Reflections on 2016, Looking Forward to 2017

by Lorraine Campbell, Supporting Communities Chair

As we start a new year, I am delighted to set the ball rolling with a new Blog Section on the Supporting Communities website. It is intended that both staff and Board members will contribute to compiling regular blogs on various subjects and topics on Supporting Communities work during the year which we hope you will enjoy.

Reflections on 2016

It is with a great sense of pride that I look back on 2016 as it proved to be a very busy but extremely productive year for Supporting Communities.

There were many achievements and successes both for individual staff members and the organisation itself during 2016. For example, Supporting Communities won several prestigious Awards including the Ballymena Business Award of Social Enterprise of the Year while ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’, our partnership project with the Dept. of Finance and Clanmil HA, received an International Union of Tenants Award and came Runner-up in the UK Digital Leaders Cross-Sector Digital Collaboration of the Year 2016’ Award in London. There was also recognition for staff members including our Chief Executive, Colm McDaid, who was awarded a Commendation in CO3’s Best Newcomer Category while Laura O’Dowd (Support Services Manager) received the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH NI) Professional of the Year Award for 2016.

It is also with great pleasure that I reflect on the many staff members who completed various courses during 2016 graduating with a range of course providers including Ulster University, ILM, Common Purpose, OCN NI, CIH, CMI, and CO3 courses. The completion of these courses reinforces the importance that we, as a Board, attach to investing in our main asset, namely our staff. We see this a means of ensuring that we have a professional and dynamic team to deliver a quality service to all our stakeholders.

Other initiatives worthy of particular note during 2016 include the vital role that Supporting Communities continued to play in facilitating and encouraging community engagement in the Social Housing Reform Programme (SHRP) in conjunction with the Dept. for Communities (DfC) and the Housing Executive. Three regional sessions were organised in Ballymena, Belfast, and Craigavon with over 60 community and tenant representatives attending sessions on the outworking of the Savills Report across the 3 regions. A very well attended and jointly organised Conference with Housing Rights was also held in April on the theme of ‘Implementation of the TP Strategy’ where examples of best practice were showcased in regard to positive tenant engagement both locally and in England, Scotland and Wales.

Supporting Communities' important facilitation role was called upon further in 2016 when we were tasked with organising a series of workshops for an important piece of research commissioned by the Housing Executive and carried out by University of Birmingham. This examined models of best practice for tenant involvement both locally and across Europe. Some 150 participants attended three workshops organised in October and we now look forward to the Report and Recommendations from this research expected early in the New Year.

During this past year, the Board were delighted to learn that Supporting Communities was included in the Government’s Digital Training & Support Services Framework, an achievement made even more significant given that of the 54 suppliers included on the list, Supporting Communities was the only supplier from Northern Ireland selected to deliver digital inclusion and basic digital skills training.

Another extremely important piece of work which was completed during 2016 was the Impact Study of Supporting Communities’ work which was carried out independently by Gauge NI. This study examined Supporting Communities ‘Impact’ with communities and with our stakeholders. The study showed a Social Return on Investment (SROI) ratio of 8:1 which meant that for every £1 invested in our services, approximately £8 of social and economic value was returned for our stakeholders. The ratio translates to a figure of £119m, a tremendous achievement for any business but particularly impressive for a 3rd sector organization. Both Board and staff are rightly proud of this.

Looking to 2017

In terms of looking forward to 2017, Supporting Communities staff and Board will be taking some time in the early part of the year to develop our new Strategic Plan for the next 3 years. This important exercise will set our direction of travel and identify key strategic objectives up to and including 2020.

The Supporting Communities Board also made a decision at its final meeting in 2016 to create a Trading Subsidiary for Supporting Communities and work will commence in establishing and launching this new Company in the first half of 2017. I look forward to giving you more detail on this exciting venture as the year progresses.

We also look forward to continuing to work closely with our key stakeholder, the Housing Executive, and delivering on our Service Level Agreement (SLA) commitments both centrally and at an Area level. Supporting Communities staff will be assisting Housing Executive staff to carry out an important consultation exercise on their new Community Involvement Strategy for 2017-2020. This strategy will set out how the Housing Executive intends to engage with residents and tenants within Housing Executive estates and I look forward to Supporting Communities playing a key role in assisting in the implementation of this important work. In the meantime, SC staff will continue to deliver our important training and capacity building courses over the coming months. This training will include Area Scrutiny Panel development, Digital Inclusion training, Good Governance training as well as accredited Social Enterprise training.

In terms of supporting other social sector landlords, Supporting Communities has built up an excellent support network providing a range of services, training, and consultancy to some 14 Housing Associations across Northern Ireland. We look forward to building on this support to Housing Associations during 2017 and increasing the number of Associations we work with.

Whilst the long awaited Tenant Participation Strategy for NI 2015-2020 has been in place now for one year, we still await the identification of the Independent Tenant Organisation (ITO) , a role which I feel Supporting Communities is perfectly placed to fulfil. We look forward to the ITO and other parts of the TP Strategy Action Plan being delivered in 2017.

In relation to our other key stakeholder, the Dept. of Finance, we look forward to renewing our SLA with the Department’s Digital Transformation Team and tackling digital exclusion right across Northern Ireland. We also look forward to continuing our collaborative working with organisations such as BT and others in tackling digital exclusion and promoting digital inclusion across the communities we work with.

We face lots of challenges in the year ahead, but I am confident that our staff are more than capable of delivering for our communities. I hope you will continue to read our blog section to keep abreast of our progress.