It has never been more important for housing associations to connect people with their communities and offer ways to involve and empower residents, writes Simone George, a tenant board member at Phoenix Community Housing
When you think about community, you possibly imagine people coming together: laughing, swapping stories, and reminiscing about old times.
The word community conjures ideas of safety and comfort. Seeing those familiar, warm faces on your way to the corner shop or just feeling at peace with those faces not so familiar to you.
Without the heart, the body will cease to exist, and a place called The Green Man is undoubtedly the heart of my community in south London.
The Green Man is the strong core that brings and holds people together. People pop in and indulge in an aromatic coffee and enjoy freshly prepared breakfasts and lunches – all the while in the company of each other.
The Green Man is also the headquarters of my landlord, Phoenix Community Housing. Phoenix’s open approach fosters trust, solid relationships and a community that wants to flourish. Beyond food and drink, The Green Man is host to many fantastic events, workshops, and ways for residents and others to gain new skills and find support in everything from finding a job to getting online.
“Mine the talents of your residents, get to know their skills and unlock their full potential for a brighter future”
The Green Man is, of course, closed right now. Residents stay at home, perhaps seeing each other two metres apart in parks, while many staff work remotely.
But that doesn’t change one important thing: it is essential that Phoenix maintains a close relationship with its tenants and continues to be the strong pulse that beats throughout the community.
Every day I see caretakers and ground maintenance staff out on duty, working hard to maintain the integrity of the area. There is great comfort in seeing the white and green Phoenix vans, going up and down the streets. With the utmost care, Phoenix provides support and assistance for its most vulnerable tenants. Whether it is delivering food packs to those who cannot get out or making phone calls to those who may need to hear a friendly voice, Phoenix has modelled how to adapt and be proactive in tough situations.
The question is not “how do we get through this?”, but rather “how do we ensure tenants are as fully involved and engaged as ever?”.
I discovered Phoenix’s ‘school of social housing’ at a conference in Manchester – odd, you might say, as a Phoenix tenant in Lewisham. But through a chance meeting with Phoenix’s chief executive Jim Ripley at a housing conference, I was introduced to the Phoenix Academy.
I had some knowledge of the housing sector through my job at the time as a recruitment executive for Inside Housing. During my time there, I developed a genuine interest in finding out more.
I went through the Phoenix Academy and gained a Chartered Institute of Housing Level 2 qualification. I found new confidence as a tenant. I understood my rights and responsibilities much better. I also got to experience how it feels to directly communicate and engage with tenants. It was great to be in a room with other residents who were as passionate about their community as I am and wanting to learn and do more.
“The housing sector should really consider what it would look like to tribute power to their tenants and become collaborators, rather than the traditional tenant-landlord relationship”
Now, we can’t be in a room together. So, like schools across the UK, the Phoenix Academy is stepping out of the classroom and going virtual.
I wholeheartedly believe virtual learning is a powerful tool. As a secondary school teacher myself, I have seen the benefits of learning online. We are in a time when technology is very much a part of daily life, so why not use it as a tool to enrich residents with the same confidence and experience I gained? A virtual academy also opens up the possibility of having more residents involved at once since there is no issue of space.
Martin Luther King Jr once said (and I’m paraphrasing): the measure of a man is not where he stands when things are good, but where he stands when things are really bad. During these dark times, Phoenix clearly stands with its residents. Now is not the time to dial back on resident involvement and community engagement.
This is the perfect opportunity to reflect on practices and to empower those who may feel hopeless. Like the proverbial rose growing through the concrete, crisis has a way of exposing the rainbow through the storm. We have witnessed communities pulling together through many avenues, from WhatsApp to mutual aid groups. This is a clear sign of not only the strength and resilience our residents possess but also of the fact that they know what’s best for their community.
In this crisis, the housing sector should really consider what it would look like to tribute power to their tenants and become collaborators, rather than the traditional tenant-landlord relationship. Imagine how strong your communities would be if more tenants were informed, empowered, confident and valued.
Resident-led governance models are undeniably the future. They have proved to be effective for keeping a strong hold on things during hard situations, especially events we don’t see coming. There is only so much one team or organisation can do. Mine the talents of your residents, get to know their skills and unlock their full potential for a brighter future.
And if you don’t know where to start? I hear there’s a school of social housing where residents and staff learn alongside each other, and that it’s enrolling soon.
Simone George, tenant board member, Phoenix Community Housing