David Hampson, Vice-Chair of Southway’s Parent Board, recently visited First Choice Homes Oldham with our Governance team. He told us what he plans to bring back to his role as a Tenant Board member here at Southway.
How did you find your visit to First Choice Homes Oldham?
This was another positive experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. The team were committed to making the tenant voice an integral part of their strategy, and they were proud of the cultural changes they have overseen to make that possible. They listened to all my thoughts and questions and provided open and informative responses.
What did it feel mattered most to FCHO tenants?
There weren’t any tenants present to offer their views, unfortunately, but the tenant groups they have set up seem to focus on a wide range of topics from managing voids to performance appraisal.
What did you take away from the day that you will bring back to your role as a Tenant Board Member at Southway?
It felt as with Yorkshire Housing that Southway is a couple of years behind in this process. FCHO have over 150 tenants with diverse backgrounds that they can draw on for their scrutiny panels ensuring tenant voice is fully represented.
They have a large team of 23, (their overall workforce size is comparable with Southway) dedicated to this process with the full backing of the CEO and they have made it their mission to ensure the whole organisation has a customer focus from top to bottom.
They run tenant engagement events very frequently. It seems the full-time role of particular team members is to go out into their community and bring tenants into this process. Their events are well attended, and they have an enviable record for signing up tenants to be involved in the decision-making process.
They make a concerted effort to ensure information, for example on performance, is presented to tenants in an understandable format so that they can have informed discussions.
Emma the team head did say that there were challenges in this process with cultural obstacles to overcome in FCHO, (a kind of ‘us and them’ mentality) and working at building trust with tenant customers. Communication and a genuine wish to involve tenants have ensured a successful outcome for them. There are more challenges ahead, but they do feel in a strong position to respond well to the new consumer regulations.
How does FCHO incorporate the tenant voice into their decision-making processes?
As I said previously, they have a pool of tenants of 150+ who have made themselves available for the decision-making process. They have been far more successful in getting tenants involved thanks to the dedicated team they have.
They have frequent scrutiny events throughout the year and each tenant will have stated which areas they are interested in so that when a panel occurs, FCHO knows who to contact and include in the process.
The findings of the panels are passed to the board and influence their final decisions (they also have tenant representation on the board). Decisions are then fed back to tenants to illustrate how they have been listened to and explain the choices that have been made.
Frequent in-person tenant engagement events are part of their strategy as well as contacting them through social media and knocking on their doors. They even have groups of tenants inspecting voids to ensure they meet customer standards – they found that tenants particularly enjoy this kind of involvement.
They also emphasised getting to know tenants personally so they could converse on a first-name basis and have an appreciation of their individual circumstances. They also offer a reward system for involvement including shopping vouchers and pay for board and committee members.
Do you have any other feedback?
There was a great deal to learn and take on board from this visit. I was inspired and heartened by FCHOs approach and feel we would do well to emulate many of their practices. In turn, they said it was a positive process for them too, and they welcomed this collaborative approach which broadened their own understandings.
Personally, I would like to see similar structures appear in Southway as I was greatly impressed with their passion and determination for embracing co-production and making their organisation fit for the new reality.
Southway has achieved a lot in terms of tenant voice and has lots of good people willing to further embrace this process. It perhaps needs a dedicated team similar to FCHO’s to make this possible. Changes and new ways of working always bring resistance initially – it is part of the human condition – a dedicated team can help manage and overcome this for the betterment of all.
To find out more about how we put tenant voices at the heart of decision-making, and how you get involved and shape things at Southway too, visit the Get Involved area.