The view from: MTVH

Apr 28, 2020

Over the last two weeks, we’ve been speaking with numerous housing associations about their response to the Covid-19 crisis. We wanted to share some of their experiences, so will be starting a blog series called, The view from. This blog comes from Sarah Willis, Head of Strategic Partnerships & National Delivery, MTVH, who are based in London, the South East, the Midlands and the East of England.

I joined MTVH on 9 March. Then a week later the majority of colleagues moved to remote working, so it’s been a bit of a roller coaster of an induction!

My focus has been on our partnership work. We’ve been collaborating around food distribution, working with local mutual aid groups; and partnering with Councils and local voluntary sector groups to deliver some youth outreach safeguarding projects in boroughs like Brent. Our approach has been to collaborate and work with others rather than assume that we should lead.

We’ve also started conversations with London boroughs about preparing for summer outreach programmes, and what these might look like if we’re still in lockdown. We’re planning to partner with a group of housing associations, and with local authorities, so we can deliver more joined up provision for young people.

With my background in business transformation, learning and development, I’ve offered to support Community Investment colleagues by offering some resilience support to teams and have designed two workshops that I’ll be delivering internally. In these facilitated sessions, I’m working with people to enable better understanding of the change curve and what they’re going through at the moment. I use a number of tools to illustrate what they can influence, and what they can’t, how they can build up personal resilience, and what other resources they might find useful.

I’m fortunate to have a background in facilitation and coaching and had already done a lot of work with corporate clients and the University of Westminster looking at the characteristics of personal resilience that can be drawn on when you’re going through change. We are probably all aware that we need to process a lot of internal emotions at the moment, and to feel a level of control. When there’s so much going on, it can be a messy picture and it takes time to work out how you can do something useful.

I’ve developed a short guide for to improve online meetings. With my own team, I always ask four questions: what are you finding hard? What are you grateful for? What are you learning about yourself or your work? What have you achieved? Many people might be feeling that they’re not finishing anything at the moment, but even if you’ve made just one successful phone call to support residents, then that’s worth celebrating.

It’s good to be able share what we’re feeling, because that sense of commonality helps, there’s a relief in that. You don’t then feel that you’re the only one who’s exhausted!

More widely the People and Communications team at MTVH have been taking the lead on colleague wellbeing. One tool they’ve developed is MTVH Connect – our new colleague-to-colleague digital community. MTVH Connect is a weekly programme of online talks, events and learning open to all colleagues. There’s a coffee room, where people can drop in virtually when they want to have a break from work, so they can share experiences and what they’ve been doing – a bit like they would in a physical environment.

We’ve also invited a number of external speakers to take part in interactive sessions with colleagues. Toufik Kacimi, Chief Executive of Muslim Welfare House talked about his work and about community and how we respond to the impact of Covid-19. We’ve also had a clinical psychologist, Dr Helen Sinclair, to run a session, exploring how people were feeling at the moment, and working with them in terms of their emotional responses.

Colleagues have responded positively to these speakers. The psychologist helped them acknowledge what they’ve been feeling. She also provided them with tips about how they can deal with the current situation and manage their emotions. For example, about using physical shaking to burn off adrenalin and using humour in meetings to lighten the situation. And the importance of having a routine when you’re working from home. We’ve also had a number of fascinating and popular colleague conversations featuring interviews with those continuing to work on the front line – in our key worker accommodation, in care and support, and community investment.

My main reflection is that I’m really impressed by how the sector has responded to this crisis. At MTVH we managed to get a support hub up and running in two weeks. Something like that would have taken months to do previously and I know other organisations have had similar successes.  Now, as a sector, we’re sharing what we can do. Greater collaboration is vital and uniting around our shared agenda to support residents and communities enables us to go beyond our own organisational boundaries. We’re all social housing providers and that’s something that should bind us.

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