For those of us in the social housing sector, the coronavirus crisis has presented a unique opportunity to really test the NatFed’s Together with Tenants tenet of putting our customers at the centre of everything we do.
Judith Winterbourne, chair of our board, said: “We are incredibly proud of how the WHA team has rallied round and committed to keeping our tenants – and the wider community in Warrington – safe, cared for, connected and informed.
“It is testing times such as these that the ethos of an organisation is truly communicated and here at WHA it is clear – through our colleagues’ professionalism, technological capability, energy and sheer imagination – customers’ needs are at the core of everything we do.”
Some 950 of our customers were contacted in a single week of lockdown with 3,000 calls and 250 referrals over a four-week period.
In the main we are working directly with Warrington Borough Council (WBC) and Warrington Voluntary Action (WVA) who triage the customers when we refer and decide who and where they will be supported and for how long.
We are working on some special cases with specific councillors, community centres, the local food bank and Age Concern.
Fiona Evans, our business support officer, said: “We are continuing our customer vulnerability and welfare checks by phone, WhatsApp, Facetime and Zoom. We have committed to support the National Housing Federation’s comment that no-one should lose their home because of coronavirus. WHA will work closely with our customers to make sure that does not happen as well as providing money advice or signposting to Government support.
“We are also working with the council and Warrington Voluntary Action to get support for people unable to collect shopping or medication or would like regular welfare and befriending calls.”
To date, our staff have facilitated the delivery of 240 food parcels from Age UK Mid Mersey and Great Sankey Community Hub to isolated tenants and customers of our home improvement agency for the community (WHiA) who could not shop for themselves.
WHiA is continuing with emergency repairs and reduced provision of minor adaptations necessary for customers’ independence within government distancing guidelines.
It is not just the roof over our tenants’ heads which is important but also what is going on in their heads, many of whom are isolating alone. Mental wellbeing is more vital than ever.
The current crisis means of the doors to LifeTime, our over-50s centre, are closed but staff and volunteers have found ways to maintain connections.
More than 2,300 calls have been made to LifeTime members over four weeks.
Director of LifeTime and WHiA Gerry Kiddle said: “During this strangest of times, LifeTime has been prioritising keeping in touch with members who regularly take part in our activities. Our volunteers are a key branch of the LifeTime family tree keeping in touch with their groups by telephone, online and on video calls.
“Members have been really pleased, some even answer the phone with “Hello LifeTime” as it is the only call they get. It is a great reminder of the power of social interaction and connectedness in supporting wellbeing.”
LifeTime has developed a timetable of online activities – including coffee mornings, quizzes, puzzles, dance, yoga, mindfulness, Zumba and Sunday singalong – that people can join in from their tablet or computer or smart phone at home.
After just one week of lockdown there were already 40 LifeTime members active on Zoom. By the end of week five the numbers had almost quadrupled.
Members have been encouraged not to feel daunted by the technicalities of getting online.
Bernard Gillooly was grateful for the LifeTime team’s support to get, in his words, ‘a technical idiot’ on Zoom.
Gerry added: “He is over the moon as it has opened a whole new world for him! He has managed to get on to his Slimming World group which he was really missing!”
It isn’t just the big actions of organisations that are making the lockdown bearable to tenants in social housing.
Jayne Whitfield, whose father Terry Ennis is a LifeTime member, said: “My father was so disappointed when it had to close recently but is now fully engaged with all the virtual activities. Trying to get hold of him on the phone is difficult as he is always zooming with Lifetime! It’s so important that this group of people can maintain social contact albeit virtually. You are their lifeline at the moment.”