Tamar Housing in Plymouth uses themed Facebook posts to update residents. Operations director Stuart Francis-Dubois explains how it has been so effective
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Last year Inside Housing launched its Resident Safety Campaign, in association with Aico, to showcase landlords’ good practice when it comes to working with residents to raise awareness of safety issues. The campaign was inspired by 2018’s Social Housing Green Paper, which emphasised how vital it is for residents to have the opportunity to input into landlords’ safety policies.
This year, the Resident Safety Campaign continues. Inside Housing is working with 12 Safer Homes Ambassadors throughout the year to find out more from those who are working directly with residents to promote messages of safety and to keep everyone informed.
We also launched a competition to source the very best approaches from across the sector, and Plymouth-based Tamar Housing’s entry was one of the winners. Operations director Stuart Francis-Dubois, also one of this year’s Safer Homes Ambassadors, tells us more about the initiative.
When Inside Housing launched the Resident Safety Campaign competition last year, we were looking for outstanding examples of social landlords involving residents in safety decisions and keeping them informed. Tamar Housing’s entry was impressive because of its effective use of social media. The judges said it was “a great example of a small organisation doing big things because you understood how to engage your residents in a high-impact, low-resource way”. So, how did the project – known as #SafetySaturday – come about?
As we are a local housing association we have a good relationship with our residents; when they call, they don’t come through to a call centre, they deal with the team directly, so they know us well. Many of our rent-to-buy residents are young and we found that they were keen to engage with us through social media.
In 2018, we began to put out weekly repairs and maintenance advice for our tenants on Facebook. We chose the platform because it’s a personal, friendly way of communicating and because all of our staff get involved in posting. Facebook is accessible and something most people know how to use.
The themed posts were tagged #MaintenanceMonday and they proved to be a success. Residents read, engaged with and shared the posts, and we received plenty of positive feedback. So we decided to enlarge our digital offering and added health and safety information in a similar format.
The first #SafetySaturday post went out last spring. The idea was to create a buzz. Although we wanted to share information on how to test carbon monoxide detectors or fire safety issues, we also wanted to include interesting information from outside the organisation – for example, how to be aware of online scammers.
On average each post is seen by 170 people – which is great for a 750-property organisation where the estates are scattered throughout the community. Our largest estate has 33 homes, so it’s difficult to hold meetings. This has meant that resident engagement has always been an issue for us.
But since we launched this initiative last year, Tamar has doubled its follower count on Facebook. This means we have built a solid channel of communication through which we’re able to reach a lot of residents quickly and easily. In addition, we can be reactive. For example when we receive a lot of calls about boilers, we can add a post about service checks or how to use the storage meters.
This has also been invaluable in recent months during lockdown when staff have been working from home and we’ve needed to reach residents and continue to make them feel part of the Tamar community.
How have you expanded your original campaign?
Because of how residents were interacting with us on Facebook, we knew they were interested in their homes’ safety. We decided it would be a great idea to organise a series of focus group meetings for residents to decide on a new fire evacuation plan and we invited people through the Facebook page. A fire safety expert talked to them and asked what they thought should happen when the fire alarm goes off… because the residents have the best knowledge of [how to go about] leaving their properties. It was interesting because at the start of the meeting, a lot of residents were keen on traditional evacuation, but then they realised that for residents who are less mobile, this isn’t the most sensible plan.
Now, the residents have created a new fire action plan. Since September, the alarms don’t sound when they go off. Instead the system contacts the fire services and residents stay put and stay safe. This messaging also came about as a result of meeting the other winners of Inside Housing’s safety competition last year, when some of the other landlords discussed the ‘stay safe’ message.
The Facebook posts have expanded to #WellbeingWednesday as well – at Tamar, we like alliteration! This is because staff have received some mental heath training and we recognise this is also part of offering a comprehensive health and safety programme for our residents. During Mental Health Awareness Week last month we posted information every day.
Tamar’s Facebook following has doubled since last year
What has this meant during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Being a small organisation, Tamar’s staff were able to call every resident at the start of lockdown to ask if they needed to be in contact with support services, had sufficient food, or required deliveries from food banks.
In addition, the Facebook page has been invaluable for telling residents about social distancing, how to stay safe, and what organisations to contact if they need help. We have also communicated about the availability of our welfare and benefits advisors. As we’ve had to adapt to how we deal with repairs and rent payments due to lockdown, we’ve been able to update our messages, post and quickly inform residents.
We have found that residents like to message us on Facebook; this is good because they are able to contact us and ask questions any time that’s convenient for them – even during the night. Now that we’ve entered into a partnership, our properties are spread widely across Somerset, Dorset and Devon. Establishing Facebook as a form of resident communication among communities where active usage is currently low will be a focus for the next few months.
Inside Housing’s Resident Safety Campaign with Aico is working with 12 Ambassadors to uncover outstanding examples of social landlords engaging with residents to raise awareness of safety issues.