Published by ‘Inside Housing magazine’ 17/06/2020.
As we navigate through the new operating environment, let’s not forget housing’s key workers, who have kept the show on the road through the toughest times, writes Simone Russell
I want to give a ‘shout out’ to a group of key workers who have not been given a public mention during this terrible pandemic. They are, of course, our fabulous housing heroes!
What has struck me most, as I have tried to navigate my way through this new and scary world, is the dynamic and innovative way in which my teams, along with their other council colleagues, have mobilised in response. Not only have they pulled out all the stops in their efforts to continue to deliver essential services, they have successfully and quickly started delivering new services from scratch, to protect the welfare of our tenants and the wider community.
Here in Welwyn Hatfield, within one week of lockdown being announced, they reimagined a local community centre into a ‘lockdown’ hostel for rough sleepers with drug and alcohol issues. After cajoling ‘head office’ to reopen it, they bulk-booked our local Travelodge for homeless families – many of whom had been living with other households and had found themselves homeless as a result of the pandemic.
To make sure our homeless and other vulnerable households never went without food and other necessities, they turned our local roller-skating rink into a food distribution centre.
“They have willingly morphed into support teams for vulnerable households and food distribution specialists”
To support all this new work, they have willingly morphed into support teams for vulnerable households and food distribution specialists; operational staff with less to do during the pandemic have been trained as call handlers and our community buses have become food delivery vans.
Within days, my team created a brand-new call centre to take calls from concerned vulnerable households. They created yet another new service with the sole purpose of reassuring – and persuading – tenants to provide us with access for essential repairs and annual gas check visits, when they were previously too afraid to do so.
This type of ‘mass mobilisation’ would have been tricky at the best of times, especially given the added pressure on teams trying to keep major functions going, such as managing increased homelessness cases and, amid rising hardship, rent income management. We have still been letting homes to the most vulnerable housing applicants and so my team has been out and about in the community, while millions of workers remained safely ensconced in their own homes.
“Taking all this into account, it’s clear they have achieved truly remarkable things!”
There has, of course, been the wholesale disruption to the lives of colleagues, including home-working, home-schooling and the general anxiety experienced by all in these unprecedented times. Taking all this into account, it’s clear they have achieved truly remarkable things!
Essential to the smooth introduction of these new arrangements has been the willingness of everyone to do what has been needed, often leaving their comfort zones with the sole aim of serving our local community.
As we hopefully see our country emerge from the worst, I believe it’s time to think about how this tragedy has resulted in at least some positives.
The government has stated its commitment to build on the work done by councils up and down the country with homelessness, to ‘bring people in’. But we – like, I am sure, others – were already ‘on the case’.
This experience has given us the opportunity to engage people we previously we were unable to. We are hopeful we can really turn lives around for the better.
The new make-shift hostel for street homeless has been a huge success. The residents have established a new community. Having been in group self-isolation for many weeks now, they have come together in the most positive way, voluntarily landscaping the gardens and engaging in group activities.
“A recent staff survey showed that most have seen the benefits of less travel and a better work-life balance”
Our aim now is to support them into permanent, self-contained accommodation and use the lessons learned to help more people in a similar way.
The enforced home-working for our staff has also enabled us, like countless other organisations, to accelerate our planned vision for more agile working and digital connectivity.
After a few hitches initially, we have our remote-working arrangements running smoothly and effectively. A recent staff survey showed that most have seen the benefits of less travel and a better work-life balance. Moving forward, now is the time to harness these achievements.
I, like everyone, have applauded our amazing NHS workers and carers from the safety of my doorstep. But let us not forget our own housing heroes’ commitment and continued willingness to ‘go the extra mile’.
Source: Inside Housing - Comment - Let’s not forget housing’s heroes