The First Tenant-Led Engagement Strategy Rolls out at Circle VHA: An Interview with April Gregg
Updated: Oct 4, 2021
Supporting Communities has been working with Circle Voluntary Housing Association in Dublin to help them create their first Tenant Engagement Strategy and set up a tenant advisory group (TAG), ensuring they have the tools and structures in place that will lead to a meaningful partnership between tenants, staff and board.
Since December 2020, tenants and staff have been taking part in our training and focus group work to develop a common understanding of tenant engagement and how they want to proceed.
We are delighted to report that their board has just approved a brand new Tenant Engagement Strategy, written by the tenants themselves. This is a major milestone for the organisation with many hours of work behind it. The strategy is accompanied by a 3-year action plan also written and designed by tenants and staff, which we look forward to helping them put into operation.
We recently sat down with April Gregg, one of the tenants who has been involved in the process from the start.
SC: How are you finding the engagement process so far?
April: I enjoy it. It’s nice to know I’m going to be a part of something that makes a difference in people’s housing and in their lives. It’s not just about giving someone a house. It’s about their needs and wants and helping communities get along. It’s really good!
SC: What made you want to get involved?
April: I was asked! There was Covid, and there was a lockdown, and it was new people to talk to. It was a bit of banter and a chance to do something good. It focused me away from not being able to do anything.
SC: One big thing that you were instrumental in was writing the strategy. What’s something in it that’s important to you?
April: Working with people and understanding their needs better. I’m a hairdresser, and I have some clients in wheelchairs who could be stuck in their sitting room all day because they can’t get through their doorframes the way they are built. Circle was really interested to know that – going forward, they will be making sure that every house has a standard size doorframe so that if someone, god forbid, any of us ends up in a wheelchair, they can get around their home! They are actually going to make this change and have a standard to work to.
SC: It seems like Circle has been very responsive to your feedback and wants to make positive changes going forward; what’s something that you’re looking forward to?
April: Yes, they are talking about more plans in terms of improving antisocial behaviour and mental health. They are talking about linking people in with resources and services and taking that on board, and not ignoring the causes of problems but finding ways to help people grow mentally and get on better and live better. Everybody makes mistakes and has problems. We need to be directing people to free resources to help them rather than just ignoring them or telling them to leave because they broke a rule.
SC: And that was your idea, wasn’t it?
April: Yes, housing is a human right. Sticking people who aren’t ok, and nobody is ok every day, into an estate somewhere and then leaving them doesn’t help. Actually, helping people change and grow and learn new things is what we need.
SC: That’s great to hear!
April: They are actually listening. I’ve been with Circle for years, and they’ve hit walls in the past. There are so many people in Dublin in housing estates, and there’s so much more crime and antisocial – they didn’t know what to do with all the complaints coming in. So now they are asking the tenants to find out what people really need.
SC: At the start of the process, some staff might have been a bit skeptical about involving tenants in decision making, but now they really see the benefits of listening to the tenants, don’t they?
April: Yes, attitudes have definitely changed! There are some high-up people that were kind of stern and standoffish when we first met. But now they’re getting into the whole thing - we broke ‘em! It won’t be just for housing anymore; it will be a well-being housing body!
SC: I think you just gave them their new tagline there!
Supporting Communities will be chairing the TAG until the tenants are ready to take over. We will help with implementing the action plan and recruiting more tenants to get involved in a range of ways that suit them.