Sally Veitch, settle Chair
The past 12 months have brought challenges for us all, impacting everyone in different ways – concerns about our health, separation from loved ones, and for parents and carers of younger families, an added layer of complexity brought about by school closures. As the mother of three boys – currently home-schooling, again – this has certainly rung true!
There is a phrase widely in use at settle since the outbreak of COVID-19 that I think applies especially well in this context: do the best you can. This is something settle has focused on supporting our people and customers to do during the pandemic. From flexible working hours and full pay when sick or isolating for colleagues; to thousands of well-being calls and support with essential medicines and other items for customers, settle – like housing providers across the UK – has tried to do the best we can.
Since taking over as Chair at settle in September, I have been blown away by the positive, can-do culture in the organisation. My background is in retail and finance so I know the value of an engaged workforce in successfully delivering your business aims. Without colleague buy-in you can say all the nice things you like as a leadership team, but your chances of success are slim. Actions speak much louder than words.
This is why I have been so pleased to see the recent work of the settle forum on identifying the additional support needs of working parents during lockdown 3.0.
Rapid colleague feedback
As a result of rapid focus groups held via Teams as the organisation returned to work in January, the settle forum – made up of settle colleagues – has made a clear case on behalf of their working parent colleagues about the best ways to help over the coming weeks.
36 colleagues who are parents and carers – around 15% of our workforce – have now agreed flexible parental support packages to manage their work / life balance and caring responsibilities during the current lockdown. We know circumstances change and are clear in our commitment to keep reviewing the support in place as and when colleagues need to access this.
Some of the insights from the settle forum research are worth sharing, to see if they echo or can perhaps inform the approach of others.
First, the forum found that colleagues had a strong desire to continue to support each other during lockdown and to deliver the best service they can to customers. Our support offer for parents now includes paid parental leave, as opposed to furlough. Several colleagues commented on their concern at potentially leaving other team members to pick up things in their absence, were they to take longer periods of time out. Discussions across teams have enabled colleagues to take the time they need along with balancing workloads to ensure we continue delivering for our residents.
Second, access to laptops and tablets to facilitate home-learning continues to be a challenge for many households. This comes as schools now seem to have higher expectations than before on pupil home-schooling, with greater reliance on using devices to access online learning. Having the right IT kit is vital to ensure children do not fall too far behind in their education, and I’m really pleased that settle is also supporting parents with access to loans of laptops and tablets, as well as widening this offer to schools near our base in North Hertfordshire where equipment to support home learning would also help our residents.
At settle, we have taken the steps we feel are right to support our people and customers through the pandemic as it continues to unfold. Other housing providers will have different pinch points. For me, the key point is doing what is right to deliver our social purpose to help people to live comfortably in their homes and to live the life they choose. When the dust has finally settled on COVID-19, I want to ensure settle has done the best we can to help our people and our customers. I’d be delighted to share any aspect of our work with others to ensure this can be true across the housing sector.