Working with your landlord

We need more than a voice. We need impact and strong influence where it matters.

What has working with your landlord done for you?

I became involved as a mystery shopper back in 2008 soon after I became a tenant of Soha.  It was easy for me to get involved as there were no strings attached, no major commitment, expenses paid and training provided.  From where I was coming from it was just the right set up for me to make a start to get myself back on track. 

After a difficult time in my life this was an opportunity to take baby steps towards becoming myself again.   I could go in, do my bit and not be judged or have the pressure of higher expectations, as only I knew my potential as a once hard working professional.

Six years down the line, and finally in full time employment and a board member, I can say that, without a doubt, a CV FULL of rewarding proactive voluntary work has a positive impact on potential employers.  And that's just on paper.  In interviews I believe I flow with confidence, self-belief and clarity on my goals moving forward.   

Getting used to working full time has been not easy after being out of work for so long, so another practical benefit is the ability to juggle a challenging schedule for work and life, including two kids!

What three pieces of advice would you give to a landlord who’d like to encourage more tenants to be involved?

  1. Make it accessible and easy for all to get involved eg, BME and working tenants.  That will help increase diversity and representation and make for stronger involvement.  
  2. Provide good training – it must be creative and fun, but with a serious side.  The involvement you get will only be as good as the knowledge and skills of the involved tenants, so invest in them.
  3. Create a vested interest - involvement needs to be part of the culture of the organisation, acknowledged and understood by all staff.  That's half the work done. Then demonstrating to tenants that they are adding value, have a voice, and their work does have an impact on the organisation.  What is the ‘return on involvement’?

Bottom line - there is no thriving business out there that ignores its customers. Real involvement from operational to strategic level will give the organisation an invaluable insight and perspective that can't be gained from anyone else but your tenants.

How do you achieve a work/life balance with your volunteering?

I'm not sure I ever did strike a balance or if anyone really does. I think my culture has its own pressures which can mean a single mother like myself can be spread very thinly a lot of the time.  There have been times when I have felt the pressure at the 11th hour, when so many demands are on me, and my resources are so limited, I feel I want to give up.  But something pushes me out the door and on my way. Once I'm at my destination, I'm composed, focused and most of all I'm present.

I have really been striving to get work and get my career back on track.  I am not one for just being a homemaker, mother/father, daughter, sister, friend.  I am ME! And ME doesn't get to be ME a lot of the time because of life's commitments and responsibilities.

Working within Soha as an involved tenant lets me be me!  Simply put, I feel respected, valued and listened to.  I know I add value and have an impact as part of a tenant group and as an individual.  I have made some good friends along the way.  All of this played a major role in my road to recovery in my personal life and no one can put a price on that.

What skills do you think you bring as an involved tenant with your landlord?

I suppose I’d say that I'm a  ‘people person’, compassionate and caring.   I have a commitment to working for bettering lives.  Colleagues at Soha (staff and tenants) say that I am diplomatic, a good leader and a confident speaker.  

I bring my life experiences - as an individual, social BME tenant, single mother and recently unemployed.

I also bring a passion for promoting what we achieve in social housing.  I feel strongly that, unfortunately, we as a sector have a lot to do to counteract the media stereotypes of social housing and tenants.  

There is so much great and productive work that goes on in the housing sector by landlords, their tenants and sector bodies.  Yet, we don't get enough media coverage.  I think we need to start at the top, with the government and really make our presence known and the success we have achieved. We need more than a voice.  We need impact and strong influence where it matters.