Gavin Cansfield, chair of HACT, sheds light on how the innovation agency has helped housing associations support their communities during a year like no other – and how it will continue to do so in a post-COVID world
The last physical meeting I chaired for HACT was back in February 2020. My board colleagues and HACT staff members had gathered at the offices of Trowers and Hamlin. Our focus was on HACT’s 60th birthday celebrations. A month later those plans were cancelled.
Our focus, instead, turned to how we could support the sector as the UK entered its first period of lockdown. Two days after lockdown was announced, we held the first of what would become a regular series of online meetings with community investment directors from across the UK. At those first meetings, each attendee would give an update of the actions they had been taking.
It made for sobering listening.
Our role – and that of the centre, in particular – has been astounding over the last 12 months. We’ve hosted over 100 online meetings, engaged with over 250 organisations, and communicated with over 2,500 people on a bi-weekly basis.
Simultaneously, bringing together a network of over 140 social housing organisations across the UK, we have distributed just under £1m in fuel energy vouchers to residents most in need.
The power of collaboration, of organisations coming together in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, has been evident throughout our work. It’s evident in the UK Housing Data Standards that we’ve developed with over 70 partners, standards that will be critical in delivering building safety across the social housing sector.
And collaboration enabled us to evidence the impact of the sector throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, we know UK housing organisations representing over 40% of the sector’s stock have made over 1.25m welfare calls since March 2020, provided over 300,000 advice sessions, and distributed almost £2.6m in direct financial support.
As well as helping the sector to demonstrate its impact over the last 12 months, we’re also in the process of helping the sector to measure and evidence its social impact for the next five years. In September last year, we launched our social value roadmap, which had been developed by the UK Social Value in Housing Taskforce, consisting of housing organisations, social value experts, and the social housing regulator.
We’ve been astounded by the response we’ve had across the social housing sector. Over 40 organisations are now involved with us in developing a new suite of social value metrics, expanding the wellbeing values, the impact we’re making on the environment, and the savings we make to the public purse. By the end of this financial year, we will have use cases and tools that will enable organisations to measure their social impact across the business of social housing.
Over the past 12 months, we’ve also worked alongside social housing organisations to develop and implement social value frameworks, to conduct health checks of their approach to social value, as well as certify their social value reports. And we’ve also responded to the growing need within the sector for data capability, delivering a series of Learning Labs in partnership with OSCRE to increase data literacy.
One of the benefits of working with HACT – and of chairing the organisation for the last six and a half years – is that you get an insight into the future of social housing. The social value roadmap is one such area; the development of tools to help organisations implement the UK Housing Data Standards and improve data literacy across their organisation is another.
“Governance will become more critical as organisations unpack the challenges they face, whether in supporting the recovery of communities, realising the decarbonisation agenda, or putting residents at the heart of our work”
And our R&D pipeline – which includes projects around the environment, ESG, and customer voice – suggests HACT continues to drive value across social housing in the future.
The role of governance will become more critical over the next 12 months as organisations start to unpack some of the challenges they face, whether in supporting the recovery of communities, realising the decarbonisation agenda, or putting residents at the heart of our work. As chair of HACT, I’m delighted that we are launching a NED network that will support NEDs across the social housing sector.
HACT was founded in 1960 with Sir Parker Morris as its chair. We’ve come a long way since those early days when we helped set up Shelter, Paddington Churches, Circle 33, and Liverpool Housing Trust; while also helping establish the care and repair movement and the Empty Homes Agency.
More recently, our focus has been on community investment, data standards, and social value. It was around the latter that we planned to celebrate our 60th birthday celebrations.
And there’s still the matter of how we should celebrate our 61st birthday – we’re planning for that as well!
Image: Gavin Cansfield, chair, HACT
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