Within communities, ad hoc support groups are springing up, individual initiatives are shared, and people are being proactive.
Organisations have been focussing on how they can best support local people during what will be extraordinarily challenging times ahead.
Last week, I heard a headmaster from a primary school in Bristol talking on the news about how his school was the heartbeat of the community.
And it’s true: Schools have been and are continuing to play a crucial role in supporting the children of key workers.
Social housing organisations are similarly placed. Across the country, they play a critical role as anchor institutions.
And it is this role that social housing is, and should be, focussing on now.
Over the last week, we’ve heard from numerous social housing professionals across the UK, particularly those working in community investment teams.
We’ve heard how they’re leading the response to identify and contact their more vulnerable residents; reaching out to people who need more help, offering support when people feel most afraid; and mobilising practical responses, delivering parcels containing food, toilet roll, and hand sanitisers to vulnerable residents.
We’ve been told about their plans to support tenants and local residents who are at risk of losing their jobs; how they are redeploying their teams into community support, stepping in when others need to isolate at home.
And we’ve talked with a community interest company that is partnering with a local housing organisation to deliver activity packs to isolated residents.
What’s clear is that, over the last week, the social purpose of social housing organisations has been brought into sharp focus. Community investment teams have come to the fore; and we are hearing about their connections within communities, their passion for the work they do, and their ability to problem-solve and innovate on the spot..
These are the skills that are most needed, now.
Many of these colleagues will now be working in unfamiliar environments and in unfamiliar ways. Like most of us they will be working from home, disconnected from their peers as well as those they usually support. They will be working out how to deliver these much-needed services using unfamiliar and untested technology platforms. They will be living with increased anxiety and stress, which is becoming common for so many.
To help them share resources, ideas and best practice, we’ve set up a forum on the Centre for Excellence in Community Investment website. They can find information about COVID-19 translated into 23 languages, they can discover which online platforms to use to stay connected to communities, and they can share examples of communications they’ve sent out to their residents, so they can check that they’ve not missed anything out.
As well as the forum, the Centre also hosts 11 regional networks of community-investment professionals. We’re now moving these meetings online and asking colleagues to attend them more regularly, so they can coordinate responses within their local area.
Our aim is to support social housing organisations as they tackle the range of new challenges in the short term, while providing the space in which they can develop strategies, practical responses, and new initiatives in the medium to long term.
Our advice at the moment is simple: get engaged, work in partnerships, invest in your communities.
Realise your role as anchor institutions, and deliver your social purpose.