Working with councillors to support tenant engagement

Tuesday 9th of May 2023

One really important question for tenant engagement officers, particularly those working for Councils and ALMOs, is ‘how best to work with Councillors?’

Tpas held a meetup in April to talk about just that.

Alongside our usual networking and lively conversations, we were delighted to be joined by Councillor Jim Millard, from the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames, who shared some of his experiences in a fishbowl interview.

Read on to find out more and grab some top takeaways.

Councillors and tenant engagement

Councillors have a number of possible roles when it comes to tenant engagement. As cabinet members with overall responsibility for housing services. As part of a scrutiny committee with a housing brief. As an ALMO board member. And as a local ward member – possibly dealing with issues raised by tenants. Of course, Councillors may be tenants themselves.

Talking with Councillor Jim Millard

At the meetup we held a fishbowl interview with Councillor Jim Millard to hear about his experiences and ideas. He answered questions from the meetup attendees and dealt with them all brilliantly.

We talked about:

  • His role as a Councillor and as a Lead Member for Housing
  • Richmond’s tenant engagement work including their Community Ambassadors scheme 
  • Links between tenant engagement and the ward councillor role including estate inspections
  • Finding different ways to engage
  • Connections with council decision making structures
  • Councillors who are social housing tenants
  • How to approach and communicate with local ward Councillors
  • Reaching those who don’t want to engage
  • Councillors as independent players who people might trust more than service providers

You can watch the full interview here.

Working with councillors – some takeaways

From their conversations, and after listening to Councillor Jim Millard, meetup attendees shared some ideas about what helps when working with councillors to support tenant engagement. Here are five ideas from the day:

1. Invite councillors to be involved engagement activities
Invite councillors to community drop ins and surgeries. Councillors can also be part of estate walks etc – they will already have their own surgeries and case work and will have good ideas about how to resolve problems and get things done.

2. Make sure councillors have access to information and training
Councillors are super busy and have many pressures on their time and some are completely new to the role. So don’t assume that they understand every aspect of tenant engagement, for example the benefits of customer engagement or the new regulatory framework. It’s worth a conversation – perhaps with the member support team in the council – about what information and training is available.

3. Keep councillors in the loop
Councillors, particularly in their ward role, do like to know what’s going on and don’t like surprises. Let the local councillor know what’s happening and then they can decide if it’s something they want to follow up on or be involved in.

4. Work with councillors to connect better with the community
Councillors are likely to have many connections in the community and people may feel more comfortable talking to councillors than to professionals working for councils and ALMOs. If councillors are involved with tenant engagement, they will be well placed to refer people to be involved – a suggestion from a trusted councillor will likely work better than a leaflet or webpage.

5. It’s good to connect with other engagement officers to talk things through
Finally, people at the meetup noticed that it’s really helpful to meet up with other engagement officers and hear how others have similar issues when navigating the political environment. It’s useful to hear about the positives, the negatives and to pick up different ideas from other councils and ALMOs.

About this meetup

This meetup was held on the 20th April 2023 for LA and ALMO Tpas members and was hosted by Dave Mckenna, a Tpas Associate.

We hold four a year, each with a different theme. The meetups are interactive opportunities for tenant engagement officers to share experiences and ideas and to discuss hot topics.

Thanks you to everyone who took part and to Councillor Jim Millard for his time and for his valuable insights.

You can book on the next LA meet up here