When Sovereign wanted to create a new, innovative and really effective approach to resident involvement, they asked residents to take the lead.
Having been the chair of the new Resident and Board Partnership for nearly a year I’ve been sharing our experience with other housing associations. Recently I travelled to Shipley to meet Accent Housing residents, who are reviewing their structures and wanted to hear how we developed ours.
It was a chance to look back on how far we’ve come and what we’re hoping to achieve. While our housing associations are different, the challenges are similar.
Accent’s already taken giant steps in improving its digital communication and we’re well on the way. All residents need to be able to get in touch easily, engaged residents want to be able to discuss things with each other and staff want to hear and act on what we’re saying – so new and better digital channels make that far simpler.
For us, going digital included a social media-based recruitment process for our new structures, as well as more traditional drop-in events so residents could meet staff and find out what was involved.
The result was far more interest from residents across a wider age range, and some ‘fresh blood’: nearly half our final members weren’t involved with Sovereign or Spectrum before the merger.
Now we’re getting used to being more digital – from iPads and Yammer groups for us as engaged residents to how we communicate with communities (including this blog!) I was also part of the ‘eye tracking’ research for our online portal and I’m looking forward to the mobile version. Like many others I do everything on my phone these days!
Both our organisations also agree though that there’s a place for face-to-face communication. For us, as a relatively new group of engaged residents, it helps to ‘oil the wheels’ of developing the trust you need to work as a team.
Accent residents asked if I felt that employees listen to us. I said yes, especially now we’re finding our feet. We’re reviewing key policies regularly, have input into Sovereign’s new values and so on. I do see us as part of one team, alongside staff and the Board.
Perhaps that’s because our new approach was very much led by residents. Involved residents from Sovereign and Spectrum started coming together before our formal merger in November 2016. A working group was set up, supported by an independent advisor, to think through how we wanted residents to be involved in the future.
Looking back after the first year I think our recipe includes the best ingredients from our two previous – very different – approaches:
- One group (the Partnership) to give the Board and staff a resident perspective on ‘big picture’ stuff like policies, strategy and government consultations.
- A separate team (our Scrutiny Coordination Group) to look at performance data and other feedback, and then dig deeper into areas they think could be better.
- A good dash of local voice, enabling residents to not just talk about what could be better in their local community, but do something about it.
I think that’s quite a recipe for success. We’ll keep sharing news on what we’re doing, and I wish Accent residents all the best as they develop a structure that works for them and their association.