Resident Ambassadors revisited | Exploring belonging and caring

We’ve been lucky enough to talk to two of our Resident Ambassadors again, this time together. Val and Jim are a married couple – and dare we say it, a power couple. They have been a part of the Resident Voice Index™ project since the beginning, helping to shape the Neighbourhoods & Communities survey and getting the word out there. We all got together following the publication of the Neighbourhoods & Communities report to talk about the impact that belonging to and caring about a neighbourhood has on people.  

For a long time, links have been made between belonging to a community and individual happiness and wellbeing – it can even lead to better physical and mental health. The Neighbourhoods & Communities survey results revealed that 31% of those who answered said that they feel like they belong to their neighbourhood and 37% actively said that they did not feel like they belong to their neighbourhood. This was out of a total of almost 4,000 social housing residents.

More positively, a higher number of people (approaching one half) cared about being involved with their neighbourhood. That means that there are people out there who currently don’t feel like they belong but care about being involved, and with the right actions their sense of belonging could be increased.

Val and Jim have been busy bees in their neighbourhood for decades now and they are extremely proud of one another for what they do. When asked what makes them most proud of each other, Jim described Val’s work on a project they did to improve the local community. It took a few years, some knockbacks and having to team up with multiple people, but they got there in the end!

Val explained, “I think a good neighbourhood is everybody working together. If you live on an estate, find out if there are different landlords, what’s going on there, who’s running the business and all get together. We’re not frightened to say to landlords, ‘we don’t think it’s going to work. Give us a go.’

“We had a piece of wasteland where we are and it was getting overgrown. Our group said, ‘right, should we do something? Can we change it into anything?’ And we thought of a MUGA (Multi-Use Games Area).”

It took some patience, as Val explains: “Seven and a half years down the line, everybody else in the resident’s group had dropped out; there was only me and Jim left. We approached a building partnership and asked, ‘Can you help us?’ The housing provider said if we could get funded, we could have it.

“Within a week we found out we had £140,000 for this project. We got somebody to do the work, however there were such high management fees. The council around here weren’t able to be involved and we approached them, as we lived over the road and asked if we could keep an eye on the progress of the project instead – so we took it on!”

At the end of the project, “There was even some money left over. We declared it but said, ‘there’s still this bit of wasteland, let’s have a bit of a nature walk’; three weeks after, the MUGA pitch was open. We drove past and saw three people in wheelchairs using that pitch. Jim and I said to one another that if the pitch doesn’t get any more use than that, it’s still been worthwhile.”

Across the Neighbourhoods & Communities survey, a recurring theme that emerged from the answers was that the availability of accessible, community spaces matters a lot to residents and increases people’s sense of community. In some cases, it even influences a more positive perception of landlords. Val and Jim’s work is inspirational to us all and shows that vision and dedication can get the job done.