Taking the first steps

Apr 18, 2019

By Charmaine Simei, Director of Community Investment, Longhurst Group

I don’t think there’s ever been a more important or pressing time for housing associations to breathe life into their social purpose and step up to the community plate.

Following the 1% rent cut, we’ve all had to walk a more cautious (narrower) path, keeping a keen eye on value for money. For many, this meant a real difficulty in evidencing the value of keeping alive certain activities that did not appear to have a direct and positive impact on the bottom line.

In 2019, it is crystal clear that:

  1. We have a housing crisis and, specifically, a lack of affordable homes.
  2. As registered providers, we clearly have a shared responsibility to invest in and support those communities that already live within our existing stock and those who will live, invest and raise their families in our new and emerging homes and communities.
  3. When we look across the domestic political agenda (leaving Brexit aside for a moment), housing associations are, in theory, ideally placed to support and act as facilitators for the communities we serve. Further to this, we can be effective social and economic actors within those communities and can really help expedite the delivery of key projects and policy initiatives that can and do have a direct impact on the quality of people’s lives.

We are not alone in our role as community anchors and it would be folly to operate in isolation. A wide range of employers and local businesses, large corporates, schools, hospitals, health centres and residents can all be active members of the community market place. The wider we open our doors and our minds to working in partnership; the more innovative, sustainable and effective our endeavours will be. 

I started my role as Director of Community Investment at Longhurst at the end of last year. Longhurst Group is committed to an Improving Lives agenda and my role is to articulate how we can do just that through a community investment and social value programme.

Longhurst group comprises four different housing associations and, luckily for me, I benefit from the richness and diversity that our collective corporate experience brings.

All that being said, I am under no illusion how challenging the task ahead will be; given that we have 23,000 units spread out over an area from the east and west Midlands to Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.

Consequently, we have been pulling together locality maps using tools like Community Insight, so we can understand the needs of our different communities. The reality is that a community in Walsall is likely to have very different needs to a community down in Rutland and, furthermore, the services available locally and the gaps in that provision will represent different opportunities.

While data is important in helping us understand the metrics of an area, we mustn’t stop speaking with and listening in to actual people. Numbers can only go so far. Anecdotes and personal insights can be incredibly powerful.

At a recent meeting – totally unrelated to Community Investment – I overhead a member of our older persons services team talking about some of the tensions building up on their scheme and a lack of engaging and social opportunities for some of the men of the scheme. He went on to make an off-hand remark ….’all we need is a couple of sheds’.

It was a throw-away remark, but illuminating, none-the-less.

And when I mentioned it to another colleague, she pointed me in the direction of a charity called Men’s Sheds. Some of you might already know about it. Personally, it was new to me, but we’ll definitely be getting in contact with them going forward!

My work has only just begun and I am taking my first teetering steps down some well-trodden paths.

I am really excited about the wonderful opportunities to work in partnership with a wide range of like-minded people, who are all connected through an aspiration for their community.

If you are operating in our area and are interested in having a conversation about joint initiatives; please drop me a line.

Community Investment wasn’t a career path I considered before now but I’m extremely proud to have joined the brigade. After 25 years in housing, I’m delighted that I can further contribute towards developing an offer that goes beyond bricks and mortar.  

This is the first in a series of blogs from Charmaine as a Director of Community Investment.

News & views