Community investment programmes on health, digital literacy, job-seeking, personal finances and more are designed to help whg’s tenants and staff improve their quality of life
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There is a well-established link between good health, well-being and productivity in the workplace. This is something employers are increasingly starting to recognise, with many now taking steps to help improve the circumstances of their employees.
Earlier this year, Walsall-based housing association whg introduced its Be a Better You campaign aimed at improving the health and well-being of staff across the business. The inspiration for the campaign came from its own community investment programme.
“Be a Better You is the way we have brought it into the business to work with our colleagues. That is the only difference. We are now offering the stuff we did within the community to our colleagues,” says Clare Thomas, head of health and well-being at whg.
Be a Better You incorporates a variety of activities, from financial well-being sessions to first aid training and walking football.
One particular scheme that has already seen significant success is whg’s Waist Away programme. Waist Away is a 12-week diet management plan that seeks to foster positive change in eating behaviours by reframing the way people think about food. So far, 22 colleagues have lost 7st 3lb between them.
“I was feeling overweight and down. The programme wasn’t just about losing weight. It was making you feel better about yourself, too,” says Angela Benton-Williams (above right), property ownership advisor at whg, one of the members of staff who completed the course.
“It worked for me and I was really pleased. I now feel happier about myself and generally fitter,” she adds.
As the pace of digitalisation continues to increase, it is more important than ever that housing providers ensure their tenants can keep up with the pace of technological change.
To ensure they keep up to speed, social landlords whg and Accord Group have joined forces for the Black Country Click Start initiative, which is aimed at improving the digital and financial skills of their customers.
The programme has received £3.9m funding from the European Social Fund and the Big Lottery Fund.
Kerry Hickman (above right), a whg tenant, immediately saw the appeal of the Click Start programme and how it could help improve her IT literacy.
“I wanted to build up my skills because at the moment I’m struggling with health issues, making it very difficult for me to get a full-time job,” she says.
For her, a lack of understanding of email blocked certain opportunities so she took part in the 12-week programme hoping to learn more.
Community coaches from whg helped her learn not only more about email but also how to use essential software such as Microsoft Word and Excel, and how to set up online banking.
The initiative also covered money budgeting, which is where the programme has made a real impact on Ms Hickman’s life.
“I was struggling with debt, but I’m completely debt-free now because I watch what I’m spending,” she says.
“I’ve been doing my own Excel spreadsheets with budgeting and charts. But overall it has made me much more confident, more outgoing and more focused.”
Some of society’s most vulnerable people are social housing tenants and many can find it challenging to gain employment.
For whg resident Ebony Shepherd (above left) a family tragedy affected her mental health and resulted in her dropping out of college education.
But she was supported through this difficult period by whg’s Step Up Step Out programme. It is designed to help tenants overcome barriers to employment.
Customers are encouraged to take part in a confidence and skill-building programme to become work ready, improve their health and well-being, and progress to learning, training and job opportunities.
Ms Shepherd began the course in January, taking part in regular sessions until September. One of the benefits, she says, is that the course helped her to come out of her shell.
“I lacked in confidence, so doing these courses and meeting new people was hard. But as I did the courses, I got to know everyone, so it gave me a really big confidence boost.”
Another positive outcome for her has been her employment as a whg ‘community champion’ since her completion of the programme. The role involves helping organise community outreach courses and liaising with members of the local community to ensure their attendance.
Overall, the programme has helped Ms Shepherd turn her life around.
“I came away with knowledge about a lot of things I thought I would probably never know about and being able to cope with my mental health a lot better,” she says.
With the Universal Credit roll-out continuing at pace, it is more important than ever for social landlords to ensure tenants are able to pay their rents.
To prepare for the shift from housing benefit to Universal Credit, 20,000-home whg has launched a ‘Rent First’ campaign to ensure that new and existing tenants understand the importance of prioritising rent payments. When Karen Reeves and her husband Bill (above) made enquiries about moving into Cardan Pointe, a retirement living scheme in Walsall, the landlord was on hand to help ensure the couple could afford it.
They initially approached whg about moving into the property to house Ms Reeves’ mother, but eventually decided they would be interested in living there as well.
Anita Williams, a technical specialist occupancy advisor at whg, helped the couple through the financial application to ensure they could afford the property. There was a question mark over whether their finances could stretch to cover the costs because the flat at Cardan Pointe was more expensive than their previous home.
However, Ms Williams helped the couple fill in all the relevant forms. “She was very helpful and went through all the housing benefits with us,” adds Ms Reeves. Fortunately, the couple’s application was successful, thanks to Ms Williams’ assistance.
“We did not think we had got one, but within two weeks [Ms Williams] came back and told us we had, and on the same floor as the one my mum had got.”