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Blog: Is it time to rethink resident involvement?

Sophie Leedham - Head of Resident Involvement and Accountability
Published on 19/01/2023

Aiming to set a new industry norm, L&Q has reframed its approach to resident involvement by taking best practices from the voluntary sector and making it a form of volunteering.

Resident involvement has long been one of the fundamentals of social housing. As a practice, it has a well-established history within the housing world - with many associations formed by residents in the 1960s.

Not only does it get to the heart of any resident focussed organisation: we know it is the right thing to do – residents are our main priority. Yet, throughout numerous attempts to involve residents in how we run our business and deliver better services, we haven’t always been able to harness its full potential as a sector.

We highly value residents' contribution to all parts of our business in driving continual improvement and a culture of accountability, transparency and collaboration.

We also recognise that if we expect residents to give up their time to help us improve, we need to ensure that their involvement is a meaningful, enjoyable and valuable experience for them and us.

The truth is that most people in our homes have other priorities. Many are under pressure and have other concerns, whether because of poor health, low income, employment instability or having a young family.

In essence, this means that even if our residents wanted to get involved with us, life often gets in the way. Their focus is on their most immediate needs: whether that be a hospital appointment, a job interview or a parents' evening.

If we want to harness the full potential of resident involvement and make involvement worth residents’ time, then we need to start thinking about it in terms of our involvement with them, not their participation with us. We need to rethink our approach, make it more relevant, inclusive and accessible for residents, and define the people that live in our homes from a different perspective – as partners.

At present, the sector can’t always explain what good practice looks like or what outcomes we should expect to see. Resident involvement is seen almost as an inherent good, rather than a genuine driver for building a culture of transparency, collaboration and accountability throughout an organisation. Differing expectations can exacerbate pre-existing tensions between landlord and resident, but we have learned that much of this could be resolved through a volunteer management approach.

At L&Q, we took a step forward when we reframed resident involvement as a form of volunteering in 2019. We spoke to our involved residents, who told us they see themselves as volunteers and would welcome being recognised, valued and supported.

Adopting a volunteer management approach by taking best practices from the voluntary sector and volunteer-involving organisations are helping us provide a consistently meaningful, impactful and enjoyable experience for the staff and residents involved.

Volunteering is embedded in organisational cultures and work methods in the voluntary sector. Volunteers are supported, recognised and rewarded, and their time is valued. Volunteering has standard processes and safeguards to mitigate risk to the organisation and the people involved. It has a tangible impact that is monitored, evaluated and communicated. It has prestige and purpose, and many volunteers involved organisations couldn’t function without the contribution of their volunteers.

In the world of resident involvement, what does this approach mean in practice? At L&Q, we’ve worked with residents to co-create volunteer role profiles and agreements. We’ve also introduced a volunteer management toolkit to set out the 'rules of engagement' and prepare for a safe, consistent, positive experience for residents and staff.

Whether for our strategic committees and forums, locally involved neighbourhood champions or business improvement initiatives, we want to match our residents to volunteer roles based on their interests, skills and talents and give them a clear opportunity to get involved in the issues and topics matter to them. We want residents to know our expectations of them – what the role involves, what kind of impact they can expect to make, what support is available to them to enable their participation, and how we will agree to work together in partnership.

So, what does the future have in store for the programme and our resident volunteers?

We will take inspiration from the national Investing in Volunteers standard and benchmark our current volunteering offer to this recognised quality standard. The aim of taking knowledge from Investing in Volunteers is to ensure we are consistently hitting the mark, thanks to effective and repeatable processes, and making resident involvement inclusive, rewarding and impactful every time.

Alongside our Foundation’s Employment Support Team, we are working on an approach to rewarding and recognising our involved residents, which will explore how volunteering with us can lead to training and accreditation.

We are also working on a new induction process for residents looking to get involved. This process will ensure we are tackling barriers to participation and providing a growing menu of flexible volunteering roles that offer a genuine opportunity to influence and improve what we do while supporting residents to achieve the five ways to well-being.

Resident involvement has the power to transform L&Q for the better. A volunteer management approach will help unlock this potential by ensuring that our organisation values and embraces residents' contributions. We are preparing the foundations for building an effective partnership with residents – one that is based on shared values, understanding and respect.