Helen Sharples is Head of Communities at Southway, responsible for a broad range of Southway's services including our Advice Services team (who provide welfare rights advice, debt advice, financial/money management advice and employment advice), Tenancy Support, Age Friendly, Housing Options and Care Advice, Housing and Health, Customer Involvement, Community Development and TimeBank.

We asked her about Community Investment in recognition of Housing Day 2019.

"Community and social investment is a huge strategic priority for Southway, and for good reason. Last year, we made a return on social investment of £12 million which was 13 times the cost of the services provided.

Here are some of the things I have learnt are key to success:

1. Partnerships

Working in partnership and drawing in external resources where possible means Southway can achieve much more than we could alone.

We maximise the benefits to our communities by working with local community centres and partners to deliver services in the most efficient and effective way. We also support local community groups and initiatives, to promote capacity building, which enables them to help even more of our tenants. We're currently investing £1.6 million a year, which is three times the national average for housing providers, because we know that it pays for itself in returns.

2. Research and feedback

Basing community investment on solid research and resident feedback is vital. The way we invest in our communities must address the needs of the people living there; you cannot carbon copy from other areas and organisations.

Feedback from our 2016 tenants survey showed that 50% of our households have at least one family member with a limiting illness or disability, and that 16% describe their working status as permanently sick or disabled. Our investments have to be shaped by this, to address these barriers which can impact residents becoming more self-reliant and achieving their full potential.

3. Measuring and evaluating

We calculate our social value using the HACT value calculator, and measure and report on it yearly alongside other housing providers in the Greater Manchester Housing Providers (GMHP) Partnership. We also held a Social Value Symposium for the first time this year, where an external panel of experts assessed our investments and offered insight and criticism.

It’s really important to do this as it helps us see what’s going well and what could be better. Ultimately, it ensures we are making the best investment choices for the benefit of our tenants and communities."

If you run a community initiative or project which benefits the local community, or have an idea for one, don't forget that you can apply for funding from our Beautiful South fund.