Collaboration is housing associations’ key to influencing policy at a regional level

We’re witnessing the largest transfer of power from Westminster in a lifetime. This is an extraordinary opportunity to help shape emerging policy and create new ways of working.

Nikki Knowles is our External Affairs Manager for the South West region.

Nikki Knowles is our External Affairs Manager for the South West region.

13 July 2018

I love the ‘C’ word. I say it a lot more often than I probably should – it’s almost my trope. Some think it’s because I’m northern and we have a long history with this word but I think it’s just one of the most satisfying words to exist. Come on, say it with me – COL-LAB-OR-ATION.

Collaboration is one of my favourite words but it’s also an effective engagement strategy. Who needs to divide and conquer when we can collaborate and overcome?

Three of the biggest challenges for the Government are Brexit, austerity and the housing crisis. These three issues will be on every stakeholder’s priority list in varying order and are dominating public life. Our capacity to positively affect change is huge but in an environment where resource is scarce, the issues supreme and background noise deafening, what can we do to ensure our voice is being heard?

The National Housing Federation’s devolution perception audit gives us a couple of clues to what we should be doing to be as effective as possible in this environment.

First and foremost, relationships are essential. To be the trusted partners we want to be and affect the change we want to see, we have to engage and build relationships. In 2016, Weber Shandwick carried out interviews with councillors and chief executives from those regional authorities expected to receive greater devolved powers. This showed that where housing associations are visible and engaged, our good work is recognised. We need to be unashamedly proud of the work we’re doing and be tenacious about showing it off so we can build the relationships we need.

We are a broad church of socially responsible organisations, sometimes we let this get in our way. Our perceptions audit showed that we don’t define ourselves or our offer clearly enough. Because of our diverse and varied nature, we’re never going to agree on everything but let’s not let that get in the way. There’s more that unites us than divides us – focus on the common ground and articulate our offer there.

There’s a recognition across the board that we’re key partners in solving the housing crisis and there is a real appetite among local policy makers to work with our sector as they develop their devolution plans. That said, it’s seen as critical that we are united and speak with a unified voice. The ability to speak with a unified voice is hugely powerful. It shows authority and expertise in an area and it shows stakeholders that we have our figurative houses in order. There’s also something to be said about collective bargaining as a way to get a good deal.

The regions and housing associations that are collaborating are doing some groundbreaking work. They are brokering delivery deals, negotiating funding for pioneering programmes and through this work supporting some of the most vulnerable people in society. Many hands make for light and innovative work. 

Call me wide eyed and optimistic but I love collaboration, it helps stakeholders understand and appreciate what we do as a sector. It helps create consensus and a forum for innovation. But most importantly for me, collaboration can deliver something much, much greater than the sum of its parts.

If I haven’t convinced you of collaboration yet, how about this – we’re witnessing the largest transfer of power from Westminster to regions in a lifetime. This is an extraordinary opportunity to help shape emerging policy and create new ways of working.

The National Housing Federation offers local and flexible support on devolution. We provide insight, help raise the profile of housing and help provide a platform for collaboration. If you are interested in getting involved contact your local External Affairs Manager.


At the National Housing Federation, we promise to help housing associations influence devolution to create the best possible environment for social housing and your customers. The devolution hub is at the heart of how we will deliver on this.

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