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Joining a housing association during lockdown

Oliver Jacques joined Connect in 2021 as part of the GEM (Graduate Employment Mentoring) Programme, a programme which aims to turn existing and new members of the sector into individuals at the cutting edge of all things housing. Here he talks about his first few weeks in post…

For me, beginning my career in the social housing sector is a very exciting time. Ever since I was fortunate enough to receive the call confirming my success in the recruitment process, to say I’ve been eager to get started would be an understatement.

Although starting any new career can be a stressful time at best for many people, embarking on that journey throws up extra challenges during a global pandemic and national lockdown.

Casting my mind back to the very start – from initial application to being offered the role of Tenant Engagement Officer – Connect’s rigorous recruitment process (involving several stages) spoke to me straight away. Despite being forced into an entirely remote process – which I’ll touch on later – the challenges posed to me and fellow candidates by the association had a particular focus on values and social purpose. Personally, this hit home in terms of the importance of housing associations now – perhaps more than ever – giving me the opportunity to make a real positive difference on people’s lives.

Foundations for positive mental and physical health

At the time of writing this, the nation faces a third national lockdown. A few weeks ago, the BBC stated moderate to severe depressive symptoms are estimated to have almost tripled for 16 to 39 year olds, along with increases across the board for all age groups.

This is an extremely worrying consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, as people across the nation are ordered to avoid contact with all friends and family outside of their household.

As I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks since starting my role, the aforementioned statistic is one example of a major concern for associations that put people first, and how – through social housing – we make a difference with good foundations for positive mental and physical health.

Throughout the past 9 months or so, Connect and its dedicated staff have had to adapt to working from home, but also new ways of going above and beyond to meet customer needs. After joining in January 2021, I’m doing my best to adopt these methods and will endeavour to think of new ideas to combat issues that have been magnified by national lockdowns.

Embracing the new normal

From a personal perspective, not being able to meet and communicate with my lovely colleagues in-person has been difficult, but I’m fortunate in that everyone I’ve spoken to so far (and met virtually) have been really welcoming, and made sure I’ve been as comfortable as possible settling in! I’m looking forward to one day being able to work with colleagues and customers in a physical capacity, but in the mean-time, I’ll embrace the ‘new normal’.

The remote aspect of working for a housing association has also shone a light on how we communicate with our customers, what they value from our interactions but also where we could perhaps improve as individuals and as a business. This will be one of my very first projects in my new role with Connect, working alongside housing communications experts, Creative Bridge.

Despite COVID-19 presenting an underlying negative theme throughout this short blog, I’ll end on a positive note. I see this as a great time to join a housing association and in particular my role as a Tenant Engagement Officer. We have the opportunity – as a collective and individuals – to build on a newfound community spirit garnered by the pandemic. During these difficult times, neighbourhoods across West Yorkshire (and the country) have come together to help those in need. This is an excellent foundation for me as a new housing professional to build on. More importantly, we must also encourage and empower neighbourhoods to take control of holding associations like Connect to account, whilst showing customers the respect they deserve, both of which are key themes in the recent government social housing white paper.

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Connect Housing Association Limited is a charitable association registered in England and Wales under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 (Company No. IP17445R) and with the Regulator of Social Housing (No. L2285).

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