“When I get my keys, I don’t want to just get a house, I want to see what it will be like as my home.”
It was these words that really had an impact on me when I was listening to residents at one of our events looking at our empty homes standards – trying to understand how they really feel as they experience this potentially life-changing process.
These conversations are all part of our efforts to redesign our services around residents, considering whole customer journeys, and really understanding what people want and expect from us as a housing association.
It’s also the first consultation that we’ve done using our new ‘co-creation principles,’ which we’ve created – of course – with our residents.
Engagement is nothing new to Sovereign. I’ve been actively involved with our Resident and Board Partnership, resident-led Scrutiny Coordination Group and our local community groups for many years. We’re also an early adopter of Together with Tenants.
But engagement evolves all the time, and it’s our responsibility to keep pace with a changing world and customer expectations.
To reflect this commitment, and embed the resident voice in how we work for the long term, we decided to set out the ground rules and lay down what we expect from each other when working together – across everything that we do.
So what do we really mean by ‘co-creation’? Well, when we co-create with our customers and communities it means we’ll bring ideas, listen, and have honest conversations that affect what we’re doing now and in the future. We’ll work together in partnership and truly collaborate.
There seems to be a perception that some housing associations have lost touch with their purpose – that targets and timings take precedence over residents’ needs. Of course, key performance indicators are important, but are we measuring the right things? Is turning a house around quickly more important than making it feel more like a home?
A resident in the empty homes meeting told us she was offered decorating vouchers to get the place looking neat and tidy after she’d moved in. “But I’m not a decorating person!” she said. “I’m not good at it, and I have little children who would just get in the way. The vouchers weren’t going to cover the cost of someone doing it for me.”
So we asked ourselves, was there a way people could choose whether they wanted the decorating doing for them? How would this affect the length of time that the property was empty for, and how much work had to be completed by our in-house trades teams?
All of these questions have to be taken into account, and multiplied by thousands, as we turn around 3,800 properties for new people to move in across the south of England. We have to balance pace, the experience of walking through the front door, and the cost implications for other services we provide.
But these conversations challenge us to think about how we can do things differently – and do things better.
Our empty homes currently come with flooring in kitchens and bathrooms, but not throughout the rest of the house. This decision was made to offer customers choice, save time and reduce cost, but our co-creation principles – of talking and then really listening to the answers – have made us realise that it’s not a scenario that works for many of our residents moving in for the first time.
A home without flooring doesn’t feel as warm and welcoming as it could. And it can be expensive to buy – a cost many can’t afford as they move into a new place. That’s why we’re also looking at this element as we consider how can we really offer choice and support to our residents as they make their house a home.
At Sovereign we want commitments to be ‘real’ and not just words. From the moment they become a Sovereign tenant, we want residents to be excited about their new place. We want them to trust us to work with them to keep their home up to not just a good, but a great, standard. That’s why this is the first project we’ve taken on. Watch this space!
And this is just the beginning. We’ll apply these principles to everything from how we communicate with our customers, to creating the standards of our new homes and places that we’ll build in the future.
I think it’s an exciting time to be at the forefront of resident engagement as Sovereign rethinks and redesigns what we do and how we do it. With a genuine partnership, underpinned by these co-creation principles, we can be confident that we’re on the right path.