Why bother with resident involvement?

Why bother with resident involvement?

Well, there are several reasons but primarily because I enjoy it. I have met so many wonderful people over the last couple of years and made new friends and acquaintances but more than that it allows me to contribute to the community that I live in. I’ve learned a lot and had opportunities which have enriched my life.

I have the privilege of being Leeds and Yorkshire Housing Association’s current tenant board member and working alongside other members of the Customer Committee and Scrutiny Panel we are in a unique position to help LYHA fulfil their aim of providing “excellent quality homes and services that make a positive impact on people and communities”. Who is better placed to understand the Leeds and Yorkshire customer experience then the tenants themselves? And we are determined to make sure that this is not just a tick box exercise! We really do have a voice and we use it to challenge and scrutinise the service we all receive. We have had the chance to work with and learn from the Tpas staff which makes us more effective.We really do believe that LYHA are not only listening but they take on board our contributions.

Times are tough, really tough! Britain currently has 3.7 million children and 1.8 million pensioners living in poverty. The sad fact is that 63% of those children are from households with at least one working parent. Fuel and food poverty are a reality for many of the people living in our communities and loneliness and social isolation is rife. As local authority budgets are cut the support available to those who are struggling and in need is less and less at a time they need it most. But people don’t choose to be poor. Poverty can happen to nearly anyone. Redundancy, ill health, relationship breakdowns and zero hour contracts make people vulnerable and things are set to get worse with the rolling out of Universal Credit and other changes to the benefit system and social housing. This is a time when we, as residents, need to come together, to create stronger, resilient communities where we can support each other.  And we need a voice to challenge the perception that poor people are lazy, worthless and lacking in ambition. My experience tells me that is far from the truth.

At St Ann’s we have a thriving resident’s association which actively engages with residents who wish to be involved with the community. We have a fortnightly lunch club for our ‘Golden Oldies’. It is not only a privilege to meet with our older residents, it is wonderful to see the friendships they have developed and I know the opportunity to get out, eat and socialise is much valued by the residents who attend. Alongside this we have a creative writing group, which not only gives the members a voice it is also a fabulous way of raising self-esteem. Our homework club and cooking club are aimed at giving our young people new experiences and skills. The confidence they are building will undoubtedly improve their life chances. The gardening group is just about to plant our community ‘mini orchard’ and we are looking forward to growing some food crops over the summer which should help to address some of the food poverty around us. These are wonderful opportunities to meet new people, learn new skills and make the estate on which we live better. Last Autumn five adults, nine children and one dog (in charge of watering in!) planted 500 bulbs. How lovely the communal garden looks now the daffodils have come out and how proud it has made the children who helped plant them to see their achievement.

Of course the most exciting of all our activities are the big events. Summer BBQ, Halloween BBQ, Teddy Bears’ Picnic and Christmas party are keenly anticipated and our children are enthusiastic and creative about the events they would like to take part in. These activities are not only about fun though; they allow residents to get to know each other, meet their neighbours and create a supportive network. But with fun comes responsibility. Our children are encouraged to help with the setting up and clearing away after all these events. On Easter Saturday we have organised a litter pick around the estate with the intention that this will be a monthly event. The Easter egg hunt and Easter bonnet competition cannot possibly go ahead on Sunday without the estate looking its very best! We want our young people to invest in the community they live in. Hopefully, as they grow older, it will be a community that they value and they feel valued in therefore making them less likely to indulge in anti-social behaviour and more likely to respect their environment and the people they live around.

I appreciate community involvement is not for everyone but for those engaged with it, it really does enhance the quality of life. Happier people are healthier people and research shows that being involved improves general wellbeing and actually makes you live longer. It certainly has a positive impact on mental health.

I believe that as social tenants we have a duty to value and cherish the homes we live in. It is a privilege denied to the many who are in desperate need of a safe and secure home. We need, as a community, to fight to retain social housing for the younger generation. It is time for tenants and social landlords to work together to create strong resilient and supportive communities which will improve the life chances of our children, empower and enable individuals and families to be the best they can be. Now is the time to be creative and look at different ways to achieve the things we want. We need to engage with the wider community, our Local Councillors and MPs and make our voice heard. One step at a time we can change the world.