Data is valuable but knowing the people behind the data is what makes an outstanding Independent Living service

Tricia Grierson, 27 August 2020

Johnnie Johnson Housing was established in 1969 by AVM James Edgar "Johnnie" Johnson. We specialise in Independent Living for residents aged 55+ with 5,000 properties across the North West, North East and Yorkshire/Derbyshire. Our aim is to provide outstanding, innovative and market-making homes and services that enable our residents to live longer and live better. My role in Johnnie Johnson Housing is Head of Independent Living.

The daily welfare call has always been part of the traditional offer in sheltered housing or Independent Living, but recently it had become less popular. By February 2020 only 39% of our Independent living residents were taking these calls. We respect our residents’ choices and began to look for alternative ways to keep in contact using our ‘I’m ok’ system or daily text.

Then Covid-19 and lockdown struck and within a few days all our Independent Living Coordinators (ILCs) were working from home, only visiting schemes once a week to undertake compliance activities. We took the instant decision to call all our independent living residents (including all who had previously declined the calls). We weren’t sure of their reactions and were delighted when they were so well received. By 1 April we were making just under 2,000 calls every single day. They were no longer just a quick check to see if a resident was ok, they had become really valuable conversations, as people simply wanted to talk.

Initially calls were more practical; checking that residents were well and had sufficient food and access to their medication, making referrals to emergency agencies, foodbanks etc. Having established their fundamental needs were met our ILCs began to concentrate on residents’ mental health and wellbeing with social activities taking place online and over group phone calls or, where residents didn’t feel confident participating online or over the phone, arranging for the delivery of activity packs. These conversations allowed ILCs to get to know their residents so much better. For VE Day – a celebration close to the heart of Johnnie Johnson – they encouraged residents to decorate the outside of their homes with bunting and take photos and share their stories – even those of Johnnie himself – which were then published in our special VE Day Voices magazine. It was a really welcomed communication during a very uncertain time and the residents loved receiving their copies.

We were equally concerned about our older leasehold and general housing residents that we didn’t know as well. We used an automated calling system to make initial contact with those over 70 or living alone. Anyone who responded, received a call back and a plan tailored to their individual needs. This has led to a planned project to visit our older ‘general let’ residents to review their homes and consider the need for adaptations or even a move to a more suitable home.

Welfare calls are great but they may not always be sufficient when you need to get out a specific and consistent message to all residents. We went back to basics (and kept our residents’ Editorial Panel busy, checking our letters, making sure they were jargon-free) and gave a clear and simple message – not always easy in these times! We also have a fortnightly call with the active residents from our regional forums. This provides us with a ‘temperature check’ on what it’s like living in our schemes at the moment and provides an opportunity for feedback on our services. We also held our first ever virtual forum, which attracted over 50 residents across all tenures, many who weren’t normally able to attend the meeting in person.

Five months in lockdown is a very long time and many of our residents tell us they have lost their confidence. As a result, the calls are highly valued and used by our ILCs to encourage and support residents as they embark on their first outing. To help encourage people to get out safely, we designed our own Johnnie Johnson face coverings which have proved to be very popular.

So, how do we see the future? We will continue these new lines of communication because it is vital to Johnnie Johnson Housing to really know our residents. Data is valuable but knowing the real people behind the data is what will help us to deliver an outstanding Independent Living Service both now and in the future.