Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What are the rewards for Resident Involvement?

Not a lot. Why bother to "get involved"? Why spend hours of your time in meetings to help those paid by Lewisham Homes to better understand residents' needs? Why join your TRA committee and work for free to help your fellow residents? It's mostly a thankless task with very few, if any, benefits – and isn't it always the same busy bodies who take on the same roles and responsibilities?

As stated in the previous post, Lewisham Council (and Lewisham Homes for that matter) are keen to change the organisational structure of Lewisham Homes so that it can separate from the Council and become a 'resident-led' housing association able to borrow more money to do more stuff. Lewisham Homes would be different to other housing associations in that residents would have much stronger representation within the management. How this would work is still not entirely clear.

Lewisham Homes already encourages community involvement and resident participation but there is very little take-up – despite training being offered for any Lewisham Homes resident to pick up admin and computer skills, and coaching available for those involved in their TRA committees (eg how to be a treasurer or chair). More incentives are required, instead of relying on residents' voluntary commitment. Even if participants take up the opportunities to increase their skills (and therefore employment opportunities), there's no guarantee they'll want to use those skills to contribute to the management of their homes.

Lewisham Council is now taking part in the Time Credits scheme (see Lewisham Time Credits and also this post by Alternative SE4). This long-overdue scheme recognises the contributions of volunteers in the borough and offers them something in return. Time Credits are a 'community currency' that can be exchanged for free access to leisure services across the borough and beyond (including entry to the Tower of London, Millwall, the Albany etc) and services offered by local businesses. It was launched in February by Mayor Steve.

The scheme is open to anyone taking part in volunteering activities in the borough. It is delivered by Spice Innovations, 'a social enterprise that develops agency timebanking systems for communities and public services that engage and empower the many rather than the few'. Spice says, "One of the challenges facing public and community services is that it is generally 'the usual suspects' that attend meetings, consultations, sit on all the steering groups....Citizen engagement is about moving beyond the 'usual suspects' and enabling a broader range of people to participate...By simply thanking people for their time in a meaningful way, local services will start to engage with many more."

One of the areas Spice work in nationally is housing. The recent Crossfields TRA meeting about Housing Matters (see previous post) was attended by Lewisham Homes' Chief Executive, Head of Leasehold Services, and the person in charge of 'Housing Matters' at Lewisham Council – they had come to spread the word on the idea of a new "resident-led" Lewisham Homes. When a resident at the meeting brought up the idea of Time Credits in the context of incentivising resident involvement and making it worthwhile to get involved, not one of these people had heard of the scheme.

More importantly, they did not know that the scheme is being piloted by Lewisham Homes' own Community Involvement Team in a trial with Honor Oak Tenants & Residents Association. According to Sue Asquith, Community Involvement Manager, it is going well, and the team are hoping to launch the scheme soon, to reward 'involved residents' across the borough.

Watch this video to find out more about Lewisham Time Credits.

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