Time to find your partners

By Andrew van Doorn, Chief Executive, HACT - on 14/04/2020

We had a number of conversations last week with community investment professionals about the role of local community hubs and local resilience networks, so we thought we’d share what we know about them, as well as how partnering is becoming the modus operandi.

There’s a fairly simple distinction between the two:

  • Local resilience networks act at a strategic level, and are more concerned with disaster management, involving local authorities working with, for example, the emergency services.
  • Community hubs act at a practical level. Every local council has been asked to set them up with the primary aim of getting food, medicine and other essential supplies to those people who’ve been identified as vulnerable and do not have any other support systems in place.

Community hubs should be the focus for social housing organisations. At the moment, however, their establishment has been sporadic and the level of coordination inconsistent.

Some local authorities already had them in place. Some didn’t. Some already had good relationships with local social housing organisations. Others might have limited contact.

In Walsall, the local council established four community hubs almost overnight. After phoning over 4,000 vulnerable residents, whg have been referring those who they’ve identified as the most in need.

There was a similar level of urgency in Greater Manchester. They already had a collective of social housing providers working together with the council and were able to use those relationships to kick start conversations to establish a model for food distribution to those most in need in the city.

While there might have been some teething problems, the model that has evolved in Greater Manchester is simple:

  • Social housing organisations contact and identify those residents with need;
  • The most vulnerable are then referred on to the hub;
  • The community hub then coordinates food and medicine supplies to them. In Greater Manchester, their aim is that they will deliver a food supply to a vulnerable resident the day after the point of contact, with enough food being delivered to last for three days.

For placed-based social housing organisations and those working in pre-existing networks, engaging with local community hubs should, in theory, be relatively straightforward.

For those social housing organisations with stock in multiple boroughs, there’s a need to work out how they best engage with multiple local community hubs.* 

For some, this might be identifying other social housing organisations who have stock in that local. This is a time for having conversations with your colleagues from other organisations. Who, for example, is best placed to liaise with the hubs? Who is best placed to lead on managing needs of vulnerable residents? Who can provide specialist support or digital capacity that they can share?

One other question that many will be asking is how else can you help? Community hubs might need financial support, and many are already asking social housing organisations to contribute financially.

They might also need people, so is there an opportunity to second some of your staff whose workload might have reduced into the hubs? Do you have staff with a reduced workload who have project management skills, for example?

Two other ways that social housing organisations can help locally: with food and with local community groups.

When it comes to food, the issue for foodbanks at the moment is not about money. What they need more than anything is food. Their usual sources – supermarkets and restaurants – have limited supplies, and the only place many can access food at the moment is through wholesalers. This, however, presents additional problems because most of the food supplied by wholesalers comes in bigger sizes that aren’t appropriate for personal use. Again, many are also looking for help with project managers and other skilled people.

The other way that social housing organisations are helping is by providing small grants to local community groups to cover their increased costs. Those community groups working around domestic violence, ASB and youth work will be critical in the months to come. Many will need financial support now to ensure they are still in existence when their most needed.

Many social housing organisations have achieved an amazing amount over the past two weeks. Thousands of residents have been contacted and identified as being vulnerable. Now the focus is on ensuring that food and other essentials can be delivered, that adequate resources are available for advice and support services, and that initiatives like hardship funds are being stress tested.

Over the next few weeks, one critical issue is how social housing organisations share data and intelligence with community hubs about vulnerable people, as well as with emerging issues they are identifying around, for example, financial hardship and domestic violence. Community based intelligence is going to be critical for understanding and managing emerging risks, ensuring that support and interventions are both coordinated and thought through.

What’s clear from our conversations this week, however, is that colleagues are working together in a way that is unprecedented. That might be sharing ideas about fuel vouchers, learning from each other’s online wellbeing modules or with the newly established local community hubs. And it’s these partnerships that are going to be the foundation for the impact that social housing can have within communities over the months to come.

If you’re unsure about local community hubs in your local authority, the easiest place to find out will be through Google. Typing in “Covid 19 community hubs” brings up scores of community hubs that have been set up by local authorities across the UK.

* If you’re unsure about who else has social housing stock in the local authorities where you have stock, please contact HACT – we can use Community Insight to identify them.

Tags: 
community investment

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