Social Housing Safety Net
This blog, an interview with MTVH’s Director of Community Investment, Jahanara Rajkoomar, appeared on MTVH’s website on 21 October 2020. You can read the original here.
We aim to empower residents and communities to live well and address the things that matter to them most. We aim to work holistically with our residents, so that we can impact not only on their current quality of life, but give them a platform from which they can make and implement longer term decisions for themselves and their local community.
Earlier this month, our Director of Community Investment, Jahanara Rajkoomar presented at a Chartered Institute of Housing webinar, ‘The Social Housing Safety Net: being the best we can be’. We caught up with her to discuss MTVH’s approach to community investment, how her team are responding to the changing needs of communities at this difficult time and how this might shape the role of community investment in the future.
When it comes to community investment, what does ‘being the best we can be’ mean to you?
It means providing services that promote social justice and better life chances and access to opportunities for our residents. At MTVH, we do that by letting people tell us their story and share their lived experiences. As we continue to respond to the pandemic, it is ever more important that social housing providers foster a genuine understanding of the difficulties residents are facing and those they are likely to face in the future so we can provide effective, tailored support that is effective and culturally competent.
At MTVH, our community investment approach focuses on areas that cannot always be addressed as part of traditional housing provision, such as financial and digital inclusion, employability support, well-being initiatives and youth programmes. These are services that are not always seen as necessary for social housing providers to offer but in many cases, it’s this support that results in families being able to create and continue sustainable futures.
How would you describe MTVH’s approach to community investment?
We changed our community investment approach before the pandemic as we reflected on Grenfell and the societal inequalities that many residents and communities experience. Instead of thematic programmes, our teams are building relationships of trust with our customers to understand the everyday issues they face.
Residents’ voice is very much at the heart of our approach and it is the role of our Resident Listeners foster a genuine understanding of what we can to support them to live well. Giving people a little peace of mind and breathing space can make a big difference. We want to empower people to identify and work towards their own solutions.
How has engaging with resident voice shaped our services?
Every one of our residents is different and we should not assume that we have the answers to the things that is making life difficult for them. Since the beginning of lockdown, we have made over 6,570 welfare calls to our residents which has helped us to understand their concerns and needs. Through our Support Hub, 623 of these calls resulted in support with issues such as financial difficulties or mental health.
In response to this insight, our Midlands community investment team created over 500 ‘Keep it Working’ activity packs. The packs included items to support with residents’ wellbeing such as recipe cards, therapeutic colouring sheets and an NHS wellbeing exercise booklet and were delivered across the country to residents experiencing isolation. The packs complemented the support the Community Investment team were providing on a one-to-one basis and were also distributed to Care & Support services where there was an identified need for wellbeing support.
Our Resident Voice Coordinators also help us to build up our local knowledge. In South London, we know that violence affecting young people is a concern for many residents on the Moorlands Estate. In response, we partnered with Code 7, an organisation committed to working with young people from excluded communities, to deliver workshops in music and performance.
It’s really important to us that we engage with young people in a way that works for them and partner with credible organisations with local awareness. This way, we can be confident that the projects will produce meaningful engagement with our younger residents and support wider outcomes such as inclusion and social mobility. These workshops are just be beginning of our partnership with Code 7. A total of 123 young people attended the workshops and the project has now been extended.
In a post-Covid-19 context, in which we can expect radically new forms of community design, it is ever more important that we listen to the voices of communities who have experienced the direct impacts and consequences of the pandemic.
What role do you think the pandemic has played in re-imagining the role of social housing providers when it comes to community investment?
Not only has the pandemic highlighted the importance of a safe and secure home, it has also highlighted the need for social housing providers to offer holistic support. The increased use of food banks during the pandemic shows just how vulnerable many households are to changes in circumstances and reaffirms the role of HAs in supporting residents to live well. Many of these are working households.
As a result, pandemic has brought community investment and engagement to the front and centre of how several housing associations have responded in their support efforts for residents. Many have made the case for the importance of this work in future years because of Covid-19.
It has also, embedded the importance of local community. As we begin planning for healthier, more sustainable and socially just towns and cities, the starting point should be a joined-up approach which harnesses the different skill sets of the sector and engages communities in processes of genuine consultation and co-design. People want to be part of the solution rather than be rescued.
We’ve seen the disproportionate impact Covid-19 has had on BAME communities, what role do you think community investment can play in tackling racial inequality in communities?
The Black Lives Matter movement highlighted the need for social housing providers to adopt a level of cultural competence in their services and partnerships. It’s time that we look at the issue with a different lens and seek greater awareness and understanding of the intersectional inequalities impacting our communities. At MTVH, we are looking at ways we can further tailor our services to accommodate our diverse communities. Generally we don’t look at community or individual needs with the lens of diversity. It is now more important than ever that we understand the specific barriers and access issues that different communities experience and respond with cultural competency.
How do you see the role of community investment in the future?
At MTVH, we want to work towards levelling the playing field so that our residents don’t experience the blunt end of future crises. As a sector we have to advocate for those who will be disproportionately impacted by rising unemployment, lack of opportunities and precarious household finances in the near future. We need to be responding to the big questions about the future work, social mobility and equality of opportunity for our residents.
Ultimately, social housing can play a pivotal role in social justice and provide communities with the foundation for settled and happy lives-where they are heard and valued
If you are a resident and need confidential, one to one support, our Empowering Futures team can support you to address the issues that may be keeping you up at night. Among other issues, our team can support with employment and training, debt and money management, addressing rent arrears and managing tenancies and mental and physical wellbeing.
If you, or anyone in your households, needs support or is interested in discussing some work for the wider community, please contact us on: Communitysupport@mtvh.co.uk or visit www.mtvh.co.uk/empoweringfutures.