What we learned from our report into COVID-19

Julian Baust, board member

Board member, Julian Baust

The past few months have presented us with huge, unforeseen challenges as we have all sought to cope with the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis.

Lately, we have been taking stock of our organisation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, what lessons can be learned and how this will shape settle’s services for residents, and our wider communities into the future.

We recently commissioned a report, Housing and Health by independent expert Peter Molyneux, to assess how well we coped with this social emergency.

So, what did the report find?

Teams rose to the challenge

I am pleased to say it concludes that our teams should be proud of the way they rose to the occasion, supporting residents with the resulting welfare needs and financial difficulties they have faced and that customers have appreciated our efforts to help them through these tough times.

The report also outlines the challenges now confronting us nationally, including increased physical and mental ill-health and a rise in unemployment, and how we at settle can play our part in tackling them.

Next steps

Looking ahead, the report’s recommendations include gathering further data to identify customers who have become vulnerable due to the pandemic, then working with health partners to target advice and support appropriately.

To reduce social isolation and promote individuals’ sense of connectedness to society, the report highlights the benefits of establishing a network of community champions to better meet residents’ needs and address issues at a neighbourhood level.

With tens of thousands of people losing their jobs through redundancy across the UK, we are also looking at how we can expand our employment advice service to alleviate the economic, social and health implications for our customers.

Renewed partnerships

The report suggests partnering with the NHS through various initiatives, such as providing staff accommodation and helping our residents access job opportunities within the health service.

Our response to the pandemic so far has strengthened our relationships with key stakeholders. As we prepare for what the future may bring, we recognise the importance of further developing these partnerships with local authorities, primary care networks and community organisations in our neighbourhoods.

New neighbourhood model

As I read through the findings of this report, I was heartened by the recognition of how our colleagues have truly gone above and beyond to support our customers and communities under such difficult circumstances.

I was also struck by how recommendations in the report align with the new neighbourhood model we are developing at settle. This outlines how we plan to deliver services that make a positive difference in people’s lives by tackling issues that impact their health, well-being and job prospects.

The new neighbourhood model seeks to build on the relationship of trust we have with our residents, and that growing trust and confidence in each other is highlighted in the report on our response to the pandemic.

More than a landlord

Serving on the board of a community and mental health NHS foundation trust, in addition to the board at settle, has highlighted for me the well-known connection between housing, health and well-being.

It has also reinforced how much more could be achieved by proactive teamwork between agencies on an ongoing basis. Housing association resources are in contact with some of the most vulnerable in society. This contact is absolutely invaluable.

As a social housing provider, our purpose is to help people struggling to find a place to live so that they can stay comfortably in their homes and live the life they choose. Throughout these past few months, we have rediscovered the importance of going beyond the basics and being more than just a ‘landlord’. Hence our neighbourhood model echoes the findings of our Housing and Health report by focusing on gathering and harnessing data so that we can provide targeted, flexible, customer-centred services through a revitalised operating model. This will involve working closely with customers, communities and partners – as we have throughout the pandemic – to deliver good-quality, responsive services which are tailored to local needs.

Listening to our customers will be at the heart of this approach, as it has been at the heart of our response to the ongoing national crisis.

This article was first published in Inside Housing

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