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Home » News » January 2021 » Blog: A reflection on resident involvement in a national crisis by David Onions, Head of Co-Regulation

Blog: A reflection on resident involvement in a national crisis by David Onions, Head of Co-Regulation

18 January 2021
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It’s early March and news is dominated by the Home Secretary and ‘Megxit’ alongside something called Coronavirus. Me and my team are excited, preparing to launch ‘A Conversation with Sanctuary’, a massive programme of resident engagement that we have been planning for the last six months. We thought Coronavirus might affect our plans. Little did we know…

Roll the clock forward a fortnight or so. Lockdown. Can barely remember a world before Covid-19. No longer excited. Gutted. More importantly, what might this horrible virus mean for our residents and staff, not to mention our family and friends? So, what now?

Working from home quickly becomes the new normal and we need to look at new and creative ways of working with our residents and delivering our services.

Recognising the challenges ahead, we quickly entered conversations with our National Resident Scrutiny Panel (NRSP) about how we could adapt our services while continuing to be accountable to our residents.

With the stop on all face to face engagement with residents, our focus shifted to how we could support our operations in understanding our residents’ immediate challenges of the pandemic. What emerged from this was a programme of ‘Keep In Touch’ calls with our local operations doing an amazing job of reaching our most vulnerable residents and distributing food parcels. This was resident involvement in a practical way in a real crisis.

We very quickly supported our NRSP to use video conferencing so we could continue to meet virtually. Such was the success of the meetings, we recognised that the use of technology could help us reach even more residents and involve them in helping shape our services.

Over the summer we ran a recruitment programme where more than 1,700 residents said they wanted to work with us, from commenting on policies, testing new technology and being part of formal groups scrutinising how we run our services.

We have learned through Covid how we can keep our residents up to date about our services faster and hear their views. To help us, more than 450 residents have already been involved in testing a possible ‘App’. We are running webinars on our emerging resident communications strategy so hundreds of residents can directly influence what we do. We could never have done this by using face-to-face meetings alone.

We have also harnessed the power of technology to conduct virtual family and friend visits at our supported living schemes, and we are in the process of testing virtual estate visits which we hope to expand.

Working with and supporting our residents allows them to continue to hold us to account in how we run our services. We now have our own Chartered Institute of Housing training programme, Sanctuary Residents’ Academy, where residents can improve their knowledge about housing and gain a recognised professional qualification. We will expand this to reach many more residents in the next year. Thanks to Phoenix Community Housing for this great idea. 

During the pandemic, all these things have been made possible by using technology. Covid has helped to accelerate our plans and deliver both fast and positive changes to our approach to resident involvement. Our NRSP meets more often, without taking the time to travel. We of course want to be back in a position where we can meet in person, but the benefits of technology have become clear.

Despite the challenges, we have also been able to launch ‘A Conversation with Sanctuary’ through a regional pilot. We’ve heard directly from more than a third of residents and will be responding to what residents have said with a local action plan. Our experience will be invaluable for when we look to do ‘A Conversation with Sanctuary’ across the country soon.

November culminated with the publication of the Social Housing White Paper. We have not waited for this. We have found more creative ways to continue to involve our residents in how we run our services. We will continue to strive to do even better.

As the rollercoaster that was 2020 has ended and 2021 has begun, we are all locked down again. Transforming how we engage with residents has meant, unlike last March, our resident involvement and scrutiny work continues. 

Although I know only a small part of the challenges our residents and staff are still facing, I am optimistic about the future. I look forward to seeing residents face to face again. I thank everyone who has embraced the new normal of resident involvement and scrutiny. I feel the journey has only just begun.

Residents can find out more about how they can get involved in shaping our services by visiting our How to get involved page.

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