This case study will outline the projects developed by South Yorkshire Housing Association that aim to support its residents during and after Covid-19.
Firstly, it is important to note the focus of the social housing sector to date. Fiona MacGregor, Chief Executive of the Regulator of Social Housing identified the key risks that make up the current risk profile of the sector:
- Building Safety and Health and Safety
- Quality of homes/stock, net carbon zero
- New supply in an uncertain economic environment
- Increased reliance on debt
- Service delivery and accountability to tenants
- Reputation; resilience; diversity 
Regulating and ensuring building safety is at the top of the priority list. This involves prioritising building and fire safety, reducing carbon emissions, and improving repair and maintenance services.
Fiona stresses that long term planning is essential when tackling these issues. Social housing is a long-term asset, so it is essential that housing associations invest in existing stock for the benefit of residents. Keeping on top of repairs and maintenance is equally important as it secures trust in providers and the sector.
South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA): Supporting residents through Covid
Tony Stacey spoke at our Social Housing Financial Management Conference 2021. Tony is Chief Executive of South Yorkshire Housing Association . SYHA has won several national awards including Most Innovative Social Housing Organisation and Best Provider of Care and Supported Housing.
The work of SYHA through Covid is an excellent example of a housing association that strives to mitigate the risks outlined by Fiona MacGregor.
The economic landscape of the SYHA during Covid:
- A sharp rise in poverty with an increase of 700k people below the poverty line to 15.2m people
- 32,000 people on furlough in South Yorkshire
- Differential impact on young people, BAME groups, poorer neighborhoods
In response, Tony and his team developed several projects using evidence-based research to improve the experience of residents during and after Covid-19. For example, they took a report published by Dr Craig Gurney of Glasgow University titled: Critical remarks and harm and the meaning of home during the 2020 Covid-19 social distancing measures .
This report was carried out for the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence. It looks at the impact of pandemics and lockdowns around the world that were around before Covid, such as SARS and Ebola.
It was noted in the paper that those who had to be isolated during SARS and Ebola reported symptoms of PTSD, and they had only been under lockdown for two weeks. Dr Gurney continues by listing 11 ways in which the home becomes a place of harm during lockdowns. These 11 harms include loneliness and the home as a site for domestic violence.
The SYHA now work with Craig to think about how a home is a place of heart and how to better understand the needs of people who are at home for sustained periods of time.
Peer to Peer Research by the SYHA
Tony recounts how the association conducted a research project in which residents were commissioned to speak to other residents about their experience of social housing. The goal of this research was to obtain honest accounts of resident experience during Covid-19.
The aim of choosing this peer-to-peer methodology was to open an honest conversation between residents. This approach was developed to avoid the ‘othering’ of residents by the SYHA, avoiding the issue of making residents feel uncomfortable speaking with members of the housing association.
Benefits of peer-to-peer conversation:
- Access to less heard voices: Relationships of trust – more open and honest responses. Participants may be less willing to engage or to engage so openly with a professional researcher
- The added value of lived experience: Peer researchers bring with them the advantage of their own lived experience. Their inside understanding can enhance the richness and nuance of the research inquiry
- Simply, better ‘research’ conversations equate to gathering better data that has deep and nuanced findings
- Empowerment of participants, peer researchers & their communities
- Blurs the line between researcher and subject, mitigating traditional power imbalances
- Confidence and self-esteem of tenants improved upon speaking to people who have the same experience – adding to people’s sense of connection
- Social inclusion for those experiencing stigma, isolation, or marginalisation
The study revealed that loneliness was the thing most frequently reported, and in some cases, a depth of anguish in that loneliness. Tony believes that residents would not have opened up about these personal issues to an individual that works for the SYHA, however, using the peer-to-peer method gave them access to this finding.
How the SYHA are Tackling Homelessness
The lens in which the SYHA consider the impact of their role on homelessness is through the organisation Homes for Cathy . They are a national alliance of housing associations, local authorities and charities that are working together to end homelessness.
As a member of Homes for Cathy, the SYHA follow 9 commitments when considering the issues of homelessness:
- Contribute to local authority strategies – development and execution
- Operate flexible allocations and eligibility policies which allow individual applicants’ unique circumstances and history to be considered
- Offer constructive solutions to applicants who are not deemed eligible for a house/home
- To not make any tenant seeking to prevent homelessness, homeless
- To commit to meeting the needs to vulnerable tenant groups
- To work in partnership to provide a range of affordable housing options which meet the needs of all homeless people in their communities
- Properties offered to homeless people should be ready to move into
- To contribute to ending migrant homelessness in the areas housing associations operate
- To lobby, challenge and inspire others to support ending homelessness
Housing First Service
Following the guidelines of Homes for Cathy, the SYHA developed the Housing First Service which sought to get all homeless people off the streets during Covid.
Housing First Rotherham has supported 41 customers – 83% have sustained their tenancy. Additionally, Housing First in Chesterfield was launched in October 2020 and the contract size has now doubled.
The South Yorkshire Housing Association have understood that it is essential to promote the wellbeing of its residents during Covid, following reports of loneliness and poor mental health.
The technique of social prescribing works by GPs allocating patients with low-level mental health conditions, as well as those that are socially isolated or lonely, non-medical/social interventions.
Link workers and advisors connect with people in their residence and propose solutions to support these individuals in the community.
Social prescribing can offer support with, accessing support for making connections, accessing housing solutions, looking after emotional wellbeing, managing money, promoting a healthier lifestyle, and accessing work and volunteering opportunities.
This scheme reduces pressures on the health and social care system and makes residents within the SHYA feel supported and looked after.
Project: Working Win
A project that is part of the social prescribing initiative is called Working Win. It is a randomised control trial that is funded by the Governments’ Work and Health Unit.
Working Win recruited 6,117 people with mild to moderate mental health conditions, and/or physical health conditions who wanted to find or stay in work. 50% of the sample were allocated to the intervention group and 50% to a control group. 1,538 people in the intervention group achieved job outcomes, a great result.
Tony Stacey maintains the importance of channelling kindness when working in the social housing sector. The mental and physical wellbeing of residents is key to ensuring a prosperous community.
Supporting people through homelessness and supporting isolated individuals, increases prospects for those who are disadvantaged and solidifies the reputation of the sector.
 MacGregor, Fiona. 2021. Chief Executive of the Regulator of Social Housing
 Stacey, Tony. 2021. Chief Executive of South Yorkshire Housing Association
 Gurney, Craig. The University of Glasgow. Critical remarks and harm and the meaning of home during the 2020 Covid-19 social distancing measures
 Homes for Cathy. Combatting homelessness alliance
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