Reporting back from the Community Investment conference
Friday 24th of May 2019
On 21st May we sent our Business Development Manager, Michael Hill to represent Tpas at the first Community Investment Conference hosted by HACT’s Centre for Excellence in Community Investment (CICE).
To be given the opportunity to speak in front of over 200 Community Investment professionals and test out their commitment to holistic community investment was a task I took on with pleasure. It was also very timely as we are nearing the end of some consultation with our members on their CI activities and how they thought we might add value to the sector.
The event started by discussing the word ‘Power’. Does a Landlord have power in a community? There were many opinions including one that thought a Landlord had influence rather than power and that the power should be in the community. A different view was that Landlords do have the power to lead in communities which came across a little paternalistic which was disappointing yet not surprising.
The topic of the panel debate I was speaking on was ‘Can Community Investment (CI) deliver Resident Involvement’ (RI). I was joined by the Chief Executive of Mosscare St Vincent and also the Head of Community Regeneration at Newydd Housing. The topic raised several comments with most believing that it can and should. The rationale was to engage people locally where they feel comfortable and rethink your approaches to getting feedback from traditional to flexible.
The practicalities in engaging residents through Community Investment will be played out in time, and the evidence will tell us whether it is effective as organisations reveal their hand in their engagement strategies and the activities they carry out.
There was a significant agreement that CI & RI are two sides of the same coin and merely adopting one style or approach will never really suit all. One fundamental issue that was discussed was the need to bring CI & RI teams closer together. This anomaly has to be dealt with to help reduce consultation overload and to make sure that the strategies link together. We have heard evidence that in some organisations these two teams do not engage with each other, which to many will seem an odd approach.
Why are you doing CI? was one of my questions to set the room and sector. What is the motivation? The fact that CI is now back in vogue prompted a cynical response from me as maybe this should not be about meeting organisational objectives, but about meeting community priorities that have organisational benefits.
This led on to another challenge; where are communities when it comes to developing CI strategies? Our evidence suggests that meaningful early involvement is not widespread and this was not challenged in the room – more work to do on this for everyone it appears.
If we are truly accountable to our tenants and the communities that we work in, surely their needs should be weaved into the organisational objectives? What is the purpose if they are not to meet the needs of the local communities they operate in?
Time, Time and Time again
One participant raised the spectre of time and the lack of it given to carry out effective CI strategies. I responded by stating that ‘for good, meaningful engagement you will pay one of two prices; 1 the price of time to get it right, or 2 the price of failure, loss of trust and confidence in you as an organisation.’ The choice is there for everyone and the results of that choice will be theirs too.
My presentation ended by answering the question of stigma – can CI help to deal with stigma of social housing and its tenants? Well my response was absolutely yes. Good effective CI creates opportunities for the community to take control and show what they are made of. ‘The beacon of community success shines bright on everyone’ was my lasting contribution, and landlords are maybe better placed being the secondary or third partner in these types of activities.
Supporting community initiatives rather than duplicating or driving a different agenda can produce significant benefits including increased confidence in local people and trust in a landlord as a partner of choice.
End on a positive
On a positive note there was widespread commitment in the room adopting good principles of CI, engaging communities and utilising their insight to feed into organisational objectives. The sands of time will tell how this plays out – but we are where we are and we have to take this as a starting point and not let up championing good community engagement.
Focusing on the right things
The event continued throughout the day discussing valuing CI and planning social value activities. This Social Value session focused on making sure that you understand the community you are working in, the partners working there and the localised needs. Once you have this you have a better chance to make some of the big differences that landlords can make if targeted the right way.
This is a start
It was clear from the day that this is the start of a renewed curiosity in Community Investment. We will see if the motivation wavers through time, any future funding reductions and lack of political interest. One thing we can guarantee is this, Tpas will continue to champion and challenge for communities to be involved in all parts of the agenda from strategies to delivery and on the measuring the effectiveness of any activities.