Changing the narrative

Jul 25, 2019

By Christoph Sinn, External Affairs Manager, Orbit

When you’re talking about your work to someone in a social situation and you mention community investment, how often do you get greeted with a blank stare and non-committal nod?

Community investment isn’t a particularly well-known term, even though it is fairly self-explanatory. When you talk with people from outside our sector about social housing their response will more than likely be about the need for new homes, fears around anti-social behaviour and that bloke from Benefits Street.

With the change of Prime Minister likely to signal another shift in housing policy towards the promotion of homeownership, how can we ensure that community investment will continue to be valued as an integral part of social housing by those outside the sector?

This is one of the key challenges that the Centre for Excellence in Community Investment has set itself: to champion the importance and impact of community investment to external audiences, so that the work we do is valued beyond the sector.

I’m chairing the working group that is focusing on challenging and changing external perceptions, working alongside some inspirational housing professionals and supported by HACT Chief Executive Andrew van Doorn.

The first step we want to take, though, is to agree on a set of descriptors. What, for example, do we mean when we say community investment?

You might think that’s fairly obvious. One suggestion is that it’s all the work that housing associations do that’s not related to bricks and mortar. But do we need to unpack this a bit more. Do we need to talk about some of the key programmes we run, for example, around employment, or health and wellbeing?

At our next meeting we’ll be drafting a set of descriptors. We will share our initial thinking via the Centre’s website and newsletter, and LinkedIn page. We’ll also be tapping into the Centre’s geographic networks to ensure we get as many people involved in the discussion as possible.

Once we’ve agreed on the set of descriptors, and their definitions, we will then be able to tailor messages according to the audience with whom we’re communicating. And from this, we will develop a public affairs strategy that will provide a two-year framework for this particular pillar of the Centre’s work, tapping into organisational networks to use their contacts in policy, press and politics.

Our hope is that we can shift the narrative away from its current focus on units so that communities, people, and the changes that can be brought about through community investment become part of the lingua franca.

If you’re interested in getting involved with the Centre’s work, please contact us.

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