The COVID-19 pandemic could permanently change how housing associations interact with communities and build homes, a new report has found.
Published by the social landlord network PlaceShapers and the housing innovation agency HACT, Places After The Pandemic draws insight from more than 100 organisations into how housing associations coped during the Coronavirus lockdown and how they have since gone about reviewing their work.
The report shows that, in the first three months of lockdown, a sample of 42 PlaceShapers members made 300,500 welfare calls, gave advice and guidance to 57,000 people, and organised 50,000 food deliveries.
PlaceShapers’ chair Matthew Walker said: “The crisis has reinforced our sense of place and the value we place on our homes and neighbourhoods.
“A decent, affordable home meant living in comfort during lockdown – it meant space to work from home and home school.
“The support social landlords offered became a lifeline for many in frightening, isolated times.”
The report also found that partnership working between associations has significantly improved, and resident engagement was also found to be higher than ever before.
PlaceShapers members made new partnerships in order to ensure support for residents during the initial lockdown.
“Up and down the country, we heard stories of the difference landlords made and how they worked together in the places they work,” said Walker.
“This report explores the lessons we’ve learned so far from the COVID-19 pandemic, including how local our view of place is and the importance of building strong, trusting partnerships in places.”
Between May and July 2020, HACT interviewed senior staff – mostly chief executives – from 12 PlaceShapers members and ran five themed focus groups representing 49 housing associations.
The report concluded that place became ‘hyper-local’ during the lockdown as housing associations suddenly had to find solutions to problems at an acute local level.
It said this new way of working and interacting has led some to landlords considering a more community-focused operational model.
The report also found that housing associations operating across different regions struggled during the pandemic, especially those with homes in isolated rural areas.
Though, decentralising staff and services by working from home proved to be more successful than many organisations expected.
The report makes several recommendations for the future, such as building on the appetite for collaboration in the sector through creating new learning and development programmes and exploring a new approach to value for money and ensure that homes are fit for the future – given a potential increase in people spending more time at home.
Commenting on the report, Andrew van Doorn, chief executive of HACT, said: “As community anchors, housing associations are in a unique position – we work in place for the long-term.
“We have the capacity to affect the recovery and reset of communities across the UK now and in the future.
“There are significant risks ahead of us that we will need to navigate. By working in collaboration, by evaluating and learning from our experience, by being bold in our choices, we will be able to accelerate change, maximise our resources, and achieve greater impact as place-based organisations.”
The report said social landlords should revisit the ideas detailed within it in a year’s time to understand the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on the sector.
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