14 September 2021

As the country emerges from the restrictions of the pandemic, it’s critical that housing associations take what we’ve learned to make sure we are ready to make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead.

It’s beyond a cliché to say that the last 18 months have been unprecedented, but that doesn’t make it any less true. One thing that will stay with me when I think about this unique period is just how responsive housing associations have been in order to support people when they needed it most.

When lockdown was introduced, it took a matter of days for organisations to move to homeworking for services that had only ever been office-based. We set up proactive calls to people we knew may face challenges, alongside entirely new systems like Metropolitan Thames Valley’s (MTVH) Coronavirus Support Hub which helped to triage the incoming calls from people who were suddenly facing real hardship and needed to be given the right support quickly. Crucially, frontline colleagues continued to deliver essential services, whilst adapting to rapidly changing guidance to protect residents and themselves.

It’s this sort of flexibility and responsiveness in the face of real challenges that gives me great hope about what else we can do as a sector in the future.

What that future may look like is the focus of a session I’ll be joining at the National Housing Summit Special Edition in October, and I’m really looking for to it.

On the one hand, the future can look quite challenging for our sector.

The building safety crisis looms large over the entire housing sector, and of course for many residents too, and tackling this must be an absolute focus given our priority will always rightly be the safety of people in their homes.

We see every day what a massive difference having a good quality, safe, and affordable home can have on people’s lives. How do we make sure we continue to build these desperately needed new affordable homes with so many other calls on our resources?

Moving from talking about achieving net-zero carbon to starting to deliver real action to address the climate emergency is essential too.

The inequalities the pandemic has exposed in society mean the need for a fair recovery that gives people the opportunity and the support they need.

Underlining all these big issues must also be a genuine conversation with residents about how we can better work together, with engagement and compassion at the heart of the relationships we have.

These are by no means easy issues. But that’s what I think separates our sector from some others; we aren’t afraid to face challenges. Whilst the legacy of the pandemic will be with us for many years to come, it’s now time for us to start the conversation about how to look forward once again and shape a better future together.

Geeta Nanda OBE will be part of the crystal ball panel discussion, ‘long term direction of the sector: the next decade and beyond’ at the National Housing Summit – Special Edition on 19 October in London and virtually. She will be joined by Steve Douglas CBE from St. Mungo's, Rachael Dennis from Incommunities Group and Peter Freeman CBE from Homes England.