Blog: Sian Thomas, Housing Manager
"Well, it’s safe to say that the last few weeks have been a whirlwind for us all.
Covid-19 has quickly changed the world around us and is having a significant impact on our jobs, communities and many aspects of our day to day lives.
As a sector we have been thrown into unchartered territory, with little chance to prepare. In saying this, we did it! We very quickly mobilised the organisation to be able to operate many functions and essential services whilst working remotely.
Within the Housing and Communities team, we were only able to do this due to the adaptability and dedication of individuals who whole heartedly understand more than ever, the need to support tenants to feel safe and secure in their homes during such difficult times.
A big focus for us has been the well-being of our tenants and we have been proactively contacting as many as possible to check that they are ok and to see if they need anything. Over the last 5 weeks we have spoken to around 1000 tenants and we will carrying on doing this over the coming weeks and months where people have indicated they would like a regular call. This has been hugely welcomed and many have told us this is the first contact they have had in the last few days. We are encouraging staff to take time to simply chat to people if that it what’s needed. I know staff have really enjoyed connecting with many tenants they don’t usually speak to and re-connecting with those they haven’t spoken to in a while.
We feel it’s so important to take this opportunity to build positive relationships with tenants that we may not usually engage with. If people do fall into arrears or are experiencing financial difficulty it is likely we will need to engage with these tenants in the longer term, with positive relationships in place hopefully future conversations will be easier for us all.
We supporting those who are self-isolating and shielding by also offering practical support with shopping, collecting medications, topping up energy meters and accessing the RCT vulnerable persons provision to name but a few.
Understandably, we have received an influx in calls regarding concerns of what if people are unable to pay their rent and, in some cases, feed themselves and their families. The Rent Support Team and Financial Inclusion staff are working hard to ensure we provide advice that is appropriate to that individual.
Following Government guidance to stay at home wherever possible, we have adapted our usual approach of visiting tenants in their homes. We have been contacting tenants and offering assessments and support via the telephone and email. This has been successful, and we have received positive feedback from many tenants on the help we have been able to provide.
Where we have been doing essential lettings, the team have been embracing technologies and have even done some virtual viewings which has been fun!
We are so very fortunate to work in communities where there is an abundance of community spirit. This was shown in the recent floods and continues to shine through in these difficult times. When we are speaking to tenants many are saying they don’t need our support due to the on-going help they are receiving from family and friends, neighbours and other people in the community. We are very fortunate to be able to play an important role in this.
As an organisation and a sector, I’m sure the big question on everyone’s mind is ‘What does the new normal look like?’ As a team and an organisation, we will definitely be seeing this a great opportunity to continue working differently going forward and to come out of this stronger and ready to face new challenges ahead."