The mass vaccination programme is an opportunity for housing associations to support their residents and communities, says Rob Sugden, Head of Communities at HACT
Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve seen how housing associations have mobilised to conduct welfare calls to their residents and ensure they have access to necessary services.
The phenomenal support offered by the sector during the pandemic was captured through HACT and the Centre’s impact measures, which evidenced how housing associations made close to one million welfare calls between March and October 2020.
The mass vaccination programme for Coronavirus is an opportunity for housing associations to support their residents and communities once again, by drawing on new and existing communications channels, putting community resources to use, and even supplying volunteers.
Keeping in touch
As landlords and service providers, housing associations are in regular contact with those who belong to groups disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. These are exactly the people that the vaccination programme is trying to reach.
Most housing associations have some form of newsletter or regular email to tenants or use text messaging services and social media to promote programmes. On top of this, many are still running periodic phone calls to residents to check on their welfare. These direct communication channels have built trust, serve diverse communities, and can be put to use to ensure that all residents are kept informed and updated on vaccinations locally.
One community investment colleague told me earlier this week that, following news of the lockdown earlier in the week, they had record numbers of calls to their contact centre. In times of uncertainty, residents are looking to housing associations to provide a trusted response.
Freeing up space
The second area where housing associations could help is through their community assets: as owners and managers of a large percentage of the UK’s community centres, housing associations could free up these venues to be used as vaccination centres. Community centres tend to be conveniently located, locally trusted, and offer the accessibility and amenities that staff, volunteers, and visitors need.
“We’ve spoken to colleagues within our networks who would happily make their community centres available for free to support the vaccination programme”
Wythenshawe Community Housing Group is using one of their community centres as a vaccination hub, while the former HQ of one of London’s largest social landlords is also being converted into one of the city’s largest vaccination hubs.
We’ve spoken to other colleagues within our networks who would happily make their community centres available for free to support the vaccination programme, with the assurance that the centres would be put to full use.
The wide range of support services that housing associations provide to residents, which help them in to work, alleviate financial hardship, support mental and physical wellbeing, and build community cohesions, could act as another route to supporting and promoting the mass rollout of the programme.
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Strength in numbers
Finally, the sector could potentially supply the NHS with willing volunteers and redeployed staff to support the rollout of vaccinations as appropriate. Many social housing organisations have established resident volunteering programmes or strong links with local volunteer centres, especially during the first lockdown, and could draw upon these to support the efforts.
In the first national lockdown, our networks reported redeploying almost 5,000 staff to frontline roles to support local communities. We foresee a similar response if there were clearly defined roles.
Social housing organisations are some of the biggest investors in skills and employment programmes. They support tens of thousands of people into employment each year. If there are short-term paid opportunities that arise in the delivery of the mass vaccination programme, social housing organisations would be well positioned to support the recruitment and training for these roles.
In developing a vaccination programme, it makes sense for the government to work with and through social housing organisations and their local partners. And housing has always played a critical role in the health of residents.
We connect with over 300 social landlords on a regular basis, through our communications and weekly meetings. We’re inviting social housing organisations who are interested in playing a role to contact us to discuss more opportunities to support the mass rollout of the vaccine in communities across the UK.
We’ve also written a letter in response to the Minister of Civil Society and Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership, actively calling on the community and voluntary sector to contribute ideas and practical suggestions to support the mass vaccination programme for Coronavirus.
By mobilising our networks, resources, and staff, the UK social housing sector can play a unique and important role in keeping our communities safe from COVID-19 and helping them to recover.
Image: Rob Sugden, head of Communities, HACT
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