Posted by Steve Botham
December 18th, 2012 | No Comments »
Resilience is the ability to deal with shocks. We often talk about the resilience of communities in the blitz or after an event like Hurricane Sandy. Barrow Cadbury in recent research on this issue asks the question – “what happens if a community is not resilient enough to face the shocks?” Their concern is that these communities will face long term decline and poverty.
The Centre for Local Economic Strategies believe that many communities face a 10% reduction in their income in the next three years – with, of course, more serious consequences for those who lose their jobs. Other commentators are concerned about “housing churn” as neighbourhoods see well established households forced to move elsewhere in response to benefits cuts.
The New Economics Foundation (NEF) state “Cuts, recession, and benefits changes create an unmanageable spiral of decline.”
Building resilience NEF say resilience “depends on relationships – and the quality of those relationships – in a particular place between public, commercial and social spheres.” Social Capital in a neighbourhood becomes a really important indicator of that neighbourhood’s capacity to survive the challenges thrown at it. The development of social capital requires the active and willing engagement of citizens within a participative community.
Research by the Chamberlain Forum in Birmingham demonstrates a strong correlation between social capital and house prices. People want to move into communities that are lively, proactive, supportive and generous. Housing associations benefit from the deliberate actions they take to equip and enable the community.
US author Edgar Cahn talks about the core economy – the real economy happening under the surface. This is fuelled by relationships, through family, community and the things we love and give time to. Can we tap into this core economy to build resilience?
Four steps to resilience
Four key steps a Housing Association can do directly or working with others are
1. Co-production: This is a technique to enable communities to work together with the public sector and housing providers to address those problems that won’t go away. Inevitably austerity is a great catalyst for fresh thinking and the neighbourhood that learns to adopt and shape its own way forward raises its chances of success.
2. Time banking – time banking links to the core economy. A time bank is a way of organising, extending and promoting self‐help and social networks between citizens and/ or between citizens and public services. Participants ‘deposit’ their time in the bank by giving practical help and support to others and are able to ‘withdraw’ their time when they need something done themselves. In a time bank, everyone’s time is valued equally: one hour = one credit. Time banking recognises and encourages people using their talents to benefit their community
3. A neighbourhood plan – a neighbourhood plan best mobilises people when it is focused on priorities that people can unite behind. We advocate a simple one page plan with five key neighbourhood priorities. Issues neighbourhoods may wish to priorities include loneliness, struggling families, poverty, health inequalities and youth unemployment.
4. A neighbourhood manager – neighbourhoods need a catalyst who can help them think through their key needs, help them shape solutions and enable citizens to engage with service providers, drive community projects and enable great communication.
NEF make the point that many of the organisations society relies on to build community resilience have been squeezed to breaking point. Housing Associations with their broad perspective, networking capacity and awareness of local needs may find themselves taking a more proactive role in building social capital.
The Challenge for Housing
In our contact with many RSLs we increasingly talk about the need to create a new culture, a new way of doing things. In doing so there are three key challenges Housing providers face
1. FOCUS – those organisations that succeed in challenging and complex times have a really clear focus. They have robust discussion about their priorities and manage their impact well. This creates alignment – the organisation works well together with a real focus on results.
2. CONSISTENCY – in a time when many neighbourhoods will struggle with large economic and social challenges Housing providers need to be credible and trust worthy. Housing providers face a wide range of customer issues as benefits policy changes. They will need to work hard before issues arise to ensure they can address problems in a consistent and transparent way. Consistency will deliver value for money - poor preparation could lead to a wide variation in responses and significant added cost.
3. SUPPORT THE FRONT LINE – the Housing front line will be a place with many stresses and pressures – they need excellent support. This is a prime culture issue Managers – and the wider organisation needs to be supportive and enabling whilst maintaining standards.
In short Housing Associations will themselves have to become resilient if they are to face the shocks and changes that lie ahead. They need to build their own social capital if they are to work effectively with stressed neighbourhoods. This is a time when a good Housing Association may be the difference between survival and economic decline for our communities. We need to be ready.
Steve Botham is Chief Executive of Caret Consulting Group and Chairman of the Chamberlain Forum