I’m a lodger in the social enterprise sector at the moment, and it’s interesting to observe how similar it is to the housing sector. There is room for different views on the best or the right way to achieve our aims and it’s quite a small world when you get to know it. Best of all though, we are both stuffed full of people who are passionate and stubborn about improving Scotland by improving lives and communities.
Our new First Minister has identified her priorities as “Prosperity, Partnership and Fairness”. This has to be good for both our sectors. Scottish government policy has been converging on housing associations and the third sector – with a focus on “community-led, person-centred and collaborative” services. For Associations, for the first time, they are the target of more than one government department. The Housing, Regeneration & Welfare Division has long been our sector’s link to policy. Now, the Equalities, Human Rights & Third Sector division has identified Associations as well-qualified Community Anchor organisations; fitted to support, lead and often to be – the organisations that encourage economic and social cohesion at a community level. It brings a new impetus for Housing and the rest of the Third Sector to collaborate, and to deliver effective regeneration.
I’ve worked in social housing for a while – in Glasgow City Council, Ferguslie Park Housing Association, the Housing Regulator and Cube Housing Association. As a result of what began as a partnership between Cube and Glasgow Housing Association, I’m now at the brand new Wheatley Group. I have also been chair of housing’s professional body; the Chartered Institute of Housing. There were many reasons for forming the new group with GHA but one of my personal motivations was to get access for Cube tenants to the social impact activities of GHA – employment and training, support for self-employment, bursaries for further education, discounted energy deals, Home Comforts (recycled furniture) and the Eat Well scheme are just some of these.
CEIS and Wheatley have agreed to cooperate on strengthening relationships between our sectors in Scotland. My interest in social impact (I have been a Board member of CEIS and have presented at a Social Enterprise World Forum) and my role as Wheatley’s Director of Partnership Development, make me the logical and enthusiastic person for this secondment to CEIS. I’ve been thinking and talking to people about how to increase our social impact.
There have been a few studies on this activity, most recently by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations in 2013; and currently by the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations. The Forum’s study has been funded by the Scottish Government Third Sector division, in line with its encouragement for community-controlled housing associations, as part of the third sector, to act as Community Anchors. There are about 160 housing associations in Scotland. The Forum has also just published a report marking 40 years of community- controlled associations, which provides encouraging figures on social impact activity by its 69 members:
Looking forward, GWSF members’ priorities for the immediate future also fit this agenda. They include;
- Embedding the community anchor role and establishing effective work with all the public and third sector agencies working in local areas
- Driving a local prevention agenda – which is completely in tune with the direction of central and local government policy
Very few Associations see wider activity beyond their landlord role as inappropriate. Rather than a lack of inclination, those who don’t do as much as they would like cite a lack of expertise, time and money. Using money from tenants’ rents on wider activities has to be transparent and reported to customers. The Forum’s current study has already confirmed these issues and has identified that work is required in:
- Connecting resources and support
- Building awareness and understanding
- Fostering collaboration between housing and the Third Sector
From here at CEIS, I’m able to cooperate with the Forum and others in trying to build connections; across all of Scotland to help Associations maximise their impact. I am discussing this with the housing trade and professional bodies, the housing association leaders in social impact, third sector support organisations and government officials. If you’d like to talk to me you can get me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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