My #HousingDay18 Story – John Williamson

Throughout my lifetime I’ve lived in quite a few different places. My family moved to South Africa for my Dad’s work when I was a child and we spent 8 years there. During those years I went to boarding school, did national service, and lived in places that were minutes away from all sorts of wild animals!

When I moved back to the UK I lived on an estate in Sheffield for a while and a few years later found myself living in a freezing cold caravan for a short time. That was tough.

Not one of those places gave me anywhere near the level of security that living in social housing has given me for the last 25 years. The absolute best thing is knowing that as long as I pay my rent, I have a safe and secure place that I can call home. I have a few health conditions now so it’s a massive weight off my shoulders to know that I won’t suddenly be thrown out – especially as I have no family close by.

In terms of the stigma that can be associated with social housing I’ve personally been fortunate enough to never experience it, but I have been involved with See the Person (was Benefit to Society) and I’ve championed the messages of that campaign since it first came about. And things feel different now. For the first time it seems like tenants are being listened to in response to stereotypes, and things do seem to be moving in the right direction.

We’ve still got work to do though. I think the thing about tenant voice is that you have to keep on getting it out there. It’s no good letting it go quiet for a couple of months, because people forget. My message to others who might be on the verge of getting involved, or might want to share their story, would be to please try it. If you don’t give it a go, you’ll never know what impact it could have. I’ve been involved in all sorts of roles at South Yorkshire Housing Association and I’ve loved every second. So take a leap of faith – make contact with your associations and see how you can get involved. Don’t sit back and do nothing because we are the ones with the insight. We’re the tenants, and we’re the ones who can, and do, make change.

Why listening is as important as our tenants’ and customers’ voices

How often do the people who will be using our services get to influence them before they’ve been set up?

Our customers do!  A huge part of the work we lead within our Co-design and Improvement Team at South Yorkshire Housing Association is led by customers’ voices. Our Over 2 You network is dedicated to improving services within our LiveWell care and supported schemes, and we do that by listening to people and putting their feedback into action.

We visit our services multiple times throughout the year, and in between those visits we have regular interventions to make sure that customers always have the opportunity to have their voices heard.

We’re really proud of the fact that we are able to work with customers to find ideal solutions suggested by them, and we ensure that people know what we’ve done differently using our “you said, we did” feedback. Even if we can’t necessarily provide the absolute perfect solution, customers know that they’ve been heard.

And recently we’ve been able to use customers’ detailed feedback and improvement suggestions to inform a brand new tender for a service – their voices truly have influenced the work we do!

One question that came up in the #IHChat earlier asked how Housing Associations can be better listeners to ensure that tenant and customer voices are met with the right responses. It’s a vital point.  Listening to what our tenants and customers have to say isn’t just hugely important to us – it’s an essential part of the way we work.

That’s why we have members of staff who are trained by the Thinking Project, and why Nancy Kline’s Time to Think book is one of the most popular reads on from our library shelf. It’s why the people on our LeadWell programme are developing the skills to be leaders who listen, and it’s why we hold workshops for staff, customers, and the local community about how to nurture listening skills.

We know that the best collaboration, equality, and the highest standards comes from a mix of voices, and for those voices to come through we have to first: listen properly, and second: take action that reflects that listening.