Plus Dane and Refugee Resettlement

 

In 2016, Plus Dane, in partnership with SHAP, was awarded the Refugee Resettlement Contract for Halton Borough Council; Halton are a great Council to work with and there was a coalition of the willing. The contract fitted well with the social and moral purpose of our organisation. And so began a new strand of work for us. It has been challenging and we’ve needed to be open to continuous learning and readjustment as we evolve our knowledge and skills – but more than anything, it has been hugely rewarding.

So far we have supported 107 people from 25 Families, helping them settle into new homes and new communities. A plethora of statistics and evaluation surround them, many of which I could cite, but the key for me is these people are like no others we work with. The majority of these families have left Syria. It is unimaginable for us to contemplate the personal horrors they have experienced, the lives and families they left behind and the absolute enormity of the step they took to flee their own countries.

As the main service provider, we are responsible from the moment families have been identified as coming to live in Halton. I know that without a second thought our team has been up at the crack of dawn waiting at the airport to welcome people into a new life that must feel so alien to them.

Our role includes sourcing new homes. We did this in a way that avoided taking away properties that had already been advertised on property pool, as we really wanted to increase our chances of smoothing community cohesion. We work successfully with both social and private sector landlords to achieve this, sharing tips and advice all the time.

These homes need to be decorated and furnished to a standard set by the Home Office. This is where being the main service provider as well as a social landlord proves a real asset. Our initial supported housing team are able to draw on the expertise of colleagues right across the business, often with limited notice and usually to very tight timescales.

Our Trades help assemble furniture and put up curtains and poles. They bring our apprentices along too, which in turn helps them appreciate and achieve some of the wider Corporate Social Responsibility we strive to embed in their training. Environment teams help clear large quantities of recyclable cardboard and often give a helping hand to move items within the home, remove dumped items from some of gardens etc.

As for colleagues who are sometimes referred to as ‘not front line’– our Finance colleagues helped to completely re-evaluate the way Home Office funds were provided to the families. Previous providers had pre-loaded cash onto cash cards. In our view, this was creating a dependency culture and provided a false sense of household income, rather than giving the families a chance to learn the value of English money for everyday long-term living. Our finance team have developed a programme of delivering steady amounts of cash over a period of five weeks (the average waiting time for benefits). This also gives the opportunity to do training around setting up and using bank accounts, cash points, using contactless etc. The families have said they find this of real value.

Our resettlement support enables us to enrich our wider workforce. For example, learning that we needed better language skills saw us employ bilingual staff that now also provide support to other areas of the business, including translating some of our tenancy advice documents.

Through one of our partners, we also have the use of a bank of skilled interpreters, one of which is a trained midwife. This enables us to provide up to date pregnancy, labour and post birth advice and assistance to our new mums … can you imagine arriving here as a new refugee and trying to navigate NHS maternity services and give birth to your new child without that level of support?

Housing remains one of the big issues for our families and we have learnt some key cultural lessons from them as we have progressed. One of the most important lessons has been to understand the women’s inability to socialise in a culturally acceptable way in the configuration of some properties we initially provided. This issue was made worse by the spread of the properties and the lack of existing diversity in Halton. By working with the women, we are now attempting to put on as many daytime events in conjunction with DWP and ESOL providers to give them a chance to meet and socialise in a safe environment in a bid to combat isolation.

Halton hopes to host around 60 more individuals under the program in the coming 12 months and we will keep learning lessons and applying them. Our existing families act as buddies and mentors for new arrivals, helping to cook traditional hot meals on their day of arrival (especially appreciated after such a long journey). We are now planning a big EID party to be hosted in Halton, with invites going across the Liverpool city region, to help give our wider Syrian community a chance to come together.

What has struck me most about this work is the collective partnership and pride I see all the time. At a recent celebration event, the families, our staff and key partners, such as the police, all shared the same openness to learn together and take forward a new life for people who need it so desperately. That pride was never more evident than in the face of a young man I met whose wife had just given birth to our first ‘refugee baby’. One of our team had been with them at the hospital, but the whole room celebrated this young life who will be able to give so much to her new community in years to come.

Now if that’s not what housing associations and councils working together should be aiming to achieve, what is?

Barbara Spicer CBE, Chief Executive at Plus Dane and NHC Board Member

(Written with the support of Laura Stanley, Senior Refugee Resettlement Coordinator, and John Foster, Supported Housing Manager)

A video link is as follows:  https://youtu.be/-Nn7IOiZ8PU

 

Guest Blog: The Housing Association Digital Forum wants new members

Karl Dickman, Product Manager at Home Group, explains why he set up the Housing Association Digital Forum and how already it’s been a great success.

I started the Housing Association Digital Forum in September 2018 with the first participants invited from the North East, and Yorkshire and Humber.

I set it up, primarily, because I was fed up of spending hours travelling to London, often requiring overnight stays, to attend conferences where all I heard were speakers telling me how amazing their digital journey had been. I’d never hear of any failures, nor get the chance to ask speakers questions. I wouldn’t learn much more than I could have from googling their company and looking at news about their digital transformation.

With 12 years’ experience in the digital sector I knew there were many failures we weren’t being told about.  It got me to wonder how many organisations who went to these conferences were about to embark on their own journey thinking that nothing would go wrong? Additionally, how many people were in the crowd trying to understand where others had made the same mistakes, and how to learn from them?

From that, the Housing Association Digital Forum was born.

The premise was simple. This was an open and honest forum where people involved in their own companies’ digital programmes could attend. It’s essential to collaborate and share knowledge. So, badges come off at the door, and all ideas and comments are respected.

With help from National Housing Federation we organised the first forum, and the feedback we’ve had so far has been excellent. There have been lots of candid and open conversations about when mistakes have been made, and what happened to recover it.

We’re now looking to expand the forum – we want more members from the North East, and Yorkshire and Humber, and we’re opening it up to members in the North West with the help of the Northern Housing Consortium. A Housing Association in London is now looking to set up a similar forum which is great.

The next forum will take place on Friday 29 March 2019 between 1pm and 4pm at the offices of Thirteen Group, Hudson Quay, Middlesbrough.  The suggested topics for the next forum are “How do we know we’re building the right thing?”, the need for a digital strategy and what this looks like” and “Digital skills for customers and colleagues”.

You don’t need to be in a digital role to take part in the Forum – this is open to anyone involved in new projects. To register your interest for the next meeting, please contact callum.smith@northern-consortium.org.uk

NHC Launches Mental Health Training for Social Housing Staff

Liam Gregson, Member Engagement Officer, Northern Housing Consortium

With austerity swelling social housing’s role as an ‘ambulance service’ for vulnerable groups, it is unsurprising that the mental health problems faced by residents has come increasingly into focus. Research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has suggested that one in three people living in social housing has a mental health problem and last September the mental health charity Mind published research putting forward even starker findings:

  • Newly analysed data from Mind has shown more than two in five (43 per cent) of people with mental health problems living in social housing have seen their mental health deteriorate as a result of where they live;
  • More than one in seven (15 per cent) experienced stigma from housing officials during the social housing application process;
  • More than one in four (27 per cent) had problems with benefits such as universal credit or housing benefits;
  • Nearly three in ten (28 per cent) experienced stigma from neighbours or flatmates.

Whilst Mind’s research is based on the relatively small, national sample of 2009 people, I’m sure all would agree that providing the necessary support for residents who suffer from mental health problems is no less a priority. NHC members will be more than aware of their role in striving to support some of the most vulnerable in society.  From the threat of homelessness, the challenges posed by Universal Credit, or domestic issues within the home; frontline staff can come into contact with residents under serious strain and it is integral that those staff are best placed to help.

Alongside Mind’s research came a call for social housing providers to do more to ensure staff are “well equipped to support tenants who have mental health problems.” This is a call the NHC has long aimed to respond to.  Last October, alongside our partners HACT, we convened a Mental Health and Housing Conference where delegates heard of the innovative ways in which housing providers were collaborating with health services as well as new research that underlined the role housing can play in delivering recovery outcomes (you can read more about the conference HERE).  And starting in February, the NHC will be running two new training courses to help our members recognise mental health issues and the impact they can have on both colleagues and, importantly, residents.

Mental Health and Supporting Residents will enable frontline staff to understand mental illness and how these issues can drive behaviour within residents.  By looking at how problems can present themselves, dealing with difficult situations (including within the parameters of the Mental Capacity Act), and personal resilience; the course aims to prepare colleagues to deliver the kind of support that goes beyond traditional customer service.

Organisations will also be aware of their responsibility towards the wellbeing of all colleagues including those whose work can carry an emotional toll.  Managing the Mental Wellbeing of your Team will help managers to look after the mental health of themselves and their team members.  By the end of the course delegates will be equipped to have conversations about mental health, have the knowledge to manage potential trigger situations, and know how to start building a resilience that will maximise performance whilst preserving personal wellbeing.

The training will be conducted by experienced practitioners in the field of mental health support and coaching.  Nicky McGee, a Mental Health Nurse and Crisis Clinician, has supported vulnerable residents in a variety of roles covering welfare advice, personal budgets and sustainable tenancies, and independent living and care. Glynis Osborne, Senior Development Consultant and founder of Thinking Success UK, has a background in psychology and has built a successful career in integrating resilience and communication skills into her role as a performance coach.

Overall the NHC will continue to focus on mental health and engage with members through roundtables and events to continue a dialogue around these challenges and share good practice and learning.  Together we can all ensure social housing is both a great sector to work in and a happy place to call home.

 

Research from Mind cited above can be accesses here:

https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/one-in-three-social-housing-tenants-with-mental-health-problems-unhappy-with-home-making-mental-health-worse/#.XEBbjVX7TIV

We are looking to run these courses again later in 2019, to register your interest please contact Liam Gregson, Member Engagement Officer – liam.gregson@northern-consortium.org.uk

Guest Blog: ‘A vision for social housing’: report by Social Housing Commission on tenants’ rights

The Social Housing Commission (the Commission) is an independent cross-party body which was set up by housing charity Shelter. On 08 January 2019 the Commission returned a year’s worth of findings in the form of a report entitled ‘Building for our future: A vision for social housing’ which aims to bolster tenants’ rights in the wake of the Grenfell Fire disaster.

Click here to view the report.

When 72 people were killed at Grenfell, there were widespread reports of a broken culture of regulation, reporting of hazards and tenants’ interests being side-lined. The Commissioners, including former Labour leader Ed Miliband and former Conservative party chair Baroness Sayeeda Warsi hope that a ‘decisive generation shift in housing policy’ will be what is required to address the ‘housing crisis’ currently facing the sector.

Proposals

The primary driver of the Report’s vision is the proposed building of more social housing in the next 20 years. This would achieve 3.1m new social homes by 2040 for 3 groups of vulnerable renters: the homeless, younger trapped renters, and older renters. This figure is based on the Commission’s calculation of the number of households who will be failed by the current market conditions over the next 20 years.

This recognition of the varying needs of residents challenges the Government’s current stance on social housing as merely either a safety net or a route to home ownership. The Government has, however, stressed that the launch of its £9bn affordable homes programme will meet the demand – communities secretary James Brokenshire said that “providing quality and fair social housing is a priority for this government, and our social housing green paper seeks to ensure it can both support social mobility and be a stable base that supports people when they need it”.

The Commission also recommend that existing social housing stock that has been sold-off is replaced, in a bid to increase the sustainability of Right-to-Buy schemes.

The Report proposes that a new consumer regulator is established ‘to protect renters and ensure their voices are heard’. This regulator would set and enforce more specific minimum standards for RPs on the safety and quality of homes.

Reforms would also help to reduce the barriers to complaining, such as the ‘serious detriment’ test which sets the standard for when the current Regulator of Social Housing (which focuses on economic matters) should intervene in a dispute between landlord and tenant.

Elsewhere, the Commission proposes that tenants have more authority on the day-to-day running of their housing, for example by giving residents a voice when it comes to renovations.

Proposals to substantively change laws include the removal of Section 106 exemptions on certain new developments and conversions, and reform of the Land Compensation Act 1961 Section 14 and 17 to prevent prospective planning permission artificially inflating the cost of land which has been designated for housing.

Impacts

The Government currently spends £21bn annually on housing benefit. The Report states savings to this bill could be achieved by getting more people into social housing paying lower rents. This is supported by analysis done by Capital Economics which predicts that two-thirds of the cost of supplying the extra housing called for in the Report could be offset by the savings from housing benefit and an increase in tax revenue.

The Report claims that the construction industry could be given a boost by the influx of building, and the associated tax receipts that the new houses would generate would help the economy more generally.

The economic boost of building is cited as a way to pay for the cost of the increase by some, however, the report recommends a rise in the rate of building higher than that seen in the two decades following the end of the second world war. As idealistic as this is, this surely raises questions as to whether the industry could be prepared for such an increase; with reports from house builders citing a range of factors that constrain the market at present, such as a lack of materials and skilled labour.

In summary, despite these specific proposed changes, the Report aims to go deeper regarding the perception of social housing itself. The report highlights similar themes touched upon in the Government’s Social Housing Green Paper which stated that societal changes in attitude are needed if the industry is to provide for the future. Commissioner and campaigner Doreen Lawrence spoke in the report about how people in power do not “understand what this experience [being a social tenant] is like’, adding that ‘the case for investing in social housing is overwhelming’.

Good practice on how residents and landlords work together to keep their home and building safe

The Social Housing Green Paper published last year included a specific question around how residents can be supported by their landlords to ensure their homes are safe.

A Call for Evidence – available here –  has been issued to understand what safety issues are most important, the extent to which current engagement works and what good practice exists that can be learnt from.

The Call for Evidence asks for views from residents and those managing multi-occupancy residential buildings on how residents are currently supported to keep their homes safe.

Government has also published its implementation plan for changes to the regulatory framework around building safety in response to the recommendations in the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.  The implementation plan – available here – summarises the work that has already been undertaken to make existing buildings safe and to kick-start system reform.

The starting point for reform is to consider the best practice that currently exists and also, what barriers exist.

We know that there is a lot of good practice which demonstrates how residents and landlords are working together to keep their homes and buildings safe.  The NHC is intending to submit evidence to the inquiry on supporting residents to report building safety issues and we need your help with our evidence gathering. For example,

  • Do you have any examples of good practice on engagement with residents and provision of information relating to responsibilities around fire or structural safety you would like to share?
  • Have you ever been refused entry to an occupant’s property where you have had a structural or fire safety concern – if so, what did you do next?
  • How effective do you think existing mechanisms are in enabling you to gain access to an occupant’s property when you have a concern about safety?

Anyone with an interest in this issue is welcome to submit their views.   If you would like to submit evidence of good practice or discuss any of the issues raised by this Call for Evidence please contact:  Karen Brown karen.brown@northern-consortium.org.uk by 5th February.

Many thanks for your assistance in this matter.

Guest Blog – Homes England Community Housing Fund

Over the summer Homes England launched the Community Housing Fund (CHF) (£163m). Both phase 1 revenue support and phase 2 capital funds are now open for bids. At Homes England we are supporting community led housing activity and we know through enquiries and actual bids that communities are developing projects throughout the region.

An element of the phase 1 funding is targeted at local authorities wishing to support community led housing proposals in their area through the employment of additional staff resource to support groups. We will fund up to 90% of the costs of a post. Some support elements, such as accommodation and IT costs, can count towards the remaining 10%. We will however require an element of match funding.

Due to the fund currently only being open until March 2020 it is imperative that LAs act now to secure funding, so that this new resource can be in place in April of this year to enable funding for a one year temporary post to be secured. This can also be a great secondment opportunity. An example Job Description can also be provided as long with support with your bid.

Please contact Graham at graham.brookfield@homesengland.gov.uk or on 07970 974336, now. If you are a registered provider looking to work with a local community to deliver a project then also please contact me to discuss funding opportunities.