Conference Report: Delivering On Tenant Participation

 Laura O'Dowd addresses the Tenant Participation conference.

Laura O'Dowd addresses the Tenant Participation conference.

Over 90 delegates filled the conference hall in East Belfast’s Skainos Centre to attend the joint Housing Rights and Supporting Communities conference on Tenant Participation on Monday 11 April 2016.

In the wake of the Department for Social Development’s publication of the “Tenant Participation Strategy & Action Plan”, this conference was convened to focus on unpicking its three key themes - leading, supporting and delivering real and effective tenant participation.

It was a packed agenda featuring speakers from NIFHA, DSD, Housing Executive, Equality Commission, Choice and Apex, as well as representatives from across the UK who shared their experiences.

Some key themes emerged from the day, most notably the notion that not only is tenant participation “the right thing to do”, it is also the fiscally responsible thing to do for your business.

Nic Bliss from the Confederation of Co-operative Housing presented research that showed the substantial savings that can be made from implementing tenant participation. In his discussion, Nic emphasized the business benefits that arise directly from tenant participation including increased tenant satisfaction, improved housing services, cost savings and other less obvious outcomes but including better communication and more motivated and inspired staff.

“Tenants leading change is an investment not a cost!” – Nic Bliss

Jo Robinson further built the social and business case for tenant involvement with evidence from her organisation, AmicusHorizon. In her presentation, Jo made reference to research undertaken by the University of Westminster; the report and conclusions are available here. Jo also highlighted the Resident Engagement Toolkit developed by AmicusHorizon.

Our own Laura O’Dowd spoke about our role in Leading, Supporting, and Developing Tenant Participation. Supporting Communities has been at the forefront of this kind of work for over 35 years in Northern Ireland, helping not only the Housing Executive but also Housing Associations across Northern Ireland to implement meaningful tenant participation practices.

Another emerging theme of the day was the practicalities involved in delivering effective tenant participation programmes. Tracey Kerr from East Lothian Housing Association showcased the new website they have developed to enable their tenants to manage their housing relationship online with everything from rent payments to looking for a home or a mutual exchange available completely online. This system has been developed by East Lothian but is available for sale to any housing association. You can check it out here.

Glenn Adcook, from Aberdeenshire Housing Partnership gave an inspiring speech showing how tenant participation is not a new concept at all, in fact, he remembers some of the best examples of tenant involvement from the early days of his career in the 70’s. He explained that establishing good tenant participation is not easy. It takes a long time and a lot of effort but is ultimately definitely worth it!

The conference also viewed a video presentation from the Northern Ireland Youth Forum on the complex challenges facing many young people and the distinct support needs they have in sustaining tenancies and homes. Finally, the conference ended with breakout workshops to consider different aspects of tenant participation activities in more detail.

A full list of available conference presentation materials is on the Housing Rights website.