'Make a Stand forced me to think about what I could do and what my company could do'
Jane Nelson, managing director of building services specialist MD Group, explains why her company was the first to sign up to CIH's new Make a Stand supporters' pledge to help tackle domestic abuse.
CIH’s Make a Stand pledge put domestic abuse in the social housing sector centre stage for most of 2018 – in no small part down to the legend that is Alison Inman (last year’s CIH President). More than 320 social landlords have now signed up to the pledge. (Collectively they own more than 50 per cent of social housing across the UK, but by no means have all social landlords signed up so far. Why haven’t the rest of them? Serious question.)
As a contractor who works almost exclusively with social housing partners, and as someone who was born and raised in a council house, Make a Stand forced me to think about what I could do to make a stand and, perhaps more importantly, what my company could do.
It was easy to spark a discussion about this at work. Sadly, many people have had such abuse touch their lives in some way. Some quick decisions saw us make some quick changes:
- HR colleagues added Safe Leave to our Compassionate Leave Policy. This triggers approval for two weeks’ paid leave in our Compassionate Leave Policy for colleagues who are escaping domestic abuse, attending related medical or legal appointments etc.
- Our IT colleagues added a Concern Button to operatives’ PDAs so they can confidentially report a concern about potential domestic abuse – and report any other safeguarding issue, for that matter
- We talked to some of our clients and other social landlords about how maintenance partners can help deliver their approach to Make a Stand and, as a result, with thanks to my co-chair, Jen Barfoot of Homes in Sedgemoor, many of us got together as a ‘South West Domestic Abuse Steering Group’ to plan an awareness raising event on 9 April for maintenance operatives, contractors and their clients.
- We developed a training tool-kit to raise operatives’ awareness of domestic abuse and suggest some of the signs that they need to look out for when working in tenants’ homes – not to be nosy, but to be good citizens. We will share this with other contractors and DLOs in the sector at the South West event.
So, you can imagine my delight when I heard that Jim Strang (this year’s inspiring CIH President) is spearheading a Make a Stand ‘supporters’ pledge’ so that firms like mine can publicly declare our support to helping to address domestic abuse in social housing. The supporters’ pledge identifies three practical steps which all maintenance firms and other social housing friends and supply chain members can make:
- Make information about national and local domestic abuse support services available on your website and in other appropriate places so that they are easily accessible for staff, your members, customers or clients
- Put in place an HR policy, or amend an existing policy, to support members of staff who may be experiencing domestic abuse
- Appoint a champion at a senior level in your organisation to own the activity you are doing to support people experiencing domestic abuse and promote the campaign with your members, customers or clients.
Jim is launching the supporters’ pledge at the South West domestic abuse awareness raising event. You just know my company will be the first to sign up to it.
Chris Grose and his colleagues from the legal firm Capsticks have drafted some procurement guidance for social housing landlords (for free) to help them consider how to get domestic abuse awareness built into their maintenance tenders and contracts - so Make a Stand supporters are already going above and beyond the requirements of the new pledge.
After some thirty-something years in the sector, I know many people who work for other maintenance contractors. They are a brilliant lot. The vast majority believe in social housing with a passion and really believe that looking after someone’s home so that it is safe, warm and dry is a privilege. Yes, we hope our clients get that we are commercial enterprises and need to return a margin – but we are also people who get out of bed in the morning wanting to make a difference and we are in a great position to do so. I know most contractors will want to sign up to CIH’s Make a Stand supporters’ pledge. Why wouldn’t we when it might save a life or, at the very least, make someone’s life a little bit more bearable?