Levelling up? Use local intel if you want to succeed.

By Chris Seeley · 18 March 2022

The recent PlaceShapers report: ‘Stay local, go far – Place-Based Housing Association’ role in Levelling Up’ is an interesting read and makes a great deal of sense to us at ARK.

What is PlaceShapers?

A national network of over 100 place-based housing organisations that aims to give a voice to its members and the communities they represent. It looks to influence and shape policies through lobbying and campaigning. It aims to create a diverse, values driven housing association sector.

It makes the case that Housing Associations are best placed to help deliver the Levelling Up agenda that has just been set out by the Government in its White Paper. It’s not surprising that it is supportive of the aims expressed in the document as many of the HA members provide housing and services in local communities that all too often feel neglected or left behind.

Matthew Walker, Chair of PlaceShapers, says: “Housing Associations work in all the areas where levelling up needs to take place. […] Many PlaceShapers members have been engaged in a variety of ‘levelling up’ activities for many years.”

The report advocates, however, that given the scale of the challenge, the government needs to be prepared to really engage with local communities and organisations for true levelling up to succeed.

It focuses on four ways local HAs can deliver and effectively drive the regeneration of local areas:

  1. Physical Regeneration: improving housing and local physical infrastructure.
  2. Economic Regeneration: improving employment opportunities
  3. Social Regeneration: improving civic activity and pride
  4. Democratic Regeneration: Improving community involvement and empowerment.

As a leading UK consultancy, with over 30 years’ experience in the social housing sector, we have worked in partnership with many clients to deliver projects in these four areas. Here are four case studies which demonstrate this:

Case Study 1 – physical regeneration

Grahame Park – Genesis

Genesis (now part of Notting Hill Genesis) appointed us as we were able to provide experienced practitioners to support their Grahame Park Regeneration Scheme. Grahame Park is Barnet’s largest housing estate and a significant part of the Colindale Area Action Plan. Notting Hill Genesis has worked in partnership with Barnet to deliver more than 3,000 new homes across a range of tenures, replacing 1,777 older dwellings and regenerating and renewing the estate.

Genesis had identified the need for interim programme and project management support during a period of upheaval, requiring a ‘safe’ pair of hands to manage all aspects of the scheme. we provided a highly experienced Senior Regeneration Manager, Jane Alderman, to provide the client-side project management leadership.

We worked closely with the in-house resident liaison team to keep them informed and assisted with maintaining good relationships with surrounding neighbours on site issues that affected them.

Our work as client-side project managers included internal progress and financial reporting to an operational board. We kept them informed of the progress with construction and liaised with internal teams to ensure that the process of decanting and rehousing was progressed smoothly. We led the team to ensure that handovers were delivered to the required quality standards, on time and within budget.

Case Study 2 – economic regeneration

Black Country Talent Match

Black Country Talent Match (BCTM) secured funding through the National Lottery Community Fund from April 2019 to March 2022 for a project to support young adults, aged 17-29, with challenging circumstances into employment. we were commissioned to support the programme by measuring the social return on investment and assessing the mental resilience of the participants.

Programme participants presented with complex issues which included:

  • Young offending
  • Homelessness
  • Substance misuse
  • Care leavers
  • Young carers/parents
  • Travelling families
  • Disabilities or learning difficulties

The project aims to improve confidence, optimism and resilience, reduce levels of re-offending and increase access to employment and sustainable jobs.

Through a mentoring approach the team provided solution-focused support for a period of up to 12 months, helping mentees to identify and overcome barriers, cease their offending behaviour, and ultimately secure employment. 

One of the success measures is the Social Return on Investment (SROI). This is an outcomes-based measurement tool that helps organisations to understand and quantify the social, environmental and economic value they are creating.  We created a social return on investment framework which measures the effect on people and communities that happens because of an action or interaction, an activity, project, programme, or policy.

This impact can be shown as a financial figure in terms of the value it has created or public sector cost savings.

During the programme, we have captured and assessed139 case studies the total social value is £6,973,139 with an impressive average of £50,116 per individual case study.

You can find out more about BCTM here: https://bctalentmatch.com/

Case Study 3 – social regeneration

Ribble Valley Borough Council – Assessment of three town centres

In November 2021, we were commissioned by Ribble Valley BC to explore the medium-term impact of Covid-19 on the borough’s three main retail areas: Whalley, Clitheroe and Longridge.

The objectives of the project were to assess all three town centres, engage with residents, shoppers and businesses and then develop strategic action plans for each town, identifying options to promote the areas and make them more visually attractive, and exploring options for pilot projects to support the visitor economy.

Each town centre was assessed using a scorecard approach which helped to identify critical action areas and provide an overall measurable assessment to monitor progress over time.

Although the towns have weathered Covid well and provide attractive places to visit and to shop the project revealed common themes across each centre which included: poor aesthetics, a lack of space for new business start-ups, the need for better signage, under-utilised public spaces, the need for a co-ordinated events programme and a clear vision for the districts.

The strategic action plans that were created for each town centre addressed the over-arching issue of a lack of co-ordination of activity and communications. They sought to develop the existing community pride, initiatives, assets and offers through better partnership working, improving business and marketing skills as well as involving stakeholder groups in programme planning.

Case Study 4 – democratic regeneration

Dudley MBC – Tenant Empowerment Review

Dudley MBC wanted to develop a tenant empowerment vision, structure and strategy for delivery. It was keen to increase tenant engagement and work with the community to ensure people’s voices were heard and key to decision making. We began with a gap analysis to understand what needed to be done and the produced an action plan to achieve the desired outcomes. This included gathering feedback from a variety of stakeholders such as the Housing Board, Tenants and Residents Associations through workshops, focus groups, surveys and social media. This was then reviewed along with policies (such as complaints) and documents, especially information for tenants.

An action plan was produced, and we assisted in the delivery of this plan which included a new tenant participation strategy, developing the tenant-led scrutiny role, training and enabling tenant groups and acting as an ongoing ‘independent expert’ for scrutiny/engagement activities.

To conclude…

We firmly agree with the PlaceShapers report. Local organisations, including housing associations and councils, are well placed to bring about the Levelling Up agenda – we know because we are working with many of them throughout the UK!

If you are interested in finding out more about these case studies, or the support that we can give your organisation, we would be delighted to have a chat. We have partnered with hundreds of housing associations and local authorities to help them achieve their aims. 

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