 2021. Key findings showed:

  • It was reassuring to see that 60% of people were classified as resilient
  • It was relieving to find that less than 10% scored in the extreme ‘non-resilient’ categories – and that group only increased by a small amount across the pandemic
  • When asked about optimism, nearly 70% of people were unable to commit to being hopeful for the future of their local community
  • For those who scored as ‘pessimists’, the top free-text answers they gave asked for immediate ‘help’ or ‘support’

These results suggested that being in need may impact people’s ability to visualise the future positively. However:

  • It was found that those who were aware of the actions of their housing provider were twice as likely to be optimistic about the future of their local community

One of the findings that linked back to the first Resident Voice Index™ report was that across all measures, young respondents (under 35s) tended to report more negative experiences. Encouragingly, resilience and optimism increases with age, while loneliness decreases. This could be down to the benefits of greater lived experience.

Village life

The survey also asked about the places that people lived. Out of cities, towns, suburbs, villages and rural environments, there was one that stood out: villages. Villagers reported more positively across the majority of questions than respondents living in any other type of place. Recommendations for housing providers and local government in the report suggest further examination of what it is about villages that bolsters a good quality of life.

The full Community Support & Life After Lockdown report is now available here. Make sure you give it a read!

Resident Ambassadors | Val & Jim on the importance of resident inclusion

Some social housing landlords around the UK actively involve residents when they are hiring new people. This kind of co-working and resident inclusion brings the views and needs of residents to the centre of how social housing is delivered.

Val and Jim are two of our established Resident Ambassadors for the Resident Voice Index™ project. For many years now they have been actively involved with how their housing association is run. They also put in a huge amount of work in their local community in the North-East of England. Following the Community Support & Life After Lockdown survey, they spoke to us again about what, in their experience, good practice looks like from a housing provider.

The right person for the job: the resident perspective

As an honorary board member for her housing association, Val gets called in when they are trying to find new members of staff. “I started right at the top interviewing the director, then the manager and I got all the way down to frontline jobs with them.”

Along the way there have been some really impressive and some not-so-impressive candidates:

“Some of them are thinking about what they’re doing but there was one who I asked, ‘what would you call good customer service?’ and the candidate knew what was involved with the resident panel and the residents’ framework and they answered, ‘we need to educate the customers.’”

Having gauged Val’s negative reaction to this answer, her housing provider knew that this candidate would not be the right fit for working with the rest of the resident population. Needless to say, they didn’t get the job! The approach of bringing residents in right from the beginning can save everyone time and effort if the relationship isn’t going to work out.

“I think anything like that should always have a resident on it. When I did it, I was called Simon Cowell because nobody got top marks. You can’t give top marks because where’s the room for improvement? They’ve got to have room for improvement, you’ve got to have that bit of room to learn things.”

Val, Resident Ambassador

The board of Val’s landlord, “Just had an appraisal for the interviews, and one of the things that came out is that I’m on it and I’m not a nodding dog. Anything I want to say, I’ll come straight out with – I’m not shy, which the board really liked. I’m not there just to agree with everything they say. If I don’t agree with it, I’ll put my hand up!”

Resident inclusion: Bringing more residents along on the journey

Val and Jim travel all over their area to speak to existing residents, as well as those that have recently joined the association. From Middlesbrough to Hull, they’ve been given an insider’s perspective on how to work with landlords to improve how housing is delivered. To help convince new homes to join the association, Jim went to tell them all about the work they do.

“The residents had to vote to say whether they wanted to come to us or not and I was the resident who pitched to them. I gave them the spiel and we all said that we would look forward to welcoming them into the family.”

As the new residents were welcomed in, Val spoke to them about what they could do to be part of shaping how their housing and community is run. “Anyone can just dip their toe in, just do a little bit or once they get started, they could just do as much as they want – it’s up to them! I always say, ‘come and watch us and if after 10 or 15 minutes you don’t think that’s for you, that’s quite alright, just say ‘I’m sorry’ and leave. We won’t be bothered, and you might come to another one.’ It all depends on what they’re really interested in.”

Having opportunities to be involved and have a say are what’s really important and for Val and Jim, what really sets their housing association apart. As they have shown, when there are roles available in housing associations for residents to take up, the running of an organisation can directly benefit from their input.

What resident inclusion does your organisation have? What kind of involvement would you like to have? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us at info.residentvoice@mrisoftware.com

What residents said in the ‘Community Support & Life After Lockdown’ workshops

One of the most important steps we take when designing the Resident Voice Index™ surveys is talking to social housing residents about the topics we should explore. These sessions help us know if we are on the right track with the themes we choose. In August and October, we got to speak to residents about the questions that should be asked in the Community Support & Life After Lockdown survey, looking at how communities have coped since the pandemic began and how optimistic people were for the future.

To learn more about the themes of this survey, read our more detailed article about it here.

During the sessions, our attendees were incredibly passionate about what we were discussing and alongside the main conversation, the chat function was on fire with people giving their input on the points that came up. Here, we share some of the key topics of conversation that came up during these sessions.

Levels of stress

Residents spoke of communities and people worn down by events since March 2020, noticing that in themselves and in others around them, the ability to cope or react well had been affected. Most people spoke of a personal responsibility to control their reactions to circumstances, even when it’s difficult – and the power of connecting with others during these times.

Adversity brings people together. When there’s a community problem, which is affecting people’s ability to get on with their peaceful routines, then they will come together to get it sorted.

Resident, Resident Voice Index™ workshop

One attendee said that their resolve could be tested when they came across poor communication from housing providers. There was also a consensus that more work needed to be done by large housing associations that have merged with many smaller ones to communicate well with residents.

Spaces to come together

During the sessions, we discussed the things that had helped people throughout the pandemic and what could help communities to connect and come together in the future. 

One attendee spoke lovingly of the communal garden that became a focus point for their estate, where people connected and formed friendships with one another.

What’s helped our communities thrive is by doing things in green spaces. We have communal gardens and up until a few years ago, those were in a miserable state. Some local residents have worked to actually improve those over a few years but as we went into the pandemic, those gardens really bloomed. It lifted people. We really saw the benefit of the grounds being beautiful, being somewhere where people felt comfortable to sit out. We would meet within the Covid restrictions just to say hello. It’s that connection with people; it’s those chance encounters.

Resident, Resident Voice Index™ workshop

Support from housing providers

There was a mixed set of responses when we asked about how people’s housing providers offered support across the lockdowns and beyond. Some communities, like the one described below, received help from housing providers in the face of the pandemic emergency. Others weren’t as lucky and spoke of a different experience.

Our housing providers rang around asking how their residents were coping and posted a leaflet (which was also posted by the local council) about free services available – free collection of medicines, shopping and counselling. They stepped up and have carried on being more involved than before the pandemic.

Resident, Resident Voice Index™ workshop

Sharing experiences

Attendees at the Community Support & Life After Lockdown workshops spoke about feeling empowered by talking to others. One told us how it had been “a very rewarding session, clearly we are all experiencing very similar problems and hopefully now, after the pandemic, matters will be sorted in time.” Finding groups with other residents and sharing experiences is a great way to connect with others and discuss potential solutions and actions.  

Without the residents who speak to us during the research phases and of course, those of you who answer the surveys, there would not be a Resident Voice Index™. Thank you for taking part. 

If you haven’t yet taken the Community Support & Life After Lockdown survey or would like to share it with other residents that you know living in social housing, please click on or share the link here.

Resident Voice Index™ Community Support & Life After Lockdown survey launches!

The impact the pandemic has had on us all has been enormous and before the memories fade about the last year and a half, we believe it’s important to ask the Resident Voice Index™ community about their experiences in the Community Support & Life After Lockdown survey.

The survey will, over the next few weeks, aim to get a snapshot of what this time has been like for you and to gather your recommendations to improve communities.

The questions in this survey will ask about the services and assistance that communities received during the lockdowns, the feelings people had during that time, and explore whether the past year and a half has changed the relationship between residents and housing providers. 

The topics in the survey have been shaped by talking to social housing residents – we’re giving a run through of their thoughts from these workshops below. The results are set to be incredibly interesting, and the contributions to the survey made by you, will build insights for providers and policy makers to take on board and shape their future strategies.

Support during the pandemic

There was a mixed set of responses to this topic; some residents described housing providers that were a great source of support, while others spoke of inconsistent assistance. Some, in no uncertain terms, saw that their communities had received no assistance.

Feelings

Regardless of who we are, our ability to cope under stress has probably been tested across the pandemic. Questions in the Community Support & Life After Lockdown survey will be looking for the difference in people’s feelings before and after March 2020.

Relationship with housing providers

In the workshop sessions, residents showed great levels of empathy for how housing providers coped in the first parts of the pandemic. However, it became clear that for attendees, this feeling might have begun to shift.

How can we move forward?

Across the Resident Voice Index™ project, people have spoken about the desire for housing providers to supply communities with resources to connect with and support one another. From that point, residents would then be able to take it on themselves. 

One workshop attendee described the difference taking ownership of communal green space over the pandemic made in connecting their community:

“Everybody’s starting to realise that they are part of the wider community around them, just through something little that might seem insignificant changing. Small things matter. I think that’s what I’ve learnt over the last year; small things matter.”

We are really looking forward to hearing from you again about these topics and building an understanding of what you believe are the best pathways forward. In the new year, your insights will be gathered into a report and shared for free with the social housing sector, residents and policy makers.

Take the survey now!

If you have any questions, please check out our FAQs!

Resident Ambassador: Jackie

The last Resident Ambassador we are going to be introducing for the Resident Voice Index Neighbourhoods & Communities theme is Jackie. When we talked with her, she spoke not only about the relationship residents have with their provider but the relationship the provider can create with residents – and she had some good ideas of what social housing in the 21st century may look like. 

Building communities

Jackie grew up in social housing. Now retired, she has a lot of insight into how social housing across the UK has changed in that time. For her, the creation of community spaces is essential to building connected, cohesive communities:

“When I was a kid, my parents lived in a council house and it was a brand new town to get rid of the Glasgow overspill. When the new towns were built, they built them with local shops, a local centre and a local school.

“Since then, it’s become housing associations and very few council houses. When councils are adding new housing developments they hand the land over to developers who want to maximise their return with houses and forget about community areas. They usually put in a playground and don’t seem to realise that their homes will house all ages, therefore a proportion of the residents will feel excluded instead of a community area where everyone can be included.

“I think that housing associations should work with councils and the developers to build new houses and work together to bring back some of that community space.

Seeing residents as assets

Jackie believes that for housing providers to thrive in the communities they work in, they must see residents as assets to their mission:

“My housing association has a high number of residents who are paying rent and it’s the same nationally. We are good for society; we are society and we deserve our dignity.

Many social housing residents are a well of skills, passion and willingness, with local and personal relationships at a community level. For example, for a project that Jackie is part of that tackles stigma nationally, one of the housing providers involved embarked on making a film about residents…

“And they found that the son of one of the residents is studying filmmaking at university and he’s volunteered to help with making the video. There is a pool of people, all different kinds of people. There’s doctors, there’s administrators, all different people that have the tools that can help housing associations just by volunteering. And housing providers are getting the quality of what these people do in their employment or used to do.

Changes are coming

When given access to resources and affordable community space, community members can work within neighbourhoods at a positive, grassroots level and help stem larger problems by building stronger social networks and activating more people across communities.

Changes in how housing providers behave are expected. New policies like the Charter for Social Housing Residents and reform of the Housing Ombudsman are designed to place residents at the centre of the work housing providers do and create systems where they work together. For Jackie, this couldn’t come soon enough – the time is here for residents to be listened to at every stage of housing delivery.

The initial results for the Resident Voice Index Neighbourhoods & Communities survey are now live! Follow this link to see what social housing residents had to say!

Advice from our third Resident Ambassador

This week we meet Jim, our third Resident Ambassador for the Resident Voice Index project. Living in the North East of England, he’s a no-nonsense stalwart of local activism and contribution. From being on tenant advisory panels, becoming a town councillor, contributing to national think tanks on social housing, to helping us with the Resident Voice Index project. He’s passionate about improving his local community and the interests of social housing residents.

Jim is so involved with volunteering groups he has probably spoken to a tenant from your housing association – at this rate, he’s probably spoken to you! We met him at the Resident Voice Index focus groups back in April. When we caught up with him, he chose to encourage all of us to get involved with our local community and reap the benefits.

“I’ve been involved for 20 years, long before my housing association was formed (as part of a merger), I was a board member of it for 9½ years. I like to think I’ve got a little bit of insight. When the merger happened, the new organisation got together with the tenants and asked us what we thought and needed, and it worked. We review it every so often and it’s worked. Now there’s a resident involvement panel, with over 350 people involved and there is an active core of us who attend meetings.

Has technology made a difference in the last year?

“Definitely. But I’d still rather have face-to-face meetings. I’m a town councillor as well and I’ve had to conduct all those meetings online, but from now we have to meet in person.

“I do like the remote meetings at times though; it means you don’t have to get ready and I don’t have to drive!

Challenges to getting involved

One of the barriers to being regularly involved that Jim brought up was digital literacy and digital inclusion:

“We’re talking now digitally, it would be great if everybody got to do this and had the ability to go online. Our housing association is working with an organisation called City Fibre to try and get everybody in the local area digitally included. It’s up to individuals whether they take advantage of it, but the infrastructure’s going to be there. This is a big thing and I do think people can be disenfranchised not having digital inclusion.

Give back, get back

“I first got involved at a housing association open day. We put our names forward, never looked back and have been involved ever since. I speak to people who say things about the housing association online and I ask them, ‘have you reported it?’ Get involved to make a difference, I do honestly believe that.

“One of the things I say and always will say is if you want things to change, get involved to change it. Don’t expect other people to do it for you. Don’t tell somebody down the street you want it doing and then not tell anybody else. You’ve got to get involved to get it done. It’s as simple as that. That’s the way we’ve always looked upon it.

There’s time

It doesn’t matter how big or small the action is, in Jim’s opinion: “Everybody’s got an hour, or a couple of hours to give at least one night a week. You can’t be busy all of the time. Have at least a little bit of time to give to your neighbourhood.

“It’s always something to look back upon and be proud of what you’ve done. I think a lot of people don’t realise if they volunteer, the things that come out of it. You can be really proud. For a residents group, it might take an hour meeting a week. Just do it!

“My main message is, you do have time – an hour a week’s enough, but you do have time.

Jim, Resident Ambassador

In the future we’re going to speak about the biggest project Jim and his wife, Val – who we met last time – worked together on, transforming part of their local environment for the whole community.

To read more about how resident scrutiny panels work, click here. 

Resident engagement and our next Resident Ambassador

Our second Resident Ambassador, Val lives in the North East of England and has been working alongside her housing association and for national resident boards for years. She came forward as a Resident Ambassador for the Resident Voice Index™ project and describes how resident engagement takes dedication and partnership working.

The relationship that Val has with her housing provider is a strong one. “We don’t feel it’s us and the staff, we feel as if we are a team, we work together. If there’s something new coming out, they’ll come to us and go, ‘We’re thinking of doing this. What are your thoughts on it? Do you think this is where we should be going?

“The CEO of our housing provider comes and gives talks at our resident groups and goes over what’s happened in the last six months. They say the good stuff, but also the things they’ve not quite got right. It’s honest and open. If other residents don’t get this chance to speak to the board, they should. They’ve got to have more of a say.

The more people that have a say in things, the more people like the government will listen to us. If residents sing off the same hymn sheet, we can lobby, saying ‘there’s a load of us here, look at this law, we think this should change.’ You have a bigger voice if groups from around the country and other organisations join together.

Val, Resident Ambassador

How digital has changed resident engagement

For Val, digital involvement from home has made things less formal and more understanding of people’s lives. Resident engagement is now easier than ever. “At every meeting that we have, we have the etiquette slide that comes up. We all agree with the agenda and what everybody’s alright with.

“Sometimes when we are speaking, people have got the children there and they say they are sorry, but of course we understand – it’s the way things are. If you have to go and see to the child, just go and do it – we’ll still be here!

Get involved however you can

If you’re a resident who either doesn’t have a lot of time, thinks that they don’t have enough time or might not want to be that involved, there are still small ways to have your say. “People can’t get the right information if residents don’t engage with things like surveys. For some residents, it could be that they are frightened to say things to people or direct to their housing provider, but they’re not as bothered when they’re having to write things down.

Don’t be afraid to speak out because whatever you say doesn’t go against you. When we get new people during our groups we always say, ‘If you’ve got anything to say, just put your hand up and say it.’ There’s no such thing as a stupid question because other people could be sat there thinking the same.

Val, Resident Ambassador

One of the best things about conducting the Resident Voice Index™ project has been hearing from residents up and down the country. We’ve found that there have been differences; Val and Jim (Val’s husband, who you’ll meet next time) for example, have quite a special relationship with their housing provider, built on strong resident engagement. This should be the universal experience of residents based on working together for the long-term with mutual respect and a shared vision to improve communities.