Fayann Simpson has been involved in resident engagement projects with L&Q for more than 20 years and was recently named senior independent director. She tells Peter Apps about why she got involved, the current disrepair crisis and her passion for orchids
Tell me about how you came to be involved in resident engagement.
I guess it was my sense of curiosity about what was happening. I went along to a local neighbourhood meeting and decided to get more involved.
I think my reason for being involved is that I feel I can make a difference. I want things to be better for residents across the board.
Do you think the sector has got better at engaging with residents over the past 20 years?
The thing that has improved is the range of ways people can get involved, but there are things that still need work.
In the past, the sector had that really paternalistic attitude towards residents, but there is so much skill and capacity within the resident body.
You had a major influence on L&Q switching from fixed-term to lifetime tenancies. Why was that a cause you championed?
Where you live isn’t just about the roof over your head, it’s about the community. If you’ve got that safety and security, you’re much more able to flourish and contribute to where you live. I have lived in social housing for over 20 years and it has allowed me to thrive. I just want that opportunity for other people, and particularly people with families.
Communities are built up quite slowly and having the ability to put down those roots is key.
Does bringing that perspective demonstrate why having residents involved in these decisions is so important?
It makes those things real. I think the clarity that residents can give you is so important.
I go out and about a lot and residents come up to me and what they have to say is so insightful and so on point that I think it really cuts through a load of flannel.
Do you think residents should be paid for the time they spend on these engagement projects?
I’m open to payment, but there has to be flexibility. You have to think about reward not only in monetary terms. If I think about myself, just the last three years have been with pay.
For me it’s about respecting the skills and talents that the residents already have, but also the skills residents are developing when they get involved with you.
L&Q is currently moving more money into investment in its existing homes. Do you think the organisation has always struck the right balance between spending on existing residents and new build?
It has been a discussion that we’ve had. For me, the issue is about how we invest in our homes, and making sure that any investment we have is really aligned with the priorities and needs of residents – and I don’t think we’ve always got that right.
So, it’s not just about a pound figure, but what are you spending the money on, and what are the things that really have the best effect?
Is it a new bathroom, or is it actually windows that are going to keep me warm? We’ve seen those cases on TV recently and I think it’s because we haven’t listened and heard enough.
Why do you think these disrepair cases keep cropping up? Is it a big problem in social housing?
I think it is – it’s a challenge across the sector. It’s about how easy is it actually for a resident to be heard? With [the L&Q resident featured on ITV], he did get through to us, but we just didn’t hear him or see him well enough.
We have to ensure that our response is quick and it’s empathetic, but it’s also about the way that we work together across the organisation.
With fire safety, for example, people are often quite angry about what’s happening. How should organisations deal with that?
It’s about availability. It’s about openness and transparency. You can’t always provide people with the news and information that they want, but I think it’s about being clear about the things that you can do and the efforts that you are making.
It’s also about making sure all of your workforce is informed and up to date – but it’s that ease of contact which is key.
And finally – you’ve previously exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show. Are you taking anything this year?
I’m a member of the Orchid Society of Great Britain so I’ll be working in the floral marquee.
One of my passions is plants – cut me in half and plants will pop out! I don’t have a garden where I live, but I’ve got a great park five minutes away and my allotment on the other side. That made the world of difference to my time during lockdown.
Fayann Simpson will be on the panel of the ‘Road to consumer regulation – bring tenants and residents with us’ Housing 2021 session, 8 September, 11am. For more information about the conference, click here.