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Circle's Commitment to a Tenant First Approach

by John Hannigan, CEO, Circle VHA

I am so delighted to be invited to do this guest blog for Supporting Communities. In the last 12 months, the support and guidance we have received from Supporting Communities has been instrumental in changing how Circle Voluntary Housing Association does and will do its business in the future.

Established just 18 years ago, Circle VHA prides itself on providing good quality housing for people in housing need, not unlike almost every other Housing Association in Ireland. With the help of Supporting Communities, this year we have turned a new page that makes us a little different from other housing associations.

We have published our strategy for the next three years (we’ve called it Strategy 24 – imaginative, I know!) In it, we set out four key goals, again nothing unusual, except this time our priority and number one goal is ‘Tenant First.’ These two words will ensure that we focus on our tenants and new tenants who become part of Circle VHA.

At this time of housing crisis (which is an all-island issue), the drive from Government is to provide more and more homes for people struggling with homelessness, market rents, and an inability to find a home. We will do our bit at Circle VHA to deliver new homes. Still, our number one focus is to ensure that our existing tenants (all 2,500 families and individuals) have the best services and the best homes to live in with a consistency of services that means they can rely on us to get it right the first time for them.

We have not always provided the best services or the best homes, and some of our tenants quite rightly call us out on this. I acknowledge that we have some work to do to ensure we meet the goal of Tenant First services. To help us with this, and to accompany Strategy 24, we have launched our Tenant Engagement Strategy, a plan written by our Tenant Advisory Group (TAG – all of whom are tenants), for tenants. This approach is enshrined in our Strategy 24 and has been approved and adopted by our Board. We are grateful to our tenants who have written this plan and to Supporting Communities for chairing the group on an interim basis and continuing to be a guiding star for both Circle VHA and the TAG.

Over the coming years, we intend to extend the TAG from one national group to regional groupings that can further advise the national TAG and Circle VHA on improving what we do. Our view is that without the input of our tenants, we are delivering what we want and not what tenants need. It will take time for us to get this right; we need constant feedback and a steer at all levels of Circle VHA.

Currently, the Board of Circle VHA updates the TAG after every meeting and TAG feedback on the matters raised. Our Director of Services, Liz Clarke, briefs our executive team on all issues raised by the TAG, and our new Tenant Engagement Officer will ensure that we hear all matters raised from TAG and tenants generally. We have committed to resource this approach by growing our number of Tenant Engagement Officers over the coming 12 months. The Tenant Engagement Officers will ensure that our Housing Management and Property teams hear the feedback from tenants to deliver our Tenant First goal.

Circle VHA is in a strong growth phase, with an expected 1,500 homes delivered in the next three years, right across Ireland. We will accompany this growth with a commitment to further resources for our frontline staff to ensure that Tenants get the best of services and the best of homes.

Our ask of our tenants is that they participate, get involved in their local communities, in their local tenant groups, and ultimately in the TAG. Our commitment over the life of Strategy 24 is to see at least one, if not two, tenants appointed to our Board of Directors. Tenants on the Board will bring new consideration to how we operate and how we listen to our tenants at the highest levels of Circle VHA. To achieve this, we need tenants to come forward who are willing to undertake training, as all prospective Board Members must do, to offer their time, experience, expertise, and commitment to driving improved services within Circle VHA.

We look forward to our ongoing relationship with Supporting Communities and to leveraging their years of experience and expertise in helping us set up and maintain effective tenant networks, tenant training, and tenant participation. I’d like to especially thank Siobhan O’Neill, Sheenagh McNally, and Colm McDaid for their encouragement and support over the last 12 months in helping to embed the Tenant First approach and enabling us to bring together a fantastic group of tenants for our TAG.

I’d also like to thank our TAG for their input on Strategy 24, their excellent work on the Tenant Engagement Strategy, and for encouraging other tenants to become part of the process. It has been a great start; we have a whole lot more to do, but our commitment is rock solid, and we will make the resources available to deliver for all our tenants.

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