3 July, 2024

Rebecca Rieley, Head of Communities visits Poplar HARCA to learn about their community investment

A recent visit to the Poplar HARCA team sparked debate at the HACT offices/across the HACT channels. It encouraged us to reflect on the scope, scale and boundaries of community investment. Here, our Head of Communities and Projects Rebecca Rieley considers what she has learned from this housing association’s approach, and how this has informed early thoughts about the future communities and projects work at HACT.

Rebecca Rieley

Head of Communities & Projects, HACT

image of team at poplar harca

Rebecca with Managing Director Jacqui & Head of Social Value Michael at Poplar HARCA

In Spring 2023, myself and colleagues were invited to come along to meet the Poplar HARCA team and participate in a tour of their work across the borough. We started the day at The Hive, an Ofsted-accredited employment and training hub. From there we walked through Crisp Street, and talked through the regeneration plans for the market square and neighbouring area. As we walked through residential areas, we learned that the resident mix had changed from 95% social housing to 60% social housing and observed it was impossible to see the difference.

We met the team lead at Spotlight, a purpose built creative youth space attached to a school, and saw boxing lessons in action and the incredible facilities in place for young people. We moved on to cross the busy A12 using the crossing the Poplar HARCA team had lobbied and campaigned for – how else could we access this space without it? – and walked and talked through the Teviot and Aberfeldy estates.

We visited the impressive Poplar Works  enterprise centre where the UAL and London College of Fashion have located production space alongside local enterprises and on to the café for lunch, where a local social enterprise bakery serves up great food. The experience was full of conversation, anticipation for future developments and a real sense of joy and pride came through from everything we engaged with on the day.

‘Our journey is steered by our community.  We listen closely to local people: what they want, what they need, and their goals.  They help us select like-minded organisations to form long-term partnerships with so that we can deliver all that ambition.  While the journey has its challenges, it’s always incredibly rewarding.’

Steve Stride


There was a lot to take in, but I left feeling full of ideas. The boundaries of traditional community investment had been stretched and blurred here in Poplar and we were struck by the depth of work carried out locally. We re-grouped to consider our thoughts further and the following reflections surfaced.

With all this in mind, I’m encouraged to question the boundaries of community investment practice. When does a housing associations’ activity stop being about community investment and start to be something else? Can it? What can this approach and way of working offer the wider housing departments? Where are the boundaries of its impact? What can it offer other local systems such as health, education, infrastructure and transport systems?

It’s timely, as at HACT we start to shape a new strategy for our Communities and Projects work with the sector and it’s exciting. We’re keen to continue this thinking and want to open it up to partners to reflect together.

As a first step, we’re hosting a webinar in the summer to share early thoughts on HACT’s new communities and projects strategy and how we want the Centre for Excellence in Community Investment to grow and develop over the coming years. These early plans have been informed by this visit as well as being inspired by many conversations with housing professionals across the UK. We hope you’ll join us to continue shaping how our work can best support the sector in helping our communities thrive across the UK.

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Register your interest to join the upcoming webinar and we’ll be in touch!

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Have a chat

If you’d like to share your community investment approaches and journeys, please do contact Rebecca. We’re keen to learn more about how organisations approach community investment in the current context.

Contact Rebecca