Article by Shelia Taylor, Housing Manager, Helm Housing
Helm Housing is committed to making a sustainable, positive impact on the communities where we operate. In line with our vision, we strive ‘to build neighbourhoods and create thriving and empowered communities’. To deliver on these commitments we felt we needed to strengthen how we engage with our tenants and firmly put tenants at the heart of what we do and the way that we do it.
The main goal was to maximise opportunities for tenant engagement by building relationships with our customers and by increasing their participation in all aspects of our service delivery. We also sought to develop a diverse, inclusive and flexible involvement structure that gives tenants a real voice and empowers them to make a difference.
A strategy with tenants, by tenants, and for tenants
From the beginning of this process we believed that we needed to avoid the perception that we were simply going through the motions in engaging with tenants and at the end of the process, in familiar “Blue Peter” tradition, simply pull out one that we had prepared before. We recognised that we needed independent expertise to not only review our existing structures but also consult widely with individual tenants and groups of tenants and in ways that they wanted. In addition, we wanted to evaluate best practice throughout the sector across the UK while also being mindful of the requirements of the new Tenants Participation Strategy for Northern Ireland.
The only organisation that ticks all these boxes is Supporting Communities and we were delighted that they were available to work with us and our tenants to deliver a strategy with tenants; by tenants and for tenants. That was over a year ago and since then we have a new agreed structure that is now being rolled out.
Key features of the Strategy
- Area Panels to reflect the geographical spread. This is a new tier replacing the previous Tenants Forum. The concept of an Area Panel is to provide greater opportunity for involvement focusing on local needs and taking into account wider community issues within localities. These panels incorporate General Needs and Sheltered accommodation
- Tenant Executive Committee which operates as a consultative forum with a real challenge function, including requiring all policies and procedures that affect tenants being approved at this level before proceeding to Board level.
- Elected Tenant member(s) sit alongside Board members on Helm’s Housing Services Committee; the committee with responsibility for operational areas that have the greatest impact for tenants. This puts tenant engagement right at the ‘heart’ of the decision-making process of the organisation.
- Alongside the selected “tenant voice” and other nominated Board members, there should be an enhanced tenant presence at this important strategic level.
- Promote and actively encourage tenant participation in decision-making in the services of the association.
- Enhanced liaison between all departments within Helm to ensure all documents issued to tenants are user-friendly and accessible.
- Reporting on performance against all Key Performance Indicators.
- Fair and equitable appointments - nomination to Helm Housing Board is open to All Tenants through open application/interview selection process (as per other Board membership).
Menu of Involvement
Since adopting the strategy, we have developed a new Menu of Involvement capturing all the things that tenants highlighted which has now been shared with each individual tenant asking them to identify the ways they would wish to be involved. Hundreds of tenants responded and we have held a number of workshops targeted at those, for example, who are interested in sitting on Board or Housing Services Committee, being a member of Area Panels, or members of a scrutiny group.
Since then, we have held our first meeting of each of the three Area Panels; election process to Tenants Executive has commenced; one tenant has already been co-opted onto the Housing Services Committee; Board interviews have taken place and the first Estate Walkabouts has been held. Oh, and we have appointed a new Community Involvement Officer as a dedicated resource to ensure that we deliver!
Over the coming months, we shall be implementing a programme of joint training with staff and with tenant representatives. We are creating various scrutiny panels and have tenants who wish to be part of these particularly looking at our Grounds Maintenance works and other matters of response/planned maintenance.
We believe that we have set the foundations for meaningful engagement and we are delighted with the professional service we have received and continue to receive from Supporting Communities. Their expertise and awareness of best practice elsewhere has allowed us to develop and deliver a first class Tenant Engagement Strategy. The team demonstrated their expertise in tenant participation and guided our new strategy to ensure it reflects our commitment to our tenants /customers and maximises opportunities for engagement and involvement in all aspects of our service delivery.