New partnerships have been lockdown’s silver lining – we must not lose them

Society may be opening up, but COVID-19 is here to stay.

Long after we’ve dealt with the latest wave of infections, and long after every eligible person in the country has been double jabbed, we will be feeling the effects of the virus.

The poverty gap has widened – again! Low-skilled, low-income workers were the first to lose their jobs in lockdown.

Meanwhile, the Resolution Foundation found that the richest 10% of the population in Britain gained an average of £50,000 during the pandemic because of rising house and asset prices.

Poverty is the root cause of so many of the issues we deal with as housing providers as we look to improve lives, create aspirational communities where people are proud to live and make more things possible for more people.

We’re facing a mental health crisis. Figures from the Office of National Statistics show depression rates have doubled since the pandemic began. It is no surprise that young people, clinically vulnerable adults, disabled people and those living in the most deprived areas are the most affected.

We’re seeing a spike in anti-social behaviour – with 39% of adults surveyed expecting incidents of ASB to rise in their community now lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Housing associations must address these challenges – and our role has never been clearer.

For a long time, housing has wrestled with its position with other stakeholders and peers working in communities. There has been good engagement, but it has never been as open and positive as during the pandemic.

Now we have fully fledged, transparent partnerships.

We’ve been knocking at the door trying to define our role working with health providers and build new relationships.

Now the door is fully open.

We’ve shown our willingness to adapt and be agile, flexing our resources to focus on what is needed.

At ForHousing we worked with Salford CVS and NHS Salford Clinical Commissioning Group to arrange a medicine delivery service for more than 600 people who were unable to leave their homes due to shielding, with staff and volunteers delivering prescriptions.

A total of 139 homes were made available to local authorities, including Salford City Council, as temporary accommodation for people facing homelessness or unable to live in shared accommodation because of social distancing. Of those to move in, 49 families have gone on to secure permanent tenancies with us.

We worked with Openreach to install gigabit-capable broadband to more than 12,000 homes in Salford and held a series of virtual Cash Chats workshops, which offer information for people wanting to feel more in control of finances.

Now we’ve formed a new partnership with Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust on a £1.8million project to make sure people can be discharged from hospital or temporary mental health supported accommodation and return to the community.

We’ve proved to be innovative and progressive, and that by working collaboratively, and with care, we can make a bigger impact.

If we want to address the growing inequalities in communities, then likeminded organisations must stand together.

We have huge challenges ahead, but we have built a platform during lockdown to deal with them collaboratively.

Our partners have seen the wider role we can play – they understand that what we do goes beyond bricks in the ground. They have seen our willingness to work together through collaborative groups such as Greater Manchester Housing Providers.

We know communities can be at the forefront of early intervention – whether that be in skills and employment, mental health or tenancy sustainment.

If one legacy of lockdown is to be growing inequality, then let’s make sure another is a long-standing commitment from partners to work together in new ways and act as a collective and more impactful force for good.