Making a commitment to communities

Sep 25, 2019

By Tim Abbott, Head of External Affairs, Sovereign

If you asked a housing association Board member to describe the purpose of their organisation, I’d expect most to talk about the difference they make to people and places.

A quality, affordable home, located within a welcoming, growing place, is quite simply the foundation for a happy and successful life.

And unlike developers, housing associations don’t just build and move on, they stay, they grow with the community, they build relationships with people over many years.

So investing in communities, helping them to achieve their aspirations for themselves and their neighbours, is fundamental to our sector’s social purpose.

It flows through the whole business.

It’s part of our DNA.

But, if we’re honest, to some in the sector, community investment can be the first to go when housing associations need to tighten their belts and to make difficult choices. While building or investing in existing homes and services will always come first, it’s during the hardest times that we need to take the longest view and need to invest resources in a way that has maximum impact for our customers.

At Sovereign, we’re in the midst of refreshing our Communities strategy as well as having commited to treble our investment to £3m a year. We recently appointed Matt Buckham as our Communities Director to lead this important area of work.

So how can we make sure the benefits of community investment are better understood across the sector? How can we ensure its value is genuinely celebrated? How can we embed it in the conversations we have right at the heart of the business?

The Centre of Excellence in Community Investment, created by HACT, is wrestling with these questions – and they’re starting by focusing on Boards.

I’m part of a working group at The Centre, working alongside some outstanding housing professionals and supported by HACT Deputy Chief Executive MK Adams, with the aim of creating and shaping a Board Charter that includes a commitment to communities pledge.

The new Charter, which will be unveiled tomorrow at the National Housing Federation’s Annual Summit, includes::

  1. Responsibility and oversight for community investment is placed firmly at Board level.
  2. Board members regularly leave the boardroom to meet people and see first-hand the impact of community investment.
  3. Housing associations have a clear Community Investment Strategy, with a supporting plan and appropriate investment and resources.
  4. The strategy is co-created and regularly reviewed by residents.
  5. Outcomes are measurable, in a consistent way, and published online and in annual reports.

We think every organisation that signs up to the Board Charter should be recognised and rewarded, but we’re also exploring ways to distinguish those that go further, to find out who are the real exemplars of this commitment to communities within the sector.

Many housing associations are doing some incredible work in this area and hopefully this will help recognise and reinforce the impact of their efforts. But it doesn’t matter if you’re experienced or just starting out in community investment, whether you’re a large or smaller housing association, I’d urge everyone to take a look at the Charter and see if your organisation wishes to make the pledge to their communities.

To find out more about the Centre’s Board Charter, contact Adam Chester

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