Board members tell us how they’ve responded to the coronavirus crisis

Sarah Finnegan
Sarah Finnegan

Sarah Finnegan, 16 June 2020

We asked members of our Board Member National Group, which is responsible for guiding the delivery of our offer for board members, about how they and their organisations have been responding to the coronavirus crisis.  

In your role as a board member, what have you found most challenging about responding to the current crisis? 

"Being a board member of a smaller housing association which specialises in providing support and housing for some of the most vulnerable in our society, the crisis has made me realise that there are a lot of fantastic people working in very trying circumstances.

It has been important to remember that in organisations such as Providence Row Housing Association, the executives are often needed to be found providing services and support to residents and frontline staff. 

As a board member at this time, it might be easy to move into a more executive role, but the real challenge has been to resist that, to ensure that we only seek the information we truly need to do our job and not to overburden the executive with excessive demands."

John Giesen, Vice Chair, Providence Row Housing Association

How has moving to working remotely changed your role as a board member?

“The breakneck shift to remote working experienced by everyone across the association has arisen from the necessity to maintain our core services and functionality in the midst of a global crisis. This has immediately required a concentration on ‘what really matters’ and brought into sharp focus what the associations’ social purpose is.

I think all associations have concentrated on resident engagement, support and essential repairs, whilst undertaking stress testing on income shortfalls and development risks. Our position as an employer and an organisation in receipt of public funds has also presented challenges in relation to furloughing – or not – of staff.

All of this has been undertaken online and at speed. James Tickell wrote that this was a good thing as boards were concentrating on key issues and risks, and boards were operating more efficiently. In the short term, that is no doubt true and there are many good learning points for us on how we engage with the executive and undertake our role in the future.

However, I do wonder how long everyone can maintain the intensity of focus a Zoom or Teams meeting requires in the longer term, and how we can begin to assimilate this new learning and collectively rethink and reset our future from behind a screen?”

Alan Lewin, Chair of Iceni Homes and Board Member, Hundred Houses Society

What’s made you most proud of your organisation’s response?

“Despite the pressures and fear that the tragic coronavirus crisis has imposed on the nation, I’m proud that Plymouth Community Homes continues to beat with a strong social heart for its people – its tenants, residents, workforce and partners.

“Elderly and known vulnerable tenants receive welfare calls; online sing-a-longs and other digitalised community activities have been introduced; from tenants, messages of appreciation are relayed to our dedicated support staff; our donations to local charities support the welfare of people citywide and our partnership with Plymouth City Council helps provide accommodation for the homeless.

“I am so proud that Plymouth Community Homes is demonstrating what the social housing sector truly is – a lifeline.”

Debbie Roche, Vice Chair, Plymouth Community Homes

“Our seamless transition to remote working meant that we were able to focus on supporting our customers through proactive welfare calls. We have contacted almost 7,000 vulnerable customers to ensure that they are safe and to provide any practical support that they need. We set up a Covid crisis grant funding pot to ensure that food banks and other support in communities can be maintained.

“To respond to challenges faced by our employees we have produced wellbeing magazines, made support and advice services available to staff and created online forums and support groups for those who may be struggling with isolation or just need to connect and have a chat.”

Judith Common, Chair, Believe Housing

Can you share any tips about developing a good recovery plan?

“Since mid-April, the board and executive team have been focusing on recovery and the ‘new normal’ using the four P model:

  • Practices – virtual property tours for tenants, more agile working for staff, and greater use of video conferencing.
  • Place – a smaller head office site with fewer car parking spaces which will allow room for a much needed ‘County Council hub’, buying standing stock and land banking.
  • People – more homeworking for staff, customer rent issues (redundant or on reduced hours), and increased domestic abuse.
  • Partnerships – cement existing partnerships, build new ones and generally be more collaborative.”

Mark Lewis, Chair, Trent & Dove Housing  

Can you share any tips about making decisions at pace during the current crisis?

“Investment we made over the last two years in moving to an agile organisation has resulted in us being able to respond swiftly to the pandemic. We have utilised Microsoft Teams to hold our first virtual board meeting in March, ensuring that we were still able to govern effectively during the lockdown. However, in order to provide flexibility and the ability to make decisions more quickly during the pandemic, we set up a Covid Committee to make decisions as appropriate in between board meetings. This committee meets as an when necessary. Regular briefings for all employees and board members are posted on our workplace site.”

Judith Common, Chair, Believe Housing  

Take part

If you’re a housing association board member and you’d like to share your thoughts on one of the following questions – in around 100 words – please get in touch.

  • In your role as a board member, what have you found most challenging about responding to the current crisis?
  • How has moving to working remotely changed your role as a board member?
  • What’s made you most proud of your organisation’s response?
  • Looking to the future, what are your board’s priorities going to be?
  • Can you share any tips about developing a good recovery plan?
  • Can you share any tips about making decisions at pace during the current crisis?