Gail Nicholas and Sarah Thomas
Gail Nicholas
Gail Nicholas
Thursday 28th September 2017 - 17:34

Involving residents and growing a strong community

I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

One of my neighbours suggested I attend a meeting of Phoenix’s communications group. I was curious. I decided to go.

Just over four years later – in a couple of weeks’ time in fact – I’ll be proudly joining Phoenix’s board.

It’s been quite a journey. I love my community here in Lewisham, London, and I’ve always wanted to give something back. But I never really expected that I would move from someone who attended and supported local events, to someone who will be steering the future of my housing association.

It’s a journey I look forward to telling you about during the upcoming Chartered Institute of Housing webinar.

How does a social landlord take someone like me, pique my curiosity and interest, give me a grounding in social housing and governance, and gently and steadily encourage me to step up my involvement? How does it ensure I feel I have a meaningful voice? And what might other housing associations learn from all of this?

Some of this goes back to that first communications meeting. It quickly became apparent that I was there to participate. I wasn’t there to tick boxes, or be talked at. I was there because my opinion mattered to the staff facilitating the session, and to the other residents attending.

It’s what I like about the communications group. If there’s a bad letter you can get it changed, you can suggest improvements to the newsletter or website, you can see the annual report and know the contribution you have made to it. But ultimately we do all this by making group decisions, talking to others, debating the issues and finding consensus, and that’s an experience I can now bring to the board.

A year after joining the communications group, I decided to sign up to the first round of the Phoenix Academy. It’s a unique course nationally that aims to give residents a much better understanding of social housing and what it takes for a housing association to operate effectively.

I learnt about the history of social housing, different governance models, asset management and housing finance. I also learnt about the more difficult aspects of housing – how business plan priorities are determined, how budgets are allocated, and the kind of factors that need to be considered throughout all of this.

I may not always have been 100% happy with every decision that Phoenix has made, but I now have a much better understanding of the circumstances and considerations behind those decisions. Again, it’s fantastic preparation for joining the board.

Circumstances have dictated that I’m a tenant at one of the few genuinely resident-led housing associations in the country.

But it’s more than that. Phoenix for me has always been about bringing the community together and enabling the community to determine its own future, through initiatives such as an annual £100,000 Community Chest fund for local projects that will improve people’s lives.

If you’d like to learn more about my experiences – and much more about Phoenix’s approach to community engagement - then I very much hope you’ll be able to join me at the webinar.

This is a version of an article originally published by the Chartered Institute of Housing. The webinar, hosted by Gail and Phoenix's Communications and Marketing Manager Sarah Thomas, is available to CIH members on the Chartered Institute of Housing's website.