Updated: Oct 15, 2020
By Lorraine Campbell
With 2020 now well underway, I’m delighted to make the first contribution to this Tenant Participation blog series. This is an important year for us here at Supporting Communities. As Independent Tenant Organisation for Northern Ireland, we hope to play a leading role in the review of the Tenant Participation Strategy and we will do our utmost to support the Department for Communities’ commitment to having a new strategy in place by December.
We are still basking in the glory of our 40th-anniversary celebrations which culminated in a wonderful event at Stormont in December. We heard from so many of our partners and service users talking about the difference Supporting Communities had made to them over the years, we were truly inspired to do more.
This blog is part of that process, we want to reach out to more people, invite organisations to share their tenant participation stories so we can all learn from each other. Much innovative work has been done over the last five years, both by the Housing Executive and the housing associations. Other public services have also done much engagement work. Let’s celebrate those successes and let’s share the lessons learned.
It is important that we seek out tenant participation models which have been explored across the water and beyond and invite organisations to share their experience with us. We will also seek to determine the impact those models have made on tenants and see what just what has changed on the ground in their communities.
Articulating the tenant voice is one of our key priorities so we are especially delighted in the interest shown in The Amp, our recently launched engagement tool. How great it was to be able to present Minister Deirdre Hargey with the results of the first survey leaving her in no doubt as to what the public perceives to be her top two priorities: welfare reform mitigations and affordable housing. We see The Amp as a powerful feedback vehicle and we will encourage more people to subscribe to ensure their voices are heard. We will be happy to offer the opportunity to other service providers to obtain prompt consultation on important issues.
We want to take tenant participation in Northern Ireland to the next level and we’re very hopeful that our Tenant Participation Accreditation Scheme, which we launched in December, will provide housing providers with a professional independent evaluation of their tenant engagement strategies and sound advice as to how to improve their service. We recognise that it is not a case of ‘one size fits all’; each organisation requires a tailored approach, but we all benefit from sharing our learning. The Housing Community Network is an exemplar of tenant participation but it must be recognised that it has been a long time in the making and has adapted over the years to meet the changing needs of the largest landlord in the country. It would be unrealistic to expect every housing provider to have a network of this nature.
We want Tenant Participation to become an intrinsic part of delivering housing services, not a tick box exercise. While we welcome the presence of tenants on housing association boards, we want to see those tenants properly equipped and supported to make their contribution. Supporting Communities will help associations find the most effective way of empowering tenants to engage.
Supporting Communities can recommend an appropriate engagement structure and provide the training and support for tenants and staff to make it work. The value of a network for tenant engagement cannot be underestimated for both tenants and housing professionals. Perhaps the best current example of this is the Annual Community Conference where successes are showcased, and Housing Executive tenants can take the ideas back to their communities. Housing Associations are also holding such events albeit on a smaller scale. Supporting Communities is uniquely placed, with our overview of what is happening across the housing sector, to provide a network for tenants and housing professionals to share their experience.
Tenant Participation has come a long way since together with staff from an earlier iteration of Supporting Communities as a newly appointed housing manager, I set up the Housing Executive’s first customer panel in the early ‘90s. Now as Chair of a refreshed Supporting Communities Board with members passionate about empowering tenants across the entire housing sector, I am equally excited about making things happen to make the tenant voice heard but on a much larger scale and taking participation to an entirely different level.
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