One of the recurring themes we’ve heard about over the past six months has been how partnership working has flourished within communities. Whether it’s individuals getting together in mutual aid groups or health officials working in partnership with housing and local government staff, partnerships have come to the fore.
Many place-based social housing organisations have built on existing relationships, while others have had to create new relationships from scratch. I remember talking with colleagues from whg towards the end of March about their experience in Walsall. They were able to build on a pre-existing relationship they had with Walsall Council to quickly support their local community hubs. The speed of their response was impressive and highlighted the importance of partnership working at a local level.
It’s not just at a local level, however, that partnership working has thrived over the last six months. When we set up the Centre for Excellence in Community Investment in 2018, we wanted to provide the social housing sector with a UK-wide platform for championing and celebrating the importance and impact of community investment. The Centre is a network of organisations, professionals and individuals all working together to deliver impact in communities where social landlords operate.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have directed considerable resource into creating and facilitating more spaces for practitioners to come together and share practice and approaches in response to the crisis. Prior to Covid-19, we had organised quarterly regional network meetings. Since March, these have been taking place on a weekly or biweekly basis.
We’ve also hosted a weekly meeting for community investment directors since the start of the crisis. Initially, these hour-long sessions were a space for colleagues to provide short updates about what they’d been doing over the previous week, sharing ideas and strategies about how to cope with the huge increase in demand on their services.
As the months have progressed, so the sessions have evolved into more thematic discussions. One, for example, looked at how social housing organisations could respond to increased demand for mental health services. HACT had just completed an evaluation of Orbit’s Breathing Space project so we were able to use insights from that evaluation, as well as have direct input from colleagues at Orbit about their experience of running their Breathing Space project.
After inviting Orbit and their partners to speak at a number of our regional network meetings, we then hosted a webinar devoted to mental health issues which was attended by colleagues from over 60 social housing organisations across the UK. From this session, a collaborative project looking at how best to address the growing need for mental health support was established and was able to use its collective strength to procure reduced rates from a leading online service mental health service provider.
Similar thematic discussions have also resulted in collaborative projects around young people, employment and Black Lives Matter We’ve also established a network of organisations through whom we are distributing fuel vouchers to those residents who are most at risk of disconnection.
Then on 20 July, we were told about a DCMS-backed scheme inviting consortium bids for a government match funding programme. Within less then two weeks, we had convened and organised a partnership of 39 social housing organisations with over 1.1 million homes between them. Our final bid to the DCMS scheme consisted of over £6.25 million in funds that social housing organisations had earmarked as grants funding for local community groups and charities.
While we were unsuccessful with the bid, the value of collaboration is evident. Through collaboration more people can be reached, efficiencies in delivery are achieved, greater social impact is delivered and ultimately, savings to the public purse will emerge. However, this level of collaboration does not happen without significant work behind the scenes by organisations like ours.
With government needing a more collaborative approach to deliver support from civil society, it is vital that funding and policy responses do not overlook the importance of investment in infrastructure and enabling structures. The need for more funding and policy to support social infrastructure was noted in the Kruger report that was released on 24 September.
There will, no doubt, be more opportunities for collaboration in the future. We will use them to help unlock the potential of social landlords as key civil society partners to drive forward social and economic recovery in communities across the country.
Together, we can do more.hact