21 October 2019

There are many qualities needed in a housing association board member. They act as the reality check for the housing association’s ideas. They are there to help landlords meet challenges, ensure the best ideas are turned into reality and achieve value for money.

A growing number of housing associations operate a resident-led model whereby residents serve on their boards, including in key positions. As a tenant in Lewisham, I serve on the board of Phoenix Community Housing. Half the board is made up of residents from a diverse range of backgrounds, and the chair and vice chair are both tenants. There are plans for creating better empathy with the very diverse base of the local community.

Phoenix offers opportunities for upskilling and social inclusion to residents, ensuring we have the requisite skills to function well at the higher levels of governance and help formulate the relevant policies and strategies designed to encapsulate tenant voices at the heart of the business. Whatever the model, any housing association can engage positively with their residents to help them access training and disseminate vital information while offering positive insight.

In doing their best to shore up and maximise the chances of getting the right people to serve on our board, Phoenix has set up an academy where residents are trained via techniques such as coaching, mentoring and shadowing. Honing their skills allows the housing association to offer the right support for its aspirations.

I was put forward for the Chartered Institute of Housing level 2 certificate. Passing this boosted my confidence to offer the right approach when deliberating at meetings with the ultimate goal of driving improvements in the community.

Another method of engaging tenants is through the complaints and comments received. This channel should be welcomed, investigated thoroughly and lessons learnt, documented and shared. Timely, constructive, honest and direct feedback should be offered at all times as that is the best way forward and radiates the sincerity of the housing association board members’ mission.

Phoenix is still learning and evolving on this, and more needs to be done. Engaging residents effectively through regular meetings, surveys, comment boxes, newsletters and notice boards can achieve a fair balance in the cultural norms and values of the housing association.

In my experience, governance needs to be transparent to attract and implement effective tenant involvement and engagement. Trust has to be gained from both sides to enable a free flow of information. Once that has been consolidated and established, board members need to listen and acknowledge residents’ contributions regularly by using all avenues of their communication strategies to champion the voices of their tenants.

In creating a positive social change so that tenant voices are at the heart of organisational strategy, there ought to be a different approach to seeking and garnering information. Time should be invested in the consideration of tenants’ views in the development of ideas. Phoenix is introducing a Digital Together project which will provide efficiencies and enhanced digital access to residents.

As a board member, I expect this to capture every facet of residents and staff working together right from inception through the implementation and evaluation stages. This, I believe, is the roadmap for the best strategies, for housing associations to change the way they listen to – and hear – residents’ voices right from the start.

Phoenix Community Housing are an early adopter of our Together with Tenants initiative, which aims to create a stronger relationship between housing associations and residents.

Peace is speaking at this year's Board Excellence in Housing conference, which will be held in London on Thursday 6 - Friday 7 February 2020. Find out more about booking your place.

Peace Ayiku-Nartey

Peace is a Tenant Board Member at Phoenix Community Housing

Peace has valuable experience developed through various roles in central Government. She has been involved in delivering advanced policy and event services to stakeholders across Whitehall. She is experienced in providing information and briefings to Government Ministers and has contributed to various policy streams across government including the higher education and innovation agenda. She is interested in ensuring that communities come together to support growth and development.

How board members can harness and maximise tenants’ voices