The Covid-19 pandemic has posed many news challenges to housing providers. Not least has been the question of how to know which local areas will be the most vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic, and where to target resources to have the most meaningful impact.
North Star Housing Group, a housing association with stock across the North East, has been using Community Insight during the pandemic to help answer these questions. Using data from the tool, combined with feedback from residents, they’ve been able to make informed, evidence-based decisions. This has helped them identify which of the areas where they work will be the most vulnerable to the social, economic and health impacts of the pandemic, and which areas will need additional support in the longer-term.
We spoke to Peter Locke, Head of Communities at North Star, about how Community Insight has helped their community investment team and wider organisation understand and respond to the challenges of lockdown for their residents across the North East.
How does North Star usually use Community Insight?
My team at North Star uses Community Insight to build up profiles of priority communities across the North East where we have stock; these are communities we’ve identified where we can have the most impact.
To understand which are priority communities, we look at an area’s deprivation score in tandem with other scores. Community Insight is key to this approach because it provides a range of scores in an easy to understand way, and therefore gives us a more nuanced understanding of need in a particular area.
We also use Community Insight to generate our sustainability matrix, a collection of data that allows us to get a quick view on how those communities are doing. To create the matrix, we look at scores on Community Insight on issues such as reported ASB and joblessness levels and other datasets that tell us more about the character and challenges in an area.
One of our data officers used to have to trawl through every statutory website to find data for our sustainability matrix. But now, with Community Insight, she’s saved hours of her time and can easily and quickly generate reports to be fed back up to senior management.
Did the way you used the tool change during the Covid-19 pandemic?
While we’ve always used Community Insight to do these sorts of things, over the pandemic and lockdown period we began to use the tool differently. In April I attended a HACT webinar which showed how Community Insight could be used to build dashboards on custom data. We were taught how this could be used to build a Covid-19 vulnerability index. Using this idea, I was able to pick out various bits of data and create a custom dashboard for North Star’s stock.
The information that we looked at when creating our index was to do with areas with high concentrations of particular industries or jobs that might be impacted. We knew that the service industry was projected to face job losses because of the lockdown. So, inputting that data into our custom dashboard on Community Insight helped us understand which local areas might be most vulnerable to increased unemployment and helped us make an informed decision about where to invest and target employment and skills training.
Another important issue when creating our vulnerability index was areas where there were high concentrations of people who had long-term health conditions that made them more vulnerable to Covid-19, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). We also looked at age profiles in particular communities and added that information to the index.
All of this data meant that we were able to get a really clear idea about which of our communities might be most vulnerable to the economic, health or wider social impacts of Covid-19 and the pandemic.
Were there particular datasets on Community Insight that were useful to you during the pandemic?
The British Red Cross Covid-19 vulnerability index, which was published on Community Insight in April, was really useful because we could triangulate previous data with new information on this index. Most of the communities in which we work scored fairly highly on the Red Cross index. Although this wasn’t a surprise, what Community Insight and the Red Cross index did was to give us confirmation that those were the areas where we needed to concentrate our work. The data also provided strong evidence to show the rest of the organisation that there were going to be issues in these places, so we needed to focus more resources and attention on services there.
We were able to share the data and findings from Community Insight with the housing team, so they were aware of which communities were particularly likely to face issues around rent arrears.
Has Community Insight changed the way that your team have worked over the past six months, and will continue to work in the future?
The first lockdown period has been about being reactive, but as we moved out of it, we had an opportunity to work in a more proactive way and be more purposeful about how we use data. Having data available through Community Insight is absolutely key to doing that.
As an organisation, there’s a lot of intelligence that informs what our investment priorities should be, and Community Insight is of course not the only thing that we would use. We’ve got great links with the community, and we regularly talk to them. So rather than providing a definitive picture of what’s happening in a community, we use Community Insight and the data that it gives us as a conversation starter.
Using Community Insight in conjunction with resident feedback has been an effective way of really understanding the complex and multifaceted challenges a particular community is facing, and we’ll continue to use it in that way as we face new challenges this winter.
What other aspects of the tool have you found useful over the lockdown period?
Community Insight has been really valuable when looking for external funding sources. Thanks to the tool we’ve been able to provide reliable data to people in our organisation who are putting funding bids together, as well as useful information for other community partners.
At the same time, it gives us that long range view on what our community investment priorities need to be in an area. When colleagues or other stakeholders ask: why are you doing that? It’s great to be able to say: because that’s what the community wants. But it’s also great that we can say: because the data backs it up.
If you’d like us to show you how Community Insight can help you during these uncertain times, or if you'd like to share how your organisaiton has been using Community Insight, please get in touch.