2019 has been a big year for the social housing sector

 

Politically, it’s been busy. We’ve gone through two Prime-Ministers and two housing ministers; Brexit stalemate in Parliament, and the resulting snap election which has now delivered a clear Government majority.

For housing, the debate has continued to focus on fire safety and the Grenfell Inquiry –  brought into ever closer attention with the spate of fires in 2019;  the social housing green paper and the Hackitt review.

Last month, as BECG sponsored Inside Housing’s Communication Conference, it was clear from the conference attendees that the role of communications is felt to be more important than ever in driving the sector forward against this challenging backdrop.

This isn’t surprising to hear. Good Housing Associations are built on the foundations of strong reputations. Driven by a social purpose, the sector provides affordable homes and services, whilst investing in people and communities. This relies on building trust and relationships with communities and stakeholders.

But the reach and role of the sector is bigger than ever before.

Operationally, the sector’s work stretches far beyond collecting rents and handing out keys. Today, Housing Associations can do anything from developing new homes, creating and distributing energy, delivering accredited training programmes, to raising finance on the bond markets, or managing complex and historic assets.

Whist this can mean growth and opportunity, these new frontiers create greater opportunity for risk and crisis, and Housing Associations need to be ready to manage potential crises across a wider range of issues than ever before.

2019 has seen BECG lead the crisis communications response for a number of high profile “incident-crises”. Incident-crisis are physical emergency incidents that affect a local community, and can displace people from their homes – either temporarily or over a longer period.

These crises have reinforced that Housing Associations that engage early and directly, and build real relationships with their local community and stakeholders during the good times, are better positioned to weather reputational storms during the harder times.

Good and effective crisis communications rely on securing trust with customers, stakeholder and the wider community.

Having a strong and fully stocked “trust bank account” at the start of the crisis creates organisational resilience, and provides the organisation at the center of the crisis with the best chance of leading a positive response.

Paying deposits into your trust bank account – through long term customer engagement, community investment, and building 1-2-1 relationships with stakeholders during the good times –  means that organisations can cash out this good will during the harder times.

Housing providers that haven’t engaged early on or meaningfully ahead of a crisis have little strength in local relationships, and no such good-will to draw on.

This can prove make or break for any Housing Association that finds itself facing up to an unexpected crisis.

For communications teams that want to continue to shape and lead their organisations from the front, crisis preparedness and proactive stakeholder engagement will be key in 2020.

To help communications leaders ready their organisation for a crisis, BECG is offering Housing Associations a free “health check” on crisis preparedness throughout December and January. To get in touch and find out more about the offer, email crisis@becg.com.