Lessons from lockdown: what our communities have taught us

Lessons from lockdown: what our communities have taught us

As featured in Inside Housing on 12 March, after our work in neighbourhoods had to be stepped up during the pandemic, Donna Kelly, our Group Director of Support and Neighbourhoods, considers how services might change in the long term as a result of these learnings.

Looking beyond the pain of this pandemic, we have seen plenty of good within our wider communities and the resilience and spirit of many of our tenants has been incredible.

We have worked to empower residents by providing programmes such ‘Cook and Eat’, online learning courses and business start-up grants.

Like many other providers, we donated food packs for primary school children during the holidays and for those needing to self-isolate. We also donated £80,000 to foodbanks from our Jigsaw Foundation fund and money saved from cancelled conferences and Christmas events.

But what we want to continue long after the pandemic has subsided is more partnership working. Communities have shown how they can come together and like them, as housing providers, we have and should continue to do so.

We’re looking to set up further food pantries – starting in Oldham, Greater Manchester – which give more sustainable and less stigmatised support to residents and align other services within this such as money, energy and employment advice.

Ensuring the sustainability of any further pantries working with community volunteers is key, and we will help residents with the will and the skills to manage them.

We all need to continue to help combat isolation and encourage communities to work and stay together post- pandemic. We’ve seen older residents take up physical activities, formation of groups on social media and residents checking on others, but, equally, a devastating rise in ill mental health.

As a response to this and via Jigsaw Conversation, a recent staff and resident consultation on where to focus our resources over the next few years, we are now recruiting well-being navigators. The new roles to the business will help steer residents in getting help with mental health issues from statutory services and other providers.

“Communities have shown how they can come together and like them, as housing providers, we have and should continue to do so”

In the East Midlands, we are creating a tenancy support service that we have never had – upping our own resources to help communities where needed.

We don’t want our work post-pandemic to just stop. We are building on what we have had to do through necessity to make more long-term improvements.

Our neighbourhood plans model will now incorporate measures on the effects of the pandemic, highlighting areas with the highest levels of jobs at risk of redundancy and tracking the COVID-19 vulnerability index per neighbourhood so that we can steer employment support, activities and mental health support to those who need it most.

Yes, our communities are more resilient than we think, but it’s also up to us as providers to empower and give residents that extra support to create a neighbourhood they are proud to live in and can shape for the future.