Can we learn from the way housing associations work?

Karen Dusgate questions how the heritage sector can step outside of its silos

In this short article I hope to provide some food for thought about how we might work differently, to begin to bring about cultural changes within our organisations and especially how we might improve the way in which we work across sectors – private, voluntary and public.

This week on Click on Wales


This week on Click on Wales we’ll be examining the modern role that the heritage and cultural sector can play in Wales


Yesterday: John McGrath examines the big issues affecting the heritage sector in Wales

Today: Karen Dusgate examines how the heritage sector can work differently to mitigate the challenges it faces

Friday: Katie Jo Luxton calls for us to reconnect with our natural heritage

All too often we find ourselves working in and constricted by the silos of the sectors our organisations are from. We believe big is beautiful and aren’t always aware of the impact that small, locally based organisations and groups have on the communities we work in. How can we step outside of these silos and learn from each other? Where can we find example of organisations that have been able to make the connections between sectors but also reach out to and engage with their communities and people who experience poverty and social exclusion?

How can we make better use of scarce resources to develop and share skills and in coming together develop and deliver more robust projects that are sustainable and truly make a difference to the lives of those who most need our support and skills?

Whilst raising some of these challenges I also want to offer up some ideas to open a debate. The role and activities of organisations like my own are no longer limited to simply providing affordable homes to rent. Yet the skills required to deliver these housing projects are transferable and can be shared across multi-disciplinary, partnership teams. The role of housing associations and the impact of their work is being recognised as making a significant impact on regeneration, community development and more recently heritage led regeneration.

So what can be learned from the way we work and what are the benefits of adopting some of their approaches? Most housing associations are deeply rooted in the communities within which they work – they have a sense of place and commitment to improving the local community. This means they have great local connections – to local service providers, but even more importantly to local community members, often the most hard to reach and sometimes disengaged – just the people your organisation may be trying to reach.

Housing associations have long established and often, well developed engagement and consultation structures in place. This means if you or your organisation is looking to engage with hard to reach groups – you have a route in and support to facilitate a dialogue with the community and an opportunity to develop your organisation’s capacity in this area.

Most associations support and lead initiatives to procure locally and are supporting the establishment of apprenticeship and training schemes  – they are happy to do the coordination work  and liaise with the skills councils  – they need partners willing to play a role, this provides a real opportunity for the heritage and other sectors.

When we examine the demographic profile of the wonderful volunteers and employees working across our heritage projects, many of us can easily recognise that the profile is not necessary representative of the communities within which our project or organisation operates.

Sustainability, in its truest sense, includes sustainable communities where every individual has the opportunity to make a valued contribution and has the support to enable them to achieve this. It is about our organisations reaching out to those communities and the individuals in most need. It is about us actively seeking to engage with individuals from and groups representing Black and Minority Ethnic communities who have contributed, and continue to contribute so much to the rich culturally diverse heritage of Wales; it is about us exploring opportunities to offer someone who has experienced mental ill health or has been long term unemployed or is a young person a volunteering or employment role. To bring about change we will need to make the difficult choice of investing in the applicant or volunteer who needs a leg up out of poverty rather than the easier choice of the candidate who could just walk in and hit the ground running.

Working better together means doing things differently and perhaps really shaking things up; in the process we will make some new friends and our projects are more likely to make a real difference to the lives of the people who need it the most.

Karen Dusgate is the Chief executive of Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association, one of only two housing associations working exclusively to provide homes for people in Merthyr Tydfil. She has been a member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Wales since 2009, is Chairperson of Merthyr Tydfil Multi Agency Forum and Chair of Merthyr Tydfil Business Club.

One thought on “Can we learn from the way housing associations work?

  1. Wales is not particularly “ethnically diverse” outside the 3 major cities at all, therefore unless the housing sector, outside these three cities is about to go out “shopping” for ethnic minority people to move to their areas, like Merthyr, which has minuscule numbers of BME residents, in order to create artificial diversity to serve their own ridiculous ideals, they need to concentrate on their current tenants. They also need to concentrate on doing what they are there to do = providing houses. Not wasting money by poking into areas already well served by the voluntary and public sectors.

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