Why hope matters now, more than ever

By Andrew van Doorn, Chief Executive, HACT - on 29/04/2020

Over the last six weeks, we’ve been talking with colleagues from over a hundred housing associations across the UK on a regular basis. Initially, those discussions were focused on identifying vulnerable residents and the best ways of organising the distribution of food and medicine and other essential supplies. Now, those conversations are changing.

Now, we’re talking about hardship funds and rent relief. About volunteering and working with local community groups. About domestic violence and anti-social behaviour. And increasingly we are talking about what happens next.

We’re facilitating numerous conversations with housing colleagues to help them share learning, identify best practice and support each other. A sector that was used to working in silos is increasingly beginning to work together for a common purpose. We’re proud to be helping to facilitate that shift.

Now our focus is shifting to the medium to long-term plans, about the next three, six and twelve months. About the impact this crisis will have on residents and staff. About the trauma we will feel. And about the sustainability of our response and the resilience of our communities.

How recovered they will be, and how ready the sector can become, should there be further waves of infections in the future.

In the coming months, we’re going to see a significantly more challenging economic environment. We’ll see even more demand on public sector services and resources at a time when the government might be deciding to turn off its funding tap. We’ll see a simultaneous decline in rental revenue with an increase in demand for our community-based services. We’ll see the impact of unemployment, of isolation, of the loss of identity.

There will be a significant amount of issues that we have to start to think about now, and address.

One word that’s cropped up in many of our conversations is resilience. How will we be able to rebuild resilience in our staff, in our residents and in our communities?

Take the example of the BAME community. We know from current statistics that the BAME community has been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Of those who have died in hospital, over 30% have come from BAME communities.

We know, as well, that around 60% of frontline social housing staff in London also come from BAME communities. And that BAME residents are more likely to work in low paid, insecure jobs, as well as in the NHS and across social care.

We will need, then, to be mindful that our BAME residents, our BAME staff and our BAME communities will have been disproportionately touched by this crisis. That they will be disproportionately affected by trauma.

That’s not to suggest that this crisis is unique to one community. We know, for example, that more residents will be unemployed. More are and will be claiming Universal Credit. Many more will be suffering from poor mental health for the first time and will not know how to deal with this.

The evidence suggests that common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, in general, tends to be transitory. Our challenge is to stop these incidents of poor mental health becoming embedded, so that they become long-term health issues, affecting the wellbeing of thousands of people.

If we look at the mental health sector, it has recognised that one of the most important things for recovery is hope. And that is something we have to focus on as social housing organisations within communities, working alongside residents, local people and our own staff, how we can create that sense of hope.

How we do that? How we drive our social purpose and make the right organisational decisions while we deal with unprecedented emotional and financial stress?

How do we deliver social value through our partnerships, through our communities, through our supply chain partners? How can we use every opportunity to generate that hope through everything we do?

How we respond to these challenges, how we create that sense of hope, will define our role in society for years to come.

We are still the most resilient of all non-profit organisations that exist within most communities. Even though our resilience is going to be severely tested over the coming months, it is time for us to step up. To be noticed as a sector.

To do our work in community investment, to deliver social value, to make a positive impact.

To create that hope and rebuild resilience one step at a time.