In the latest weekly instalment of KUWC, Annemarie Roberts shares how Golding Homes swerved a knockout blow from COVID-19 by reacting, adapting, and fighting back as a community
How has your way of operating changed?
For Golding Homes, COVID-19 represents one half of a double whammy in 2020. Golding was already on a path of improvements following a regulatory judgment earlier in 2020, so we had to find a way to continue with our improvement plans despite the pandemic. I think it is fair to say that most business continuity plans just did not foresee an event like this.
Looking back now, the lockdown has provided many opportunities for Golding Homes. My most positive reflections so far are of how we have been able to support and reconnect colleagues with customers and our agility and resilience as an organisation.
How has the way in which you interact with tenants and customers changed?
COVID-19 has been a catalyst for re-connecting the traditional frontline and back office colleagues to our customers. We started reaching out immediately to our most vulnerable customers, calling them to offer valuable support and find out how they were doing. These calls were so well received that we extended our efforts, contacting over 6,500 customers in total.
We also worked closely with our main local authority, Maidstone Borough Council, and seconded five colleagues to help cover their Community Hub phoneline.
“The most powerful response we had was a customer who told us she wasn’t aware of the pandemic – all she knew was that she wasn’t able to book a slot for her usual food delivery”
The most powerful response we have had following our welfare calls was a customer who told us she wasn’t aware of the pandemic; all she knew was that she wasn’t able to book a slot for her usual food delivery. We have not only been able to help her get food packages delivered, we have also been able to assist with her mental health challenges (she hasn’t left her home in over three years) by signposting to local organisations who can provide support.
Adapting to our customers
Aside from the phonecalls, we started sending out weekly email newsletters to our customers; something we had been thinking about for a while pre-COVID suddenly happened overnight.
We moved to virtual viewings and lettings quickly after colleagues initially said that it can’t be done, which was important in helping people who were in desperate need of a roof over their head.
We launched the Golding Giving hardship fund for our customers, making it easy for them to get immediate financial help. They could apply on the phone and would have the money in their bank account within 24 hours. We approved 271 claims totalling £24k over 11 weeks.
We opened our Community Chest Fund to local charities who were responding to COVID and were able to help 14 different community groups. One of them was a local club that was able to deliver 395 food parcels to people in need and provide doorstep support.
And we were able to continue 100% gas safety for our properties, through the sheer dedication of our team to work closely with customers who were anxious, isolating or shielding.
What was your remote working policy before the pandemic? How has it since changed?
Golding already had very flexible working in place before the COVID-19 lockdown – for us the transition to fully working remotely was pretty much seamless.
We also sent weekly wellbeing emails to all colleagues sharing tips, videos, quotes, songs, and support to our remote workforce. We offered colleagues a one-off £150 contribution toward their home working setup, too.
If you were to go through it all again, what would you do differently?
For me as an executive team member, I was impressed at how quickly we were able to make decisions. Usually decision making can be quite slow, but we had to adapt to making big decisions daily and relay them to the relevant teams quickly.
However, what become more clear is how perhaps we could have communicated and looked after our repairs operatives better during lockdown. It only really became apparent during recent socially distanced discussions about what an intense experience it was for those of them who weren’t furloughed and had to continue providing emergency and urgent services.
“We could have looked after our repairs operatives better during lockdown – it only became apparent during socially distanced discussions about what an intense experience it was for them”
We have since restarted our ‘toolbox talks’ to make sure we are connecting with our key colleagues and that their views and ideas are being heard and actioned.
What preparations are you making for future crises?
One of the most important elements of our second wave plan is our colleagues. How do we keep them engaged and looked after, especially as we head into the winter months?
Well, for one, we are putting together an intense six-month engagement plan that will include a strong focus on mental wellbeing.
We are also planning our next staff conference, which will be virtual, and have taken the bold move to hand over the running of it to our colleagues. The exec team are excited to see what they come up with.
COVID has created an environment of learning, trying out new ideas, and innovating without that usual nervousness. We now have the mentality of, it’s okay if we fail, as long as we try.
We had to do things differently, as the status quo wasn’t fit for purpose anymore, and we have learnt a huge amount along the way.
Main image: Annemarie Roberts, Executive Director of Operations, Golding Homes
Want to get involved in the Keeping up with COVID series? Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
More from the Keeping up with COVID series:
- Keeping up with COVID: Ongo
- Keeping up with COVID: Johnnie Johnson
- Keeping up with COVID: Magenta Living
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