Sheffield Hallam, CIH and Poplar Harca have produced a report that is trying to strongly make the case for housing led regeneration. It is very much worded in a way that is about the financial model/economic benefit mode. It is a case that is needed because we are talking to a government who needs to understand the economic reason for anything.
This all got me thinking about the need to bring some of the focus back to the other capital, the people and how they can really deliver a return on investment.
Let me come clean, I worked for Harca on the community investment side when it was still new, which why I started thinking about this. Harca was quite unique in its set up (last century) in its avowed intent to place people and community at its heart as part of who it was and how it operated. It had a population where more than 50% was economically inactive and its property stared the lovely shining island of canary wharf in the face.
My job was to recruit a group of 20 (it crept up because I’m bad at saying no) and train them to set up advice services to run within the series of community hubs that Harca created. I spent 3 months training with the most fabulous, creative, amusing and occasionally infuriating group of people. At the start of the journey I did not know that my real aim was not to turn them into advice workers but to make sure that what they saw as success at the start was completely changed by the end of my time with me. More important was that they could actually achieve what THEY wanted.
For the first month, I was slightly bemused to discover that 80% of my groups’ only wish was to become housing officers, having done this role (no disrespect to good HOs) I was surprised by this being the pinnacle of desire. It wasn’t just about pay it was about ‘respect’.
Having grown up on a ‘bad’ council estate (any good ones in the press?), I recognised what I came to call the poverty of aspiration, I’d seen it at home when I wanted not to go into trade but to go to college (shock horror). I’d also seen it in South London running a placement scheme where the only job anyone wanted to do was social work. This kind of constraint can really hold communities back, you can only have so many housing officers, social workers or in my own case steel workers.
What the willingness to invest in social capital did was give a lot of unforeseen returns. The group achieved their primary aim and delivered local advice services, in particular services that helped hundreds of residents maximise benefits and supported many of them into work. It had the knock of effects of setting up a ‘hit’ outreach team that was also used by neighbouring landlords and health services. Most importantly, it allowed the group to diversify. The original 20 + went on to work for private contractors, the health service, running a call centre, setting up their own business and some went to university. They brought more diversity into the local community and crucially higher paid roles.
Last time I checked in at least one of them was still delivering benefits advice on the estates albeit now at such professional level they should be training other advisors. That is the next step….