23 September 2019

Looking through the Great Places Commission’s recommendations made for heartening reading. While half focus on actions the Government should take, the other five relate to the key role housing associations play in making great places. These include committing to cross-sector partnerships, proactively engaging with local authorities and embedding wider community benefit requirements in their procurement strategies.

Critically, the Commission also recommends that housing associations should commit to asset-based community development, in order to fulfil your role as anchor organisations.

Community investment continues to have a low profile within the sector. Inevitably, the media focuses on the current housing crisis. In the meantime, a poverty crisis is happening within our communities. And yet the sector’s role in meeting and alleviating that crisis is barely mentioned.

As austerity continues to bite, those on lower incomes are living in increasing poverty. It’s estimated that one in three children in the UK now lives in poverty. And most of those children will be living in social housing. What’s more worrying is that the full impact of welfare reform and the introduction of Universal Credit are yet to be seen.

Housing associations create great homes and great places

In many communities, housing associations are the last organisations standing. Your role is more important now than ever. As Ian Wardle, one of the Great Places Commissioners and Group Chief Executive of Thirteen Group, wrote recently: “Housing associations exist not only to provide great homes but to create great places. By better focusing our spending as housing associations, along with other agencies and partners this can improve local social and economic outcomes on the ground for residents.”

The other housing association-related recommendation was also intriguing, because it calls directly on boards to review their approach to property transfers and sales. This focus on the role of boards in making great places is something the Centre for Excellence in Community Investment is prioritising.

The Centre was established by HACT a year ago with support from five leading housing associations: L&Q, Peabody, Orbit, Clarion and Sovereign. Since then, we’ve hosted the first UK conference and the first research symposium dedicated to community investment.

Our Board Charter – committed to community investment

One area community investment professionals asked us to focus on was promoting community investment within housing associations. Working in partnership with members of the Centre, we’ve developed a Board Charter that we launched at the National Housing Summit last year. We’re now inviting the boards of every housing association to adopt the charter and demonstrate that they’re committed to community investment.

The charter includes a pledge for boards not only to invest in their communities, but also in the people who deliver their community investment activities. It also proposes how this commitment will be delivered, and how housing associations will demonstrate the impact of their community investment work.

Community investment is more important now than ever

Now, more than ever, we need to be committing to our role within neighbourhoods, taking a positive public stance about the role social housing organisations play in supporting our tenants and the sustainability of the communities in which they live.

Of course, many housing associations are already committed to community investment. Many are already making small interventions that can have a big impact on people’s lives. Many are already reporting on the impact that they are having in their annual reports by using social value measurements.

The Board Charter is your opportunity to demonstrate that you’re committed to community investment.

Andrew van Doorn

Chief Executive, HACT

For further information about the Board Charter, please contact Adam Chester (adam@ceci.org.uk)

Committed to community investment