Influencing government is about storytelling – so let’s help our residents tell their stories

Photo of Rob Hunter
Photo of Rob Hunter

Rob Hunter, 11 September 2020

For us at Midland Heart, the global pandemic has meant focusing exclusively on maintaining the core services our customers rely on, and keeping people safe.

A lot of non-critical work had to take a back seat, including influencing the government.

Whilst obviously we wouldn’t have had it any other way, this did mean our usual programme of activity in Parliament and at conferences had to be put on hold. Opportunities to meet with decision-makers shelved. Particularly frustrating in the first year of a new Parliament, and with so much going on in the housing world.

I’m sure there are many of you feeling the same frustration, and so I wanted to share a bit about our recent experience with the Homes at the Heart campaign, in the hope of inspiring you to keep going in the difficult weeks and months ahead.

With lockdown beginning to ease, the summer recess seemed to offer the perfect window to think about meetings with our political leaders again.

Things would of course have to be very different now.

As a bare minimum we would need to adhere to strict social distancing and tracking protocols, and think very carefully about how we would keep people safe. It would be unlikely we could rely on the usual types of venues.

Hmmm.

Pretty soon, we realised we’d actually been overlooking our best possible meeting spaces all along – our residents’ own gardens!

Midland Heart has a broad portfolio of retirement living accommodation, with 2,700 homes spread across 45 sheltered schemes and 23 retirement villages.

By far our biggest asset though is our small army of green fingered residents who work tirelessly to maintain the most beautiful and immaculate gardens. The perfect venues for us to host one of our ‘new normal’ meetings.

So we plotted a programme of socially distanced visits to retirement schemes for local MPs and councillors and the response was amazing. In just over two months we were visited by ten different MPs. Nine in person and one, as is now increasingly becoming the norm, virtually. Six were newly elected in December last year and so their visit was a really valuable opportunity to get properly introduced.

A particular highlight was the visit in late August from the Housing Minister Christopher Pincher to Shannons Mill in Tamworth. This was perfectly timed to coincide with the start of week three of the Homes at the Heart campaign, which focused on ‘living well’. So we had an excellent opportunity to talk about the vital role of retirement housing in helping to maintain independence and promote wellbeing for older and more vulnerable people.

Funnily enough, it turned out Mr Pincher already knew all about our residents’ active lifestyle programme – he had previously met several of them exercising their independence to take refreshment at local hostelries!

All in all, the minister was delighted with the visit. Impressed with the pride our residents showed in their home and the enthusiasm with which they described their fulfilled lives. He was also very interested to hear from our Chair John Edwards and Executive Director of Operations David Taylor about plans to modernise and refurbish our portfolio of retirement living schemes, including Shannons Mill. He even promised to come back and inspect the work himself!

One of the things I learned on the National Housing Federation’s Influencing Academy a couple of years ago is that successful influencing is really all about telling a good story. Actually, it doesn’t matter where you take an MP or Minister as long as there is a good story to tell about the homes you provide and the people that live in them.