Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, says Michelle Baker. Virtual meetings have allowed me to participate as an Eastlight resident in a way that was difficult and sometimes impossible when they were carried out in person
I have a request to make: when we eventually reach the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, can we please keep virtual meetings?
As a heavily involved resident of a new, customer-led housing association, I want to contribute as much as I possibly can, and I am able to be so much more effective when I can communicate via Zoom or Teams.
It’s fair to say that prior to the coronavirus crisis, I already had a lot on my plate. I run my own accountancy business and I have two children with a genetic condition, which means they have additional needs.
Nevertheless, I really value my community, and wanted to commit to helping Eastlight Community Homes to make a difference. As it is a community gateway, resident shareholders play an important role in Eastlight’s decision-making, so there was a real opportunity for me to make an impact.
The first national lockdown was announced four months before the launch of Eastlight, which took place in July last year, and it made a huge difference in terms of the amount of time I was able to spend focusing on representing residents.
Before the lockdown, I was finding it difficult to get to every face-to-face meeting – my eldest child spends a lot of time having hospital treatment in London, and this meant I sometimes had to miss out on important conversations happening in a meeting room back home in Essex. Now, I can take my laptop with me and drop into meetings from wherever I am.
Of course, lockdown and the closure of schools has brought its own difficulties – I’m now balancing work, volunteering and homeschooling, which is particularly challenging for my husband and I, as one of our kids is registered blind and the other is partially deaf. Our teaching resources need to be sensory and it’s not possible for us to leave our children to get on with their work for a few minutes, while we do other things.
One of the best things to emerge throughout this time, is me feeling a lot more comfortable about being open about my home life, especially with the team at Eastlight. I’ve also started seeing others in a new light, too. Virtual meetings have led to me getting to know other involved residents and Eastlight team members so much better.
I hadn’t actually met everyone ahead of the first lockdown, but I feel like I’ve got to know them all so much more quickly. It’s often said that face-to-face meetings help you build relationships, trust and mutual understanding. But there is something about talking to people in their own homes — and being able to see and hear them with their children and pets — that makes them seem more real, more human.
I hope that post-pandemic, Eastlight will continue holding virtual meetings. It will really help me out, especially when my children return to school, and I have more time to enjoy my role as an involved resident without needing to travel to face-to-face meetings and rush away afterwards.
This month, Eastlight launched a new recruitment campaign to attract members of our new customer influence committee. I’m confident we’ll hear from a range of great people with different views, backgrounds and needs, who will want to help make sure Eastlight is the trailblazing organisation it has set out be.
I believe that being able to contribute virtually will encourage residents who perhaps would have been put off by the thought of the time commitment of face-to-face meetings to now get involved. Before, it was asking a lot for people to travel to and from meetings, often taking several hours out of their days – now, they only need to log on in order to meaningfully contribute.
Personally, I’ve learned so much through being part of the creation of Eastlight, and from my ongoing involvement. I want others to benefit in the same way.
I’m hoping that our collective experiences during the past 10 months have helped people to realise that everybody out there has their own issues and struggles, and that theirs shouldn’t stop them from being active in their communities.
Keeping the majority of meetings virtual, even when it isn’t absolutely necessary to do so, will lead to more people feeling comfortable about joining discussions. They will be able to contribute on their own terms, in a way that fits around their lives – and this will lead to a wider range of voices being heard.
Michelle Baker, resident committee member, Eastlight Community Homes
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