Comment: Terms of engagement

The art of building better communities is all about trust, connection and above all, listening to residents.


Communities react better if they feel they are both listened to and heard. As indeed do every one of us.

We do not always expect to get our own way but a sense of true engagement will make it easier to agree to decisions that are potentially controversial and unwanted.

Local Authorities will often undertake polls to find out what residents think are the key issues for their area and it is not uncommon to find that residents may think that providing more housing is one of the key priorities but, at the same time, say that they do not want any more housing built near them.

Social housing worked best when it was inclusive rather than exclusive. Too many people feel that they or their children, teachers, nurses etc. have no chance of getting housing as they are not ‘needy’ enough.

As a result, such families will often end up moving away from the area they connect with and perpetuate the argument that the wrong people get housed.

This is not saying that those with the most severe housing needs shouldn’t get rehoused, but areas and communities will not thrive unless there is a balanced community.

So, where does true and meaningful resident engagement come into this? In my view you cannot only engage with people when you want something from them and expect them to be happy to agree with you.

If a landlord has a long-standing and meaningful relationship with its residents, it is far more likely to be trusted with its approach to building homes in an area than if they only talk to their residents when they want something from them.

Small local authorities have very difficult decisions to make in planning terms and a vocal local opposition to proposals are sometimes very difficult to resist, even in the face of apparent legal reasons to approve the proposals. Dare I say that some councils may even prefer to allow for the planning inspectorate to decide on approval for controversial schemes?

There is, in my opinion, a disconnect between organisations and their residents and communities, which makes decisions on planning for new housing developments (big and small) all the more difficult.

I am not saying that a better relationship will mean that there is an automatic move to getting every decision supported, but I do believe it would make the passage of such decisions easier for many.

So don’t only engage with people when you want something and expect them to welcome your proposal with open arms; even where it appears to be a ‘no brainer’ decision which would benefit the many.

Make true and meaningful engagement how you do business as the norm and I believe you’ll be surprised at the results.