Understanding the impact of covid-19 through research

By Frances Harkin - on 12/05/2020

While coronavirus, lockdown and social distancing have forced us to adapt as organisations, it is still vital that we remain research focused. HACT are eager to work with the sector to understand what the impacts have been, and will continue to be in the longer term.

At HACT, we’ve seen the housing sector quickly mobilise, and adapt its way of working to support residents throughout these uncertain times. Day by day, and week by week, new challenges emerge, and social housing providers are having to respond quickly.

Crisis response has obviously been the priority, but as we hear various warnings and estimations of the length of time the country, and the world, will be living in severally restricted and abnormal circumstances, we must begin to develop our resilience and capacity as a sector.

We didn’t have much of a chance to prepare for lockdown, and all the implications. And it’s a shortcoming the country and the sector doesn’t need to make twice. We are increasingly hearing from the sector that medium and long-term preparation is essential.

That can be difficult to do when your organisation is focussing on day-to-day challenges, but we cannot treat this as a short-term issue. The immediate impact could last years, and the fallout even longer. It’s going to demand a new way of working, and a far deeper understanding of the hardship residents are facing.

Our entire understanding of social housing, and the lives of residents, is built on years of working, research and experience of pre-pandemic life. Many of the same systemic problems such as unemployment, health and wellbeing, and financial security not only remain but have been exacerbated, intensified and altered, as has our ability to intervene. Lockdown and social distancing have completely changed the equation, and we don’t yet have the insights needed to inform how we are responding as a sector.

Through the Centre for Excellence, we know that housing associations have been doing a great deal, and our blog series 'The view from’ has been charting the response of organisations to the covid-19 crisis. In response to demands from our networks we have also now created a set of covid-19 impact measures. These will allow us to aggregate the full scale of the community investment work that social housing organisations are doing across the UK.

These steps, however, are the first on a very long path. With little historical precedence to inform how we respond, it’s so important we continue to be evidence-driven in order to know what works. Not only do we want to keep up our research work in the Centre, we’re also interested in research work that’s broader than community responses and their impact. Coronavirus doesn’t change the fact that in order to be a sustainable and reliable presence in the lives of residents, social housing organisations have to continue to be strategic and efficient in many different areas.

This is why HACT are eager to work with the sector to understand what the short, medium- and long-term impact has been on your organisation, customers, resident groups and communities, and how the different areas of your organisation are adapting in this new world.

With a deeper understanding of your current wide-ranging priorities and challenges we hope to be able to collate these insights and find solutions together. We can’t do this on our own, though; we need your help to tell us where to focus our research gaze.

If you would like to get in touch with us about a new research project or research collaboration, please email HACT's Head of Research, Frances Harkin, at Frances.Harkin@hact.org.uk

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