Engaging with residents and the local community is central to securing buy-in and support for the project, especially given the disruption large-scale projects can cause. As the project progresses, and particularly following the enforced delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, disruption such as vehicle access issues and increased congestion are of increasing concern, and remaining engaged with residents is an important way of keeping residents satisfied with the project.
Given the national context of an increasing sense of social housing residents not being listened to, we needed to make sure we were giving residents a real say in the project and choices they could make to shape their experience of it as the work progressed.
Lewisham Homes and United Living have been making sure that we are providing meaningful opportunities for consultation and feedback for residents of the blocks. We held a Christmas event in 2018, and a year later held a ‘Meet the Contractor’ session, complete with children’s Christmas card competition and a prize draw for attendees. Both these sessions, held in one of the local tenants’ and residents’ association (TRA) hall, included samples of materials to be used and staff on hand to explain how each new feature would work. Two resident liaison officers based on site have also provided an accessible point of contact for local residents.
We have worked in partnership with the TRAs to make sure that everyone living at Hatfield and Gerrard has meaningful opportunities to be included in the project. This has included involving residents in picking the cladding design for the building. After a series of meetings with residents, we arrived at a choice of three designs for the new terracotta cladding, with the preferred option finally chosen by vote. Our programme of kitchen and bathroom renovations also gave residents the opportunity to choose which styles they preferred, giving each home a personal feel.
Lewisham Homes has offered financial assistance to those faced with higher energy bills while the blocks are unclad, with the most recent of these goodwill payments being made in autumn 2019. We have also been engaging with residents though a vibrant programme of events and initiatives. Our community relations team has worked to refurbish and reopen the Winslade Cyber Centre nearby and has opened a Skills Centre in the area too. A lost and overgrown community garden has been restored after being discovered hidden away at Hatfield Close in Lewisham. United Living, Lewisham Homes, local residents and sub-contractors Gunite and Axis transformed an overgrown community garden into a communal space for local residents to enjoy.
To make sure residents remained engaged, Lewisham Homes and United Living have also been keeping residents up to date across a variety of formats. A dedicated newsletter has been made available on noticeboards on site, with accompanying graphic on the progress of works. Text messages and emails to residents have also been used to reach as many residents as possible, especially since social distancing rules came into force. Letter drops have been used to get key information to residents when possible. A dedicated project page on the Lewisham Homes website contains all information and updates in one place, and is accessible through scanning a QR code on the noticeboard. United Living and Lewisham Homes also worked on a new video with easy-to-understand instructions for staying safe in case of fire.
As a partnership, we have also improved our ways of working to streamline our communications activities and therefore increase the volume and quality of our communications to residents. A core communications group was founded to meet before each operational contract meeting, to prepare and co-ordinate all communications and then report into the overall project board. This has sped up decision-making and reduced sign-off times for communications activity.