Our blog series, The View From, explores how housing associations have been responding to the Covid-19 crisis. In this blog, Megan Cannons, Evaluation and Impact Manager, discusses how L&Q has responded to the Covid-19 crisis.

One of the things that struck me was how quickly we adapted, both as a department and as an organisation, but also our partner organisations as well. And the different ways we’ve all adapted. We have got a lot of things done really quickly.

One of our largest programmes is called Learning to Succeed which HACT is evaluating. It’s a schools partnership programme involving 30 schools in 12 boroughs across London that’s focused on curriculum classes as well as careers advice and guidance. Its aim is to address the skills shortage by getting young people to see the construction industry as a real career opportunity and highlight how the skills you learn in school can be applied in the construction industry.

When the Covid-19 pandemic began, we were about half-way through the three-year programme. When lockdown was being implemented, it was the end of the spring term and schools were beginning to close and our sessions beginning to end.

Construction Youth Trust (CYT), our delivery partner, started talks with schools about how we could adapt sessions for the summer term. CYT found that schools had enjoyed being part of the programme and were keen to continue to participate.

By April when schools started to reopen online, we already had ten schools signed up for the learning programme online. As well as keeping in touch with the schools that hadn’t yet signed up, CYT also started to create online versions of their sessions. We considered  a lot of different things – how we make the sessions interactive, what’s the right level of interaction, what are the safeguarding issues moving online, how do we make it available at times to suit young people, lots of considerations – and decided to do the sessions live to more than one school to maximise accessibility of it. This way we could reach more young people and make it all available afterwards.

When it comes to safeguarding, we’ve ensured that young people can ask questions and interact with staff leading the sessions but can’t speak to or see each other. It means that we’ve got consistent levels of interaction with young people.

We also realised the importance early on of making sure that funding was going to the organisations that could help the people most affected by the pandemic. We worked quickly to repurpose our Place Makers Fund, which provides grants to organisations that support the communities our residents live in.

We changed the application criteria so that initiatives that support the over-70s and other vulnerable people took priority, as well as food banks and projects that improve social welfare and health and wellbeing. We encouraged organisations that tackle domestic violence to apply, as well as smaller, locally focussed charities and volunteer groups that may not have been eligible previously. So far, we’ve allocated around three quarters of the £650,000 that we committed to helping people during this time.

Another big area of our work is our employment support programme. We have an in-house team of employment officers who work with tenants to get them back into work or support them into better work. pre-Covid, it was done face-to-face, with residents coming into offices. But when our offices closed, and we couldn’t offer any more face-to-face appointments, we immediately looked into how we could move employment support online.

We’ve developed a series of employment webinars for residents focused on employability. They are holistic and aim to rebuild confidence, after lockdown. We’ve had a lot of positive responses from residents when we initially trialled them. Now we’ve launched another series of webinars for residents based around stepping out of lockdown into success.

We’ve also developed e-recruitment programmes. Part of the employment support team’s role is to broker employment opportunities between larger employers and residents, with the aim of breaking down barriers around being able to apply for jobs. We’ve managed to move this online with e-recruitment sessions with larger employers where they can meet residents and start having conversations about opportunities.

Moving activities online means we’re now looking at how we can improve our digital offer. While we’re not there yet, we’re putting things in place to make sure that in the longer-term it’s part of our business as usual offer. We’ve a way to go but are progressing this at speed, and it’s one of our main focuses when thinking about the new normal.

As well as adapting our employment offer to go digital, some of our employment team helped out with our welfare calls, triaging and offering an ad hoc befriending service for residents. This was very well received. Initially residents were surprised that they were getting calls from their landlord. Knowing that somebody cares when you’re living alone and don’t have many people around you, it’s really helped some of our more isolated residents.

Now we’re looking at this as part of the conversations we’re having around mental health, to see whether this is something we can do in the longer term.

We’re also looking at our community centres: when lockdown hit, we had to close them all, apart from one that was already operating as a food bank. We worked with another provider to use another centre as a food bank, and also started delivering food. We were also approached by Southwark Council, who approached us after HACT recommended that they talk to us about using one of our community centres as a food bank.

A lot of our staff are volunteering in food banks and we’re hearing that people who are using them now have never used a food bank before. They tend to be people who were in work a week ago but have now got nothing.

The food bank, changing the way our funding is distributed, the triaging, the move towards digital – they are all things that we’ve been able to do quickly and effectively. Now we’re looking at the medium to longer-term to see how we can continue making an impact with our work and support the recovery and reset of our communities.

We’re starting to see the wider impact of the pandemic. It means that we’ll need to establish new offers for different residents to those who we usually support.

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