It goes without saying that last year was the toughest and most challenging that our sector has ever faced.
Looking back to the first national lockdown in March 2020, I doubt any of us could have predicted how the next ten months would play out. Though we are still in the middle of the crisis, I want to take some time to reflect on some of the big and positive things we have achieved together as a sector.
Throughout the pandemic I have been struck by the resilience and professionalism our members have shown in their response to some very complex situations. There have been difficult times and difficult conversations, yet time after time I’ve been bowled over by the way you have stepped up to meet every challenge head on in order to maintain the safety and wellbeing of your staff and residents.
Our supported and sheltered housing members have been successful in managing the impact of the pandemic. Thanks to your dedication, vital services have kept running and infection rates in schemes have been kept down. Due to the restrictions on visitors, many of you increased the frequency of virtual welfare checks to address the growing mental health concerns of your most vulnerable residents and, where necessary provided them with mobile phones and other IT equipment to reduce loneliness and isolation.
In addition, housing associations have worked alongside local authorities, the care sector and the NHS to allow people to be safely discharged from hospital or moved on from temporary hotel accommodation. When the government called for ‘Everyone In’, an initiative to bring the nation’s homeless off the streets and into temporary accommodation, housing associations played a central role. Many people who were placed in temporary accommodation through the Everyone In programme have now been provided with permanent homes, and we are continuing to work with the government to ensure that the programme is adequately funded to continue.
I have also been encouraged by stories of residents being connected with local volunteer networks, charities and community organisations to support them through the crisis. As reports of domestic abuse incidences during the periods of lockdown increased, many of you worked together to improve your response, so that residents were able to safely access assistance where they needed it.
None of this would be have possible without the determination and dedication of frontline staff who have worked tirelessly to keep on top of and implement changing government guidance. I realise how difficult it has been to keep going in a crisis which has felt never-ending, and staff mental health and wellbeing is a priority for all of us. Recently we held a webinar covering strategies to support mental health and manage stress for both residents and staff. In case you missed it, you can watch it here.
The work that has been done over the past year is a huge testament to how much can be achieved when we work together. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your patience and focus on what matters. I realise that we are still in uncertain times, but with the roll-out of the new vaccine programme across the country, I am hopeful that we will see better days ahead.