A strategic housing team doesn't build houses; it enables supports and encourages them to be built by a range of partners
We spoke to housing strategy and partnership manager, Graham Demax at Nottingham City Council ahead of their webinar on 10 August to talk about winning the award 'Outstanding strategic local authority of the year' as part of the UK Housing Award Winners.
There's one thing that needs to be made clear straightaway: we didn't win this award for any particular project. We didn’t think there was any one specific thing that made us a good strategic housing authority… So we threw the kitchen sink at it!
"Strategic housing" to me means everything "housing" does to improve the lives of the people within the area you serve, and to help make a place a great place to live. So at the top of the list will be...houses! And immediately, the importance of partnerships becomes clear…
A strategic housing team doesn't build houses, it enables, supports and encourages them to be built by a range of partners.
It doesn't go out and fix problems in the private rented sector. But it sets the direction and puts in place the strategy that will help the Environmental Health officers who "do the work” to raise standards, so the sector can play its part as the accessible and suitable affordable housing solution that it is.
Strategic housing doesn't process homeless applications and place people in accommodation; it does though drive a prevention strategy which defines the partnerships which help to stop people having to make homeless applications, and allow front line staff to spend more time helping those in the most acute need.
Strategic housing teams can spend an awful lot of time doing housing market analyses and crunching lots of data. Knowing your housing market is very important, but also knowing, for example, how housing interventions can prevent people becoming ill or having to go to hospital is equally important.
So it was the sheer breadth of our activity that was the USP for our pitch. Plus it wasn't just about the Strategic Housing Team. An outstanding strategic local authority is precisely that: a local authority. So it is all of the Council services and teams we work with -Regeneration, Planning, Public Health, Environmental Health, Children and Families, Economic Development etc - and probably most importantly, our ALMO, Nottingham City Homes - which makes us outstanding.
There are however some aspects of our approach that we majored on when we made our pitch to the judges, and it is, we think, these that made us stand out. These were:
• Our focus on health and housing, specifically the development of a local Memorandum of Understanding on Housing and Health, mirroring the nationally adopted MOU
• The highly embedded partnership approach to homelessness prevention which has stood us in such good stead in the current climate of rising homelessness. Our use of B&B has sadly risen significantly, and rough sleeping has increased, but the situation would be so much worse if we didn’t have the partnerships in place that have been built up over the years
• The inclusivity of our strategic housing network, which we call “Nottingham Nouse”. We use Nouse to disseminate housing news via social media and emailed updates, and have a ready- made stakeholder network of over 2500 members to use for consultations and getting important information out.
Many years ago I was talking to a friend from Education with whom I worked on the dispersal and support of asylum seekers. It felt like I was quite distant from the front line, and it was difficult to see the tangible results of what I did. "But Terry", I said, "I don't actually do anything." His reply was "You are the glue. Without the glue, things fall apart"
I see the role of my team of passionate, dedicated, caring housing professionals as fulfilling exactly the same role today. Although I do stop short of calling us "Evostik"...
So what can others take from our approach? It’s probably that you’re always looking at how that brilliant thing called a “home” makes a difference to people’s lives way beyond being a roof over their head.