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Creating community capital

Henderson Mark Henderson, the Chief Executive of the social enterprise Home Group, one of the leading national providers of affordable and supported housing, is pioneering tenants being rewarded for carrying out repairs

A society with greater levels of social cohesion, greater social mobility and less reliance on state based solutions to provide support is something few could disagree with. Yet, people born in social housing in the 1970s are ten times more likely to be in a workless household than those not born in social housing. If we are going to successfully tackle some of the most deprived areas in the UK that statistic has to change.

Nobody at Home Group doubts the importance of tackling the chronic housing shortage. It just should not be at the expense of maximising what we do for our existing customers. The social capital generated within successful and stable communities can be as valuable as the financial capital invested in individual homes.

Home’s vision is to help our customers to open doors to new opportunities and healthy lives. This commitment gives us a role far beyond the front door of someone’s house. Whether it is Home Group or any other housing provider – we must be prepared to challenge current levels of aspiration and take on a greater level of responsibility.

Home doesn’t just see itself as a homebuilder. We want to be undertaking a proactive role to create customer and community capital. In practice, that means adopting a new way of thinking and a much higher standard. In recent months Home has sought to take the lead within the sector on transparency. We are the only Housing Association to publish all spending over £500. It’s a small step but it is part of a wider cultural shift to empower our customers and clients.

This week we announced that we will be running a pilot to encourage customers to undertake basic repairs and maintenance of their home and neighbourhood. Currently we penalise customers for infringements of their tenancy agreements but do little to reward the positive behaviour of those who do look after their home and care for their neighbourhood. In contrast, under this pilot those who look after their houses and opt into the scheme will be eligible to earn financial rewards. Exactly how much will depend on the age and size of the property and the type of maintenance undertaken. This scheme offers a real chance for Home Group’s customers to take responsibility for the upkeep of their homes and neighbourhoods, while earning savings and learning practical transferable skills at the same time.

The sums involved won’t change things over night but its wider cultural effects could be no much more significant. The money they ‘earn’ could for example be used to help pay for a deposit on a property, buy a vehicle to help residents find employment, fund a business start-up, or access training. Ultimately, how people spend the money they have earned is up to them. But the ability to access just a relatively small amount of capital really can make a difference in helping move people away from the benefits trap. This is about finding intelligent ways to encourage, support and enable people to make better choices for themselves.

Whilst many readers of this website regularly debate exactly what the ‘Big Society’ means David Cameron clearly set out his view in the 2009 Hugo Young Lecture. For him it’s about people being ‘free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities’.

People, whether employees or customers, respond well to incentives, to being encouraged and rewarded. What could be simpler than rewarding the individuals who take the time and effort to look after their homes and fix the leaking tap, ensure that the light bulb is replaced in a communal staircase or the grass keep tidy outside the block of flats?


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