Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Giving Something Back - A Housing Association Challenge

Trafford Housing Trust is just one of over 40 housing associations that were in this year's list in the Sunday times of the Top 100 Best not-for-profit organisations to work for.  For us it was the third successive year that we'd made that list and I know from reading the comments from our own staff that were the key part of the assessment that they really value the terms and condition and ways of working that we have established.

A ginnel clearing masterclass
One of the aspects of work that staff are invited to comment on relates to the extent that their organisation "gives something back" to the community. Of course, the questionnaire is used to assess all sorts of organisations, and for many private sector organisations, the thought of giving something back doesn't enter their business model. For housing associations it could be argued that we are all about building stronger, more supportive, more resilient communities and perhaps the fact that so many housing associations feature in the Sunday Times list is a reflection of this. But in our case, our scores from staff on this "giving something back" dimension were relatively low and in trying to understand why that should be the case, we discovered it was because this community-based work was so much ingrained into the DNA of our organisation, people just didn't realise they were doing it.

So we've set up what we confidently expect to be an annual event, to engage all (we slimmed the service down to the bare minimum for the day so everyone could take part) of our staff team on the same day in activities that are designed to show just how we do give something back. I've blogged in the past about "The Big Day In..." which was our first attempt at this but this year, we did it through the medium of Business in the Community's "Give and Gain" day, and I hope my Twitter followers found at least some of the pictures of what we did at least mildly entertaining.

Staff went into schools for a morning, showed would-be silver surfers in sheltered schemes how to use technology, they baked with and gardened for tenants, cleared grotspots and over-grown ginnels, organised and ran a farmers market, painted (and pointed), planted - the list goes on and on. My contribution, aside from some rather limited painting and ginnel-clearing, was to hold an opening ceremony for a new community building in Lostock. The Leathwaite Centre was named after one of our Board members who died in 2010. Steve Leathwaite was a pillar of his community - he gave back big time, and it was an honour to mark his dedication and service.

On that day, we were one of over 200 organisations across the country, contributing over 10,000 people to community based activities - you can find the full details here and if you are looking for our project on the map, it seems as if BiTC have relocated us to Central Manchester rather than Trafford, so I guess they know about our growth ambitions...and of course some (but not very many) of those were housing associations.

So here's my suggestion - next year, what would it be like if housing associations across the country all gave something back to their communities on the same day? Whether we do it as part of the BiTC event, or whether as a sector we could co-ordinate our own, I don't know. But an annual day when we engage our staff in a different way, have a visible presence in our communities and honour our volunteers couldn't be a bad thing - could it?

EDIT - for a full slideshow of our Give and Gain see the slideshow:

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