Defining community investment

Feb 27, 2020

By Robert Sugden, Head of Communities, HACT

“What is community investment?”

When we launched the Centre for Excellence in Community Investment in 2018, one of the first things we did was to hold seven roadshows around the UK. We wanted to engage with community investment colleagues so they could co-design the Centre’s activities with us.

At every one of the roundtables, a common question was, “What do you mean by community investment?” It was clear that many people had different definitions and different experiences of community investment.

As we’ve been developing the Centre’s activities, we have been working with community investment professionals across the country to develop a common definition of community investment so that we can all articulate what we do. As many social housing organisations drive forward the community investment agenda, there is a significant opportunity for us to speak more effectively, publicly and collectively about community investment and its place within the social housing landscape.

If you work in community investment, you will, no doubt, have had to explain what your work entails to people who aren’t from the social housing sector. At times, you’ll might also have had to explain what community investment is to people who do work in social housing.

Within the sector, despite it being a vital part of our work, community investment is often undervalued, misunderstood and under threat of budget cuts. There are multiple reasons for this, but one element is the lack of language that we use to communicate what we mean by community investment and the impact it has.

After consulting with colleagues, we’ve developed a definition for community investment:

Community investment is the work that social housing organisations do alongside people and communities to help them thrive.

We’ve also developed a series of secondary statements that will help community investment professionals respond to a number of common questions that people might ask about their work.

We think these are important, because a collectively agreed set of descriptors can bring clarity to these conversations and give people a way to talk clearly about community investment for those who may not be familiar with our work. Developing a definition also helps ensure consistency – if we’re all describing and talking about community investment using the same language, then our stakeholders will get a better picture of community investment from multiple sources.

Equally, common descriptors can help those in the community investment space increase the impact of their work, especially around persuasively conveying the tangible financial and social benefits of community investment to residents, landlords and wider society. Perhaps most vitally, having a common definition will allow us to make sure that community investment is seen as a core part of our offer as anchor institutions – we can embed the idea that our work is not just nice to do but is a central part of social housing.

We have put together a document called What is Community Investment? that can be downloaded from our website, along with a number of images that can be used for presentations, to help community investment professionals respond to the questions posed by those who don’t work in social housing and have no knowledge of it. They can also be used to help you answer questions about community investment from procurement teams, colleagues, external partners, or even family and friends.

These descriptors and statements are designed to be used as a tool to help you as community investment professionals talk about the work you do with confidence, whether in person, in a written report, or in a board room.

If you have any more questions about the descriptor documents, please contact Adam Chester

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