The view from: Coastline Housing

May 22, 2020

Since the beginning of lockdown, we’ve been speaking with numerous housing associations about their response to the Covid-19 crisis. We wanted to share some of their experiences in our blog series called, The view from. This blog comes from Justin Ricks, Community Navigator at Coastline Housing which is based in Cornwall.

During the recent health crisis, like many social housing organisations we’ve been making welfare calls to our customers to proactively identify if they have any additional support needs.

During these calls many customers expressed feelings of social isolation. Often, they were living on their own and in loneliness dwelling on their anxieties. Some were even talking about increased problems with their mental health.

Out of these calls, especially the more informal wellbeing checks, came the idea that what many of our customers needed was actually a befriending service. Those we spoke to often surprised and delighted us with the range of hobbies and skills they had or had recently taken up. Some were even using these hobbies to manage their stress during lockdown and expressed how much having something to do had helped their physical and mental wellbeing.

This emerged as a regular theme. During lockdown, it seems, people have more time to reflect on the activities they really enjoy. We also started to find residents who had common interests and thought, wouldn’t it be great if that person could talk to this person? It struck us as a great opportunity to connect the community.

As a result, Click & Connect was born. The service, run by Coastline, is done via a Facebook page. It asks customers to contribute and post their hobbies in order to connect them to people who have similar interests. We originally set up a Facebook page in January which was dedicated to community stories and specifically for very grassroots community engagement; this is where Click & Connect now sits.

The service is really taking off. People are identifying with it and the success stories page is full of people posting about their hobbies and passions. We have quite a broad geographic spread of customers in housing across our area of Cornwall. Normally many of them wouldn’t meet face-to-face, so creating this digital space is a unique way of connecting those who wouldn’t have been before, especially our most elderly and vulnerable customers.

What the page demonstrates is how much people have in common, and want to share, learn and be inspired by each other. During a welfare call one resident told me about her new kitten, which she had been photographing. She now has the opportunity to share things about her pet via the page with her wider community. Even someone who doesn’t have a skill or hobby still has a space to talk about and share an interest that’s important to them, even if they don’t want to take up hobbies themselves.

Another example of successful matching has been two people in the local community who are interested in model railways. Through the scheme they can connect with each other and have meaningful conversations that staff in our organisation wouldn’t be able to have. Crochet and knitting have also been popular activities on the page, with many users commenting on each other’s work and supporting their efforts.

While customers are one consideration, we were also realising that our staff may well be socially isolated and want to share their experiences. One Coastline colleague who, unbeknown to us, was a particularly good musician created a song and released it on the page. And as a keen photographer, I’ve also shared my interest. Coastline staff are there as page facilitators to encourage people to engage and feedback.

Although the project is in its infancy, we’ve demonstrated the principle of it. As a social housing organisation which does a lot of work around asset-based community development, Click & Connect is a natural extension of that approach. It looks at what people are already doing in their communities, what their interests are already, and provides the space and resources to nurture and support that.

Now more than ever is a time to be customer led and reflect on the services our customers really need, instead of creating a project to fit around them. The service is ultimately about encouraging people to connect with others in a way that enables sustainable and long-term relationships that will improve wellbeing. Whether their interest is really deep and meaningful or lighter, in some ways it doesn’t really matter – it’s about how that person is able to find a community and support network through sharing it.

The hope is that when lockdown eventually ends, customers will meet up in person when it’s safe to do so. You can find out more information about Coastline’s Click and Connect project by visiting their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/462458624466412/

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