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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Focusing on the road to recovery


Next week, Bill Fullen, chief executive of Believe Housing will be part of the opening panel session at our North East virtual summit – an opportunity that has come at such an important time for housing providers.

I’m writing this on a wet and miserable day that, on the surface, looks spectacularly uneventful. But we’re in the midst of the latest coronavirus-related changes, so every day is eventful. I’m pretty confident that the continuing challenges we all face will dominate conversations during the upcoming CIH North East virtual summit.

Each new measure introduced has had massive implications, not just for day-to-day living but also for sentiment throughout the nation. From a housing providers point of view, this has been very important. We’ve seen local leaders, particularly from the north of England, stand up and demand greater control for their communities. The fact that our normally very London-centric media has echoed these calls is particularly noteworthy.

Like many, I’m expecting changes brought on by the pandemic to give rise to long-term shifts. I say that not as a pessimist; I think the shift towards localism is a great example of how housing organisations are better placed than most for the challenges that COVID-19 continues to create.

There are few businesses that know their local area better than a housing association, each with a small army of hugely knowledgeable staff that know, not just about each town or village, but each street and house. And most importantly, the individual people and families involved.

That’s a massive asset to ensure housing associations are at the forefront of any move towards greater local accountability and presence. The acceleration of working away from the office environment created by the pandemic, as we with Believe Housing, can only be a benefit to staff who now get to spend more of their time focussed on the community rather than commuting.

If there are any positives to take from the crisis we’re living through, it is that the pace of innovation has grown. People have pulled together to innovate and find solutions to whatever challenges arose.

For many, during the pandemic our homes have been our sanctuary. The role of a good, high-quality and well-maintained home has never been more important.

Sadly, the importance of having support available to keep people safe in their home has been brought into sharp focus as well. From domestic abuse and suicide prevention, to advice on debt and welfare benefits, we’ve had to increase the support we offer to help customers through the pandemic. Those who have stepped up to provide that support, often in incredibly difficult circumstances, deserve a lot of credit. It’s a level of support that few, if any, private sector housing providers will ever be able to offer.

Thanks to our resilience and adaptability, housing associations are uniquely placed to bring more people into genuinely affordable, safe homes, with a dedicated repairs service on hand. We can use our construction programmes to help boost the economy in our local areas by renewing our focus on using local skills and suppliers. And we can provide targeted support for our customers if they struggle through the dark days and nights in a way that no private sector house builder is ever going to do.

We’ve got specially trained teams to help customers with the isolation and loneliness of the coronavirus restrictions, as well as the financial challenges. We’ve already saved lives through the support we’ve offered to our customers and I know what that means to everyone involved.

Across the sector, we’re already doing a lot, but we can do so much more. More great homes to transform lives, more for our communities, more for our economy. We’re in a great position to do all of that, with just a little extra support from the right places.

We can transform lives together. It is the power of ‘more’ that will let people realise what is possible – change perceptions raise ambitions and create vibrant communities.

Difficult times often bring out the best in people and organisations. I still believe in a positive future and I think the opportunities for housing associations to lead the way in creating that positive future are clearer than ever.

The CIH North East summit will give delegates the opportunity to hear how we’re responding in these challenging times but more importantly it will look to the future and start to focus on recovery.

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