Changing culture and leadership with Together with Tenants

Angela Gascoigne, 04 May 2022

Over the last three years, the NHF has been working with housing associations across the sector to adopt Together with Tenants, an initiative focused on strengthening the relationship between residents and housing association landlords.

The initiative embodies all the great work happening across the sector to create positive relationships with residents. But it importantly challenges our sector to go further – presenting an opportunity for housing associations to take the lead in accountability and resident oversight.

Together with Tenants demands a change in culture and leadership within housing associations, it’s not just another item on the to-do list or a tick box exercise. This will help us as a sector to hear tenants’ voices and respond to their experiences and as we do so strengthen the relationship between residents and their social landlords.

As Chief Executive of SHAL Housing, I occupy a position of relative power that gives me the ability to get things done and I need to be mindful of the way I use and embody that power. I believe it’s important that leaders across the sector reflect on fundamental questions about themselves personally and their organisations to drive real change through Together with Tenants.

These questions include:

  • Are you the leader you want to be?
  • Do you demonstrate integrity of social purpose and values, empathy and respect in the decisions and actions you take?
  • When you make mistakes (because we are all human) are people able to call you out on it?
  • Are you aware of your use of power and the way others use their power in response?
  • Are you willing to be influenced as well as be influential?
  • Are you open to learning hard lessons about yourself as a leader and the impact you have on an organisation?
  • Do you have courage to say, ‘I don’t know’ and humility to say ’I’m sorry’?

Maya Angelou said ‘I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.’

The only way I know how to know better is to listen and reflect.

At SHAL we adopted the Together with Tenants Charter and co-created our own tenants’ charter with our residents. The five commitments are:

  1. Create strong communities
  2. Build strong relationships
  3. Include, listen and understand
  4. Provide quality homes and services
  5. Be transparent and accountable

What does this mean?

We are learning what this means in practice and we are determined that community and relationship will shape SHAL’s leadership and culture.

This year the board set three missions arising from our residents’ priorities.

  • We will invest well in our homes.
  • We will support people who are struggling financially.
  • We will embed restorative practice.

Restorative practice will shape our culture, which shapes our values, which shape the future we are co-creating with tenants and other partners across the neighbourhoods where we work.

Restorative practice means working with people, being clear where we are coming from and making fairness explicit. It’s about acknowledging and healing harm wherever it occurs. As a social landlord and adopter of Together with Tenants building and maintaining relationships with residents comes first and foremost above everything.

For me as a leader this means I’m learning to listen deeply, not just to others but also to myself - by finding more time for reflection. I’m stepping back so others can step forward and making space so that we can continue to co-create SHAL’s future together with tenants. I’m putting this into practice in the best way I can using our third tenants’ charter commitment - include, listen and understand.

What has changed?

SHAL has changed for the better as an organisation and social landlord because of adopting Together with Tenants. Our residents are starting to notice these changes and give us positive feedback. Our repair service is better, our approach to energy efficiency is more inclusive and new tenants have what they need in their home with us.

We do not evict tenants for rent arrears. We find out what people need to sustain their tenancy and then we work with them to get what they need. Strengthening community and relationship ensures we deliver our fourth co-created tenants’ charter commitment - provide quality homes and services.

The cost of living crisis means the short term is going to be hard for many residents who rent their homes from us. SHAL will demonstrate our support for residents facing difficult times by delivering our social purpose, making the hard decisions always with their best interests at heart and living our final co-created tenants' charter commitment - be transparent and accountable.

That is a pretty good description of the type of leader I want to be.