This is my first blog as Chair of the Tenant Advisory Panel. I wanted to give you a mixture of my thoughts and, hopefully, those of the rest of the panel.
Valerie Oldfield, Chair of the Together with Tenants Tenant Advisory Panel
16 September 2019
I say ‘hopefully’ as the panel has only met twice so far. As a group, we’ve just joined the 'party' – so to speak – and as members we’re all new to each other, so we’re currently trying to understand each other and share views, knowledge and experiences. We’re a diverse group – and I can assure you our thinking and views are diverse – which makes for some interesting debate when forming our ideas and suggestions. I’m confident, though, that as a group we’ve already contributed may positive ideas and views to the Together with Tenants Plan and Charter.
I – and I’m sure many other residents – feel excited and optimistic about Together with Tenants. But I’m equally sure that many tenants and residents feel despondent hearing of yet another initiative that may merely tick a box to satisfy staff, housing associations who’ll pat each other on the back, and regulators and the Government who feel assured that enough is being done to provide good housing and services. Harsh as it may sound, it’s true. It’s up to everyone involved to ensure that Together with Tenants is a genuine success.
Half-heartedness, token gestures and personal agendas will derail any positive developments to Together with Tenants.
What will it take to make Together with Tenants a success?
That’s for all of us to discover. But I can think of one thing, and that’s a fundamental change in the way we view social housing tenants and residents. For many years, people have associated ‘social housing’ with tenants on very low incomes, mainly out of or unable to work, and with little or no education. It’s time to challenge this view, and come up with a shared understanding of what social housing really is – one that isn’t being led by a particular agenda, the loudest voice or the greatest influence. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a million different groups in this country, all with differing interpretations of what social housing really is.
The Together with Tenants work is vast. It won’t be a quick fix. It’ll take many years to develop and to embed the culture change needed into the social housing sector. Each of the four points in the Together with Tenants Plan is a challenge. There are vast differences in the way each individual housing association is structured and interacts with its tenants, and differences between tenants and residents on how they want to be involved and their understanding of how this will all work.
But what is already encouraging is seeing Together with Tenants being embraced by the sector, and already being trialled by the early adopter organisations and tenants and residents. This should create a positive foundation on which this work can prosper.
As a panel, we recognise that we have an important contribution to make to this work. We hope our input will help make Together with Tenants an initiative that can be embraced by tenants, residents and housing associations alike. In the near future, I’d like to see the Together with Tenants approach become the norm – not just an ‘added extra’, but fully embedded in every area of housing associations’ work. Only then can housing associations truly say that tenants are at the heart of everything they do.
I’ll finish by leaving this quote from Neal, one of the panel members. I feel this neatly summarises why it’s up to everyone to make Together with Tenants a success:
“We are simply bridge builders who are passionate about this ‘bridge’, but without both parties on either bank working hard to achieve this it will be washed away like so many attempts before.”