Place – The new buzz word

Well, not so new these days!

One of my colleagues suggested the other day that the word “Place” is increasingly appearing in conference titles as a way to generate more interest (more about Place conferences later) but does this really mean there’s a focus on trying to make a real difference in ‘place’?

My kids tell me I am old and back in the old days, we used words like “Patch” or “Estate” and ASB never existed. Then, like Skynet, we thought we had become self aware and started to talk about “Neighbourhoods” and “Communities” - but in the last 20 years have “Housing Associations” really made a difference?

Across the sector we have been trying for many years to find the magic formula to develop and improve our places, especially the lives of the people who live in them. We move from one idea to the next and decide to invest in certain work-streams or in areas we think the money would be best spent. All based on some “intelligent” information we have gathered, while trying to work with who we consider to be the right partners. Have we always got it right? Definitely not. Do we always learn from our actions and get the process right for the future? Probably not.

"The difference I see now is a more widespread commitment from a range of organisations to work together more closely."

This has been heavily influenced and forced over the last few years due to financial restraints affecting us all. This includes the 1% rent cut imposed on social housing providers, ongoing austerity and local authority budget reductions, savings required via devolution and fewer resources available for the third sector. The financial challenges faced by our residents are also getting more difficult. We all know the impact of Universal Credit and the range of health issues for residents becoming wider. 

For my organisation the partnership that has developed the most over the last couple of years is with the GP Federations and health service. Last year, we held a GP and Registered Provider conference and recognised that by supporting each other we can pool resources in developing more effective referral processes and developing options for social prescribing.  

Many other partnerships need to continue to develop to achieve real change and these need to be with those organisations that have an input or influence in each place, including the smallest of local community groups. However, the biggest partnership we need is with the residents themselves. We need to make sure anything we try to do has their full support and involvement - without this, any initiative is doomed to fail, as history has shown us. 

This approach is great for communities who have people already engaged and who want to support the development of the places in which they live. For those places that do not have residents engaged in the same way, this becomes more difficult. However, there will always be something that is frustrating people about their local area, even in the least engaged communities. We need to find out what it is and help them to get it fixed, which will hopefully help to develop trust and longer-term engagement.

The latest research, reviews and commissions remind us of the importance of the customers’ voice and as organisations we need to listen and engage more with our residents. Again this - in my old opinion - can only be achieved through partnerships and working with those groups who already have close and effective engagement with local residents. Many housing and other organisations have some great ideas on engaging with residents and have had huge success with these approaches. So why reinvent the wheel?

"Let’s spread the word and all help each other to use the best approaches and methods to build partnerships that will ensure we listen, learn and act in ways that help our places."

We want to help share this great practice and support each other with ways of engaging more effectively with our places. So, at One Manchester we will be supporting and hosting a conference in November to bring all the great ideas together for us to pinch from one another and use in our different contexts.

We believe we have some innovative ideas and that we are making a real difference in our places at One Manchester. However, we know there is so much we can learn from others, both inside and outside our sector. So, I would love to hear from you and please get in touch to share your experiences of what has – or hasn’t – worked in making a difference in any of the following areas:

  • Building effective partnerships;
  • Engaging with communities and getting real feedback;
  • Long term projects that have made a difference to the local people;
  • Use of local intelligence and data;
  • Tools for measuring and showing long term outcomes.

Watch this space for more information on our conference, which aims to help us develop partnerships across sectors and specialisms that will ultimately improve all our places.