For the second year, Inside Housing has asked the sector for examples of outstanding initiatives that engaged residents to work with landlords on areas of safety. Read more about the winning entries
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While the most important priority for social landlords is to build high-quality homes that are safe to live in, it is vital that residents have a forum to give their views and engage with their landlord about safety policies concerning their home.
Last year, Inside Housing launched a Resident Safety Campaign, in association with Aico, that sought to highlight good practice from social landlords in working with residents to raise awareness of safety issues, and this year the campaign and competition have continued.
Our judges picked five social housing providers, looking at a range of solutions as examples of learning that other landlords could pick up on.
The five winners are: Stockport Homes, Your Homes Newcastle, Lewisham Homes, Camden Council and Riverside Group.
Here, each summarises its entry.
Last year, Stockport Homes Group, an 11,500-home ALMO, was invited by the Ministry of Housing. Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to join the Social Sector (Building Safety) Engagement Best Practice Group, comprising eight social landlords, with the aim of leveraging the sector’s resident engagement expertise to improve fire safety.
Stockport Homes exceeded this brief. In a pilot project this year, the ALMO reached out to almost 600 residents across 22 tower blocks to ascertain the most effective methods for conveying fire safety information.
This began with a short survey that asked residents about their knowledge of fire safety, and to what extent they trusted their landlord as a source of fire safety information. Stockport Homes then provided these residents with a fire safety infographic, co-designed and approved by regional fire services, using each participant’s preferred method of communication: email, text, letter or poster.
“Stockport Homes worked directly with residents to identify how they preferred to be communicated with. They recognised engagement is a partnership”
Judge Tina Mistry, South specification manager, Aico
A few weeks later, the residents were asked the same questions again. The aim was twofold: to see whether the infographic had boosted their fire safety knowledge, and to understand how different communication formats affected residents’ confidence in and ability to recall this information.
Sending letters had the most positive impact, while posters in communal areas also proved memorable. These results will be used via MHCLG to help inform best practice across the sector.
“I have gained a real insight into building safety,” says Stockport Homes resident John Cairns (pictured right), who took part in the pilot. “My practical knowledge of living in a high-rise block for 15 years has contributed to this pilot, and I have felt that my input has been valued.”
“Pictorial and paper-based communication had the most impact on [Stockport Homes residents’] knowledge and confidence around fire safety in their homes”
Judge Rosemary Ley, resident, Optivo
Stockport Homes now plans to use its findings to help inform communications with residents across the organisation.
“We have always put a real emphasis on engaging with our customers,” says Verity Calderbank, head of marketing and communications at Stockport Homes. “We are constantly looking at new ways of doing things, but rather than running off and just doing it we are asking people, ‘Would this work for you?’ And that has made the real difference, because people feel they have bought into it more because they have been on this journey with us.”
Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) is another of the eight social landlords MHCLG asked to join its Social Sector (Building Safety) Engagement Best Practice Group last year.
Following the Grenfell Tower fire, YHN’s communications team worked hard to strengthen its relationships with residents, particularly around the issue of fire safety – and membership of MHCLG’s best practice group offered an opportunity to build on those efforts.
Working with Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, an organisation already trusted by YHN’s residents, the landlord set out to measure the effectiveness of various methods of communication in terms of strengthening high-rise residents’ fire safety knowledge.
The project engaged with more than 500 residents in what YHN describes as a customer-led process. It concluded that writing personally addressed letters to residents was the most effective way to draw their attention to a newly designed fire information poster, which is now on display in all of YHN’s blocks.
“YHN has shown that sometimes our gut instinct is wrong about how residents respond to safety messages”
Judge Stuart Francis-Dubois, operations director, Willow Tree Housing Partnership
“We also learned that any type of contact with high-rise residents can have a positive impact, particularly in terms of building trust between customer and provider,” says Jen Vinton, customer services director at YHN. “By just engaging with customers on fire safety, we had already begun to build greater trust.”
YHN will use the findings from its pilot to inform a wider communications and engagement project about all aspects of high-rise living; the landlord has prioritised letters as a communication channel during its response to COVID-19 as a result. The research has also been incorporated into the MHCLG group’s final report.
“The engagement team at YHN strives to put the customer voice at the heart of service improvements and decision-making, and it is fantastic to be recognised for our work engaging with residents on such an important topic, which is high on the agenda for landlords and tenants alike,” says Ms Vinton. “We hope that by winning this award, more housing providers can benefit from our findings and more high-rise customers can benefit from improved communication and engagement with their landlords.”
Lewisham Homes and United Living got together to raise awareness about fire safety via a YouTube video
The early part of the year saw Lewisham Homes and contractor United Living collaborate on a central concern: fire safety (see photo).
United Living had been carrying out major renovation and recladding work across three of Lewisham Homes’ blocks following the Grenfell Tower fire. This prompted Lewisham Homes to launch an initial five-minute video via YouTube to boost resident awareness around fire safety.
But when the pandemic hit in March this year, leading to a national lockdown, it became obvious that further engagement was needed, with a notable spike in fire-related incidents.
From a total of 12 and 14 fire-related incidents in 2018 and 2019 respectively, Lewisham Homes recorded 23 incidents in the lockdown period alone, due to an increase in home cooking and fly-tipping.
Responding quickly to the challenge, Lewisham Homes developed its initial video into a long-term, multi-channel, mixed-media campaign.
Emails and text messages were sent to residents containing fire safety information and a link to the video. To boost engagement, the team also began sharing messages from the video on social media channels, warning of the particular risks associated with the lockdown (see below).
As Lewisham is one of the most diverse boroughs in the capital, the team had to make sure that all messaging was accessible, so it created a shorter, animated video with elements used for email signatures, newsletters, social media and Lewisham Homes’ resident magazine.
As Margaret Dodwell, chief executive of Lewisham Homes, notes: “Resident and staff safety is the absolute top priority. The emergence of COVID-19 demanded quick thinking because our fire safety team picked up on a spike in incidents. The campaign is a good example of creative thinking and collaboration, and we are grateful for the support of partners Lewisham Council, London Fire Brigade (LFB) and United Living for their input.”
“Lewisham’s entry was a great example of using multiple communication channels to reach residents in a very diverse area”
Judge Stuart Francis-Dubois, operations director, Willow Tree Housing Partnership
Although there was a natural drop-off when lockdown ended, the reduction in incidents has been marked, with only six recorded in June despite home-working continuing.
Looking forward, Lewisham Homes says the campaign will continue, with an additional poster campaign starting in the near future.
After finding combustible material in the external insulation of its 10-storey Glynde Reach tower at the height of lockdown, Camden Council knew it was vital to communicate to residents how and when works would be taking place to make the block safe.
With little choice but to stay at home, residents in the 46 flats had to be both informed and reassured that the fire safety works would be conducted as soon as possible, and that safety would be assured throughout.
While the LFB agreed that it was safe for the facade to stay on the block until it was replaced, there was a need for every household to have alarms fitted, remove flammable materials from their balconies and ensure all stairs and exits were clear.
Communicating this vital message at such a difficult time would not be easy. But working closely with the tenants’ and residents’ association and the LFB, the council ensured communication was comprehensive, including delivering a letter directly to each household with translated versions for the Bengali community.
“I liked how Camden tackled the very serious issues of fire safety head on. It embarked on an intensive campaign to clear balconies with great success. It also embraced the diversity of its residents by including translations of communication for the local Bengali community”
Judge Eileen Patterson, director of housing, Radius
This was reinforced by leaflets and posters in their existing ‘Safer Together’ branding, as well as face-to-face communication from staff on the ground, with the council providing contact details for their director of resident safety to address any concerns.
The mini campaign was a success, resulting in residents and contractors fitting fire alarms and door closers to 91% of the flats, with 91% of residents surveyed also reporting that their balconies were still clear six months after the engagement work.
Elsewhere, feedback showed that 85% of residents felt well-informed throughout the process, with 78% saying they felt safe in their homes.
Lucy Lee, communications manager for housing and resident safety at Camden Council, says: “The biggest challenge was that this was at the height of the first lockdown. With the backdrop of the global pandemic, we didn’t want to make things harder for residents at a time that was stressful enough already. We wanted our residents to be informed and to carry out the actions we’d asked of them – we were really pleased so many told us that they feel safe, which is exactly how it should be. Everyone should feel safe at home.”
Riverside used phone calls, social media and its website to explain how response repairs could continue in a safe way during lockdown
The easing of lockdown restrictions in June stoked concerns among residents over face-to-face interactions, presenting social landlords with a real challenge in remobilising their responsive repairs services.
When Riverside’s asset services team consulted with its residents post-lockdown, it was obvious that ongoing uncertainty around COVID-19 created a need to be very clear about its safety measures, including how it was following the government’s advice when working in homes.
Reassurance was key, with Riverside Group wanting to convey information directly to its residents about how specific repairs and gas servicing appointments were continuing with COVID-19 safety measures in place.
Starting with phone calls, the group’s marketing and communications department contacted customers to explain the safety measures for appointments and to see if anyone was shielding or self-isolating. Each customer was then sent a confirmation SMS with a link to a specially created animation video.
Another video was then made by the team and shared on Riverside’s website and social media platforms. Both videos were also shared internally with colleagues to give a clear understanding of safety measures and advice for customers on how they could help operatives keep them safe during home visits.
“Gas safety and servicing is, very rightly, a high priority for all landlords and Riverside demonstrated a clear commitment to this despite the added difficulties of COVID-19. Communicating with residents got the landlord the results they needed”
Judge Eileen Patterson, director of housing, Radius
With these measures in place, they found little reluctance to book repairs and arrange appointments, with feedback pointing to the videos in particular as providing reassurance that social distancing, necessary PPE and limited contact were in place.
As Iain Hardman, director of building safety at Riverside, explains: “The communications activity, including these videos, really helped us increase access rates for gas safety checks. It helped us achieve 100% customer satisfaction with gas servicing, and over 90% customer satisfaction with our heating repairs service.”
Victor Andrews, Riverside resident and chair of the Riverside Customer Voice Executive, adds: “During this uncertain time, what residents have needed most is to feel safe and reassured. Riverside involved us in their plans at an early stage, heeding our advice to focus their communication on safety and reassurance during this unprecedented period.”
With an uncertain winter ahead, it will be important that the remobilisation continues, with gas safety checks essential to customer safety.
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