I recently attended the NHF Board Excellence in Housing conference 2021, along with fellow chairs and board members from across the country. One of the many valuable sessions focused on the NHF’s new code of governance, which I believe provides a strong framework for putting residents at the heart of decision-making. This standard is hugely important if housing associations are to meet the evolving needs of residents effectively, and show culturally-competent leadership in an uncertain external environment.
In a year when living in a decent home became acutely more important, the inequalities facing the communities we serve were exacerbated and new challenges were revealed. Social housing providers rose to the challenge, adapting our services to meet the needs of the moment, ensuring adequate supplies for the most vulnerable and staying connected to our residents.
But the challenges remain immense; an ongoing housing crisis, building safety demands, emerging net zero carbon emissions targets and increased calls on social care services. As social housing organisations we have an important role to play in driving forward positive social change on many fronts. But to do so, we must position ourselves at the heart of our communities and ensure we understand their needs and perspectives. We must put the voices of residents at the centre of our decision-making.
At MTVH, we are driven by our collective purpose of everyone having a home and the chance to live well. To achieve this, we are committed to working collaboratively with our residents to provide and improve the services and support that matter to them most.
In 2019, we asked our residents for their views on how they would like to influence the direction of MTVH moving forward. From these conversations, we developed a new, co-created resident governance structure with a strengthened focus on accountability, openness and diversity.
The new structure includes a more empowered and robust customer services committee, reporting directly to the board, and a customer services council to represent residents’ perspectives on service delivery. In addition, we have introduced three new resident panels to represent the interests of communities across each of our regions.
We wanted to create a structure that added meaningful value and avoided the tokenism that can sometimes be created by simply creating a resident seat on the board. Through this new structure, residents have the platform to set direction on our organisational priorities, raise awareness of issues affecting communities at board level through their experiences being shared, and to influence improvements to customers’ experiences.
Similarly, in developing our new organisational strategy, we involved our residents from the start. Through workshops with residents and customers from a range of backgrounds, regions and living in different tenures, we were able to shape the strategy to meet their needs. This has seen us incorporate a greater focus on trust, communication and our delivery of core services such as repairs, customer contact and moving into new homes.
As we move forward with this new strategy and structure of resident governance, it is of paramount importance that we don’t forget to continue championing the drive for greater representation of diverse lived experiences at all levels of our organisation. If we are to address the persistent biases in our communities, it is important that we first address them in our workplaces and, as a sector, we still have a way to go.
It is also vital that we have a clear understanding as to what we, and our residents, consider good customer service to be. As well as involving resident voice in decision making, we must uphold our commitment to providing a quality customer experience that strives to get things right first time.
Whilst the events of the past year have been challenging, we now have an opportunity to set a new course. Bringing the voices of residents from all tenures, regions and life experiences into conversations about the direction of our organisations, and the sector as a whole, gives me hope for the future. Through using their knowledge and experience we will be able to serve people better every day and support a heathier, better cared for and fairer society.